Why the New Pew Report Ought to Energize Us As Christian Case Makers
by J Warner Wallace
Yesterday’s release of the Pew Research Center’s report, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” affirms what most of us already know: Fewer and fewer people in America identify themselves as “Christian”. I’ve been reading the reaction to the poll with great interest. Many of us seem to still be in denial about this continuing trend away from the Church; some interpret the statistics as little more than movement away from traditional denominations (and not necessarily a departure from Christianity). The interactive data doesn’t support this optimistic view, however. Fewer people appear to believe Christianity is true today than seven years ago, and this should energize all of us to become better Christian Case Makers. Here is what I see in the 2014 Pew Research Center Report:
Unsurprising: Fewer People Claim to Be Christians
Most people in America still call themselves Christians. In fact, the Christian majority (70.6%) is very large when compared to other groups (Jewish believers account for 1.9%, Muslims .9%, Buddhists .7%, Hindus .7%, Atheists 3.1% and Agnostics 4%). But the percentage of people who describe themselves as Christians fell nearly 8 percentage points; from 78.4% to 70.6%. Some Christians have argued this only reflects a shift from denominationalism, but the Pew survey allowed participants to identify themselves as “Other Christians” if they wanted to recognize their non-denominational affiliation. Respondents didn’t identify themselves in this way. The unsurprising truth: fewer and fewer Americans identify themselves as Christians (denominational or otherwise). There’s no denying this reality.
Surprising: Atheism Isn’t Growing Dramatically
Some news accounts of the American shift in religious identity have reported that “atheists and agnostics have nearly doubled their share of the religious marketplace”. While this may be statistically true, it easy to site these impressive sounding numbers when your group is tiny to begin with. Remember, atheists still only account for 3.1% of the population. In the past seven years, when Christian identity fell by 8%, atheism only grew by 3%. It’s easy to assume all those who leave Christianity become atheists, but this isn’t the case. Much of the demographic data is simply the result of growing emigrational diversity. As non-Christian immigrants continue to grow in number, they import their own religious identity and the overarching national demographic statistics continue to shift. This may help explain why non-Christian religious groups have grown in numbers over the past seven years. But here is the most important statistic: The largest growing group are simply those who claim no religious affiliation (the “nones”). These folks don’t identify themselves as Christians, but they don’t identify themselves as atheists or agnostics either. According to the Pew Report, most “nones” don’t commit to any particular view about God and say instead that they believe “nothing in particular.” Not all “nones” deny the existence of God, however. In fact, 30% report that religion is still at least somewhat important to them. “Nones” aren’t necessarily convinced God doesn’t exist, they simply either resist the claims of Christianity or are completely disinterested. Many are theists of one kind or another, but most (39%) report they simply aren’t interested in religion…
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