Although it receives noticeably less media attention then the changing ethnic makeup of America, there is a deep shift in religious self-identification that is changing the national cultural landscape at an equal rate. The latest version of the American Religious Identification Survey, which was released earlier today, confirms a continuing shift away from Christian self-identification in America:
The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% in a generation. The faithful have scattered out of their traditional bases: The Bible Belt is less Baptist. The Rust Belt is less Catholic. And everywhere, more people are exploring spiritual frontiers - or falling off the faith map completely.
These dramatic shifts in just 18 years are detailed in the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), to be released today. It finds that, despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990.
An 11% drop in Christian self-identification has major political implications. In 2008, self-identified non-Christians voted for Barack Obama by a massive, 75%-23% margin. If, in another 18 years, there is a further 11% shift away from Christian self-identification, according to current voting patterns it would increase the Democratic margin of another 5-6%.
I'll be eager to look over the entire survey because, while some news reports indicate the drop in Christian self-identification has been over 11%, others place it at 10%:
In 2008, Christians comprised 76 percent of U.S. adults, compared to about 77 percent in 2001 and about 86 percent in 1990. Researchers said the dwindling ranks of mainline Protestants, including Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians, largely explains the shift. Over the last seven years, mainline Protestants dropped from just over 17 percent to 12.9 percent of the population.
No matter how often politicians and pundits decry polarization in America, none of them ever really address the broad cultural trends that play a role in this. Christianity used to be a nearly consensus aspect of ideology in this country, and now that consensus is crumbling. When such a large ideological institution begins to lose sway over the population, only the most sheltered among us would expect the vacuum to be filled with bland, centrist, Broder-esque uniformity.