Bruce Feiler reports on a story at Fox News that will disturb some and excite others depending on whether one is a Christian or a secularist. A study called The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) reveals that:
Protestants now represent only half of all Americans, down almost 20 percent in the last twenty years. In the coming months, America will become a minority Protestant nation for the first time since the pilgrims settled Massachussetts.
Meanwhile, the number of people who claim no religious affiliation has doubled since 1990 to fifteen percent, its highest point in history.
Here are some other findings of the survey:
1) The number of Christians has declined 12% since 1990, and is now 76%, the lowest percentage in American history.
2) The growth of non-believers has come largely from men. Twenty percent of men express no religious affiliation; 12% of women.
3) Young people are fleeing faith. Nearly a quarter of Americans in their 20's profess no organized religion.
4) But these non-believers are not particularly atheist. That number hasn't budged and stands at less than 1 percent. (Agnostics are similarly less than 1 percent.) Instead, these individuals have a belief in God but no interest in organized religion, or they believe in a personal God but not in a formal faith tradition. People are leaving institutional religion but they're not leaving God, at least they claim not to be.
The fact that so many people are finding traditional religion inadequate comes as no surprise, but it should serve as an alarum for organized religious institutions. They simply aren't meeting peoples' needs, especially the need of young people to be offered a belief system that seems vibrant, powerful, and relevant to their lives.
Feiler says that catering to older believers, which many churches do because the old people are the big contributors, is a recipe for failure. Younger Americans feel excluded and are tuning out. This is precisely what Mark Kinnaman documents in his book Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity.
Feiler also observes that Americans are interested in God, but they don't think existing institutions are helping them draw closer to Him. This may be true of traditional denominational religion, much of which seems to have lost its way in seeking to ingratiate itself with Modernity. Traditional denominations like the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, etc. have been slow to recognize that forms, structures, and practices that were adequate for prior to the 1970s often seem alien and bizarre to people born after 1960. Even so, what is true of "mainline" protestantism is much less true of contemporary independent churches many of which have shown an admirable flexibility and adaptibility without compromising traditional Christian faith.
The column closes with a hope and a warning:
"Americans' interest in religion has not always been stable. It dipped following the Revolution and again following Civil War. In both cases it rebounded because religious institutions adapted and found new ways of relating to everyday Americans."
They need to do the same today or "risk becoming Europe, where religion is fast becoming an afterthought."RLC