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Americans are fleeing religion

Despite the evident diversity of the United States, all too often - as similarly in other multi-cultural countries - America sees itself as a Christian country.   Leaving to one side whether that is a correct, or indeed appropriate, characterisation, a Pew Research Centre survey just released would suggest that Americans are fleeing religion.

"I recently attended a wedding where the bride and groom shared Chinese, American and Eastern European roots. Their parents were raised Catholic, Lutheran and Jewish. But the wedding itself, both ceremony and reception, were completely, utterly, 100% secular. God was not invited; no religious ritual made an appearance.

Welcome to the new America.

I thought this scene might just be representative of my family and circle of friends, but no — it speaks to a broad and deep shift in the American religious landscape, as meticulously catalogued by the report issued today by the Pew Research Center. This survey, conducted in 2014 through telephone calls with more than 35,000 adults, is a follow up to a survey similar in size and scope conducted in 2007.

In the intervening seven years, the share of Americans who identify as Christian has declined by nearly 8%, while the share who claim no religious identity — the unaffiliated or, in demographic parlance, the “nones” — increased by nearly 6%, amounting now to 22.8% of the U.S. population.

There are, according to Pew, now more unaffiliated Americans than either Main Line Protestants or Catholics. If the “nones” were a religious denomination, they would be the second largest in America, just after evangelical Christians. Imagine the political implications if this trend continues — and it is likely to continue, for two reasons.

First, although a majority of Americans still identify as Christian, the decline in their number is widespread, occurring among the young and the old, black and white, well educated and not so well educated, in all regions of the country. Don’t think these numbers are driven by a bunch of disaffected white elites in the Northeast; it’s a broad-based trend.

Second, the unaffiliated skew young and younger. Only 11% of the Silent Generation (born 1928 to 1945) identified as having no religion, while among Younger Millennials (born 1990 to 1996) 36% put themselves in that category.

“It is likely that we will see a secular left coalesce into a movement in the way that 30 years ago we saw the religious right coalesce politically,” David Campbell, political science professor at Notre Dame University, told me. “I am not sure that it will have the same clout because the left lacks a religious infrastructure and it’s more of a challenge to mobilize the troops. But the group and the movement are here to stay.”

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