More than a quarter of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood to join another religion or no religion, according to a new survey of religious affiliation by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The report, titled ?U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,? depicts a highly fluid and diverse national religious life. If shifts among Protestant denominations are included, then it appears that 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliations.?
The report shows, for example, that every religion is losing and gaining members, but that the Roman Catholic Church ?has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes.? The survey also indicates that the group that had the greatest net gain was the unaffiliated. More than 16 percent of American adults say they are not part of any organized faith, which makes the unaffiliated the country?s fourth largest ?religious group.??
In the Pew survey 7.3 percent of the adult population said they were unaffiliated with a faith as children. That segment increases to 16.1 percent of the population in adulthood, the survey found. The unaffiliated are largely under 50 and male. ?Nearly one-in-five men say they have no formal religious affiliation, compared with roughly 13 percent of women,? the survey said.
The rise of the unaffiliated does not mean that Americans are becoming less religious, however. Contrary to assumptions that most of the unaffiliated are atheists or agnostics, most described their religion ?as nothing in particular.?
For comparison, mainline Protestant churches as a group constitute 18.1% of the public. Catholics are just shy of 24%, and evangelical Protestants are 26.3%. Of that, Baptists represent about 11%, split 10:1 between evangelical and mainline congregations. In other words, the unaffiliated outnumber politically influential groups like the Southern Baptists (6.7%), as do the secular unaffiliated (6.3% secular “nothing in particular,” 1.6% atheist, 2.4% agnostic, for 10.3% secular unaffiliated).
Even so, I’m guessing Condi won’t be reprising her speech from the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention meetings at some humanist event. Nor, I imagine, will Bill Clinton step into the breach between Dawkinsian atheists and the less forceful sects of the unaffiliated, as he did between Baptist groups earlier in February of this year.
That may be for the best, but it would seem that an opportunity exists here for a smart politician to exploit this expanding group of Americans.