A new Trinity College report looks at what ought to be frightening to all religious denominations (perhaps the Catholic Church the most): the fact that the fastest growing segment of the American population in terms of religion is those people who profess no religion.
In some ways, the results should not be surprising: the conservative Christian denominations can now be better defined by who they hate - i.e., generally everyone who isn't just like them - and the more liberal denominations are allowing the hate merchants of the far right to monopolize religious discussion at the national level.
The result is that religion - particularly Christianity - does not have a very attractive image. Then, of course, there is the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal that shows the rot and corruption within that Church's hierarchy.
That's not to say, however, that these "Nones" as the report calls them are all atheists or agnostics. Many are very spiritual and may hold Christ's gospel message as worthwhile. They just want no affiliation with institutional churches that do not practice what they preach if you will. The full report can be found here. The following are a few highlights:
One of the most widely noted findings from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS 2008), which was released in March 2009, was the substantial increase in the No Religion segment of the U.S. population, whom we designate as "Nones." The Nones increased from 8.1% of the U.S. adult population in 1990 to 15% in 2008 and from 14 to 34 million adults. Their numbers far exceed the combined total of all the non-Christian religious groups in the U.S.
"None" is not a movement, but a label for a diverse group of people who do not identify with any of the myriad of religious options in the American religious marketplace - the irreligious, the unreligious, the anti-religious, and the anti-clerical. Some believe in God; some do not. Some may participate occasionally in religious rituals; others never will. Nones are easily misunderstood. On the one hand, only a small minority are atheists. On the other hand, it is also not correct to describe them as "unchurched" or "unaffiliated" on the assumption that they are mainly theists and religious searchers who are temporarily between congregations. Yet another incorrect assumption is that large proportions of Nones are anti-rationalist proponents of New Age and supernatural ideas. As we will show, they are more likely to be rational skeptics.
There are some characteristics that distinguish the Nones from the general U.S. population, but two stand out, gender and age. Nones are disproportionately male, 60%, while women actually make up a slight majority of the general U.S. population, 51% (see Figure 1.1). Additionally, Nones are significantly younger than the general population: 30% are under age 30 and only 5% are 70 years or older. . . The median age of adult Nones is 41 years, compared to 46 years in the general U.S. population. These two demographic differences help explain some of the other ways in which Nones differ from the general U.S. population.
Regarding belief in the divine, most Nones are neither atheists nor theists but rather agnostics and deists (59%) and perhaps best described as skeptics. Politically, 21% of the nation's independents are Nones, as are 16% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans. In 1990, 12% of independents were Nones, as were 6% of Democrats and 6% of Republicans.
24% of current Nones (and 35% of 1st generation or "new" Nones) are former Catholics. The ethnic/racial profile of Nones shows Asians, Irish and Jews are the most secularized ethnic origin groups. One-third of the Nones claim Irish ancestry.
The most striking change among the racial and ethnic groups is among Hispanics. In 1990 they comprised 6% of U.S. adults and 4% of adult Nones. In 2008 Hispanics doubled their percentage of the U.S. adult population to 13% and tripled their proportion among adult Nones to 12%. This means that Hispanics are not only the fastest growing racial group in America in general, but are the fastest-growing minority group among Nones. This, too, is a noteworthy finding considering the stereotype of Latinos as a deeply religious population.
Obviously, this trend ought to be setting off alarm bells in the GOP. The Party is courting to the exclusion of others, the declining far right religious elements in the country. Moreover, since to win elections, the votes of independents most be secured and independents are far more likely to be Nones and probably not attracted to the growing religious extremism of the GOP base.