Somewhat surprisingly, Americans are becoming less religious, or at least that's the word from a new comprehensive study released by The Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, CN.
In 1990, 8.2% of the American public claimed no religion; in 2001, 14.1%. That number has now climbed to 15%. Even though the trajectory of faith seems to be aimed downward, most analysts feel that this country is still among the most religious in the world.
The study came up with other interesting findings. Non-denominationalism is up, which likely means the mega-church phenomenon is still on the rise. The percentage of the American public who call themselves "Christian" is down almost ten per cent from 1990, however, from 86% to 76%.
Amazingly, Mormons and Pentecostals--both of whom have shown remarkable growth in the recent past--didn't gain any numbers in the survey, despite the fact that around the world it's Pentecostals who are seemingly outgaining every other brand of believer.
Mainline denominations continue to decline, likely because of deep fissures between conservative and liberal factions rent by arguments over the place of gay members. Sociologist Barry A. Kosmin, the leader of the team of researchers, described the overall trend as an erosion of the "religious middle ground."
My own denomination, the Christian Reformed, was listed with Category 6--"Protestant denominations," (along with Churches of Christ, Seventh Day Adventist, Mennonite, Brethren, Apostle, Covenant, Christian Reform, Jehovah's Witness, Christian Science, Messianic Jews); while our good friends and kissing cousins, the Reformed Church in America, was "Mainline Protestant." An interesting footnote, and I don't know why, nor what it means.
Spin? Some will say, I'm sure, that the sky is falling. Others, like Kosmin himself, will undoubtedly argue that the gulf which separates us has never been greater. Still others will argue that our fundamentalist brothers and sisters continue to turn people away from faith by their certainty about mysteries. Some will say that any change which helps us understand that we're not, nor ever have been, a "Christian nation" is going to be helpful in the long run.
Me? Here's what I think: every once in awhile it's good to look in a mirror, but spending too much time may well be vain or myopic--or both.
Life goes on. And it begins here in the basement--and right next door.