Welcome to Post-Christian America, the data shows that the Post-Christian United States is a reality. However, America’s leaders do not recognize that reality.
Polling data shows that nonreligious people are now America’s largest religious group. In fact, data from the Pew Religious Landscape Study shows 45.7% of Americans could identify as nonreligious or actively secular.
To elaborate Pew estimates the level of Americans that identify as religiously unaffiliated at 22.8% and those who admit their faith is “nothing in particular” at 15.8%. Additionally, Pew calculates that 3.1% of Americans call themselves atheists and 4% identify as agnostic.
However, the Gallup Organization’s 2017 Update on Americans and Religion finds 33%, one third, of Americans identify as “not religious at all.” Plus, Gallup estimates 21.3% of Americans had “no religious identity” in 2017, that percentage was up from 20.8% in 2016.
The Non-Religious are America’s most Important Religion
If Pew’s estimates are accurate, the popular image of America as a religious nation is dead wrong.
Notably, Pew estimates that “religious nones” outnumber every faith but Evangelical Protestants; who could compose 25.4% of the population. Pew calculates that religious nones make up 22.8% of the U.S. population. Religious nones now outnumber Catholics (20.8% of the population); and Mainline Protestants (14.7%), in Pew’s estimates.
Importantly, all of America’s nonreligious people now outnumber evangelicals in Pew’s calculation. In fact, the total percentage of nonreligious people in Pew’s calculation (45.7% by my math) is close to the total number of evangelicals and Catholics in America (46.2% by my calculations). For the record, Pew estimates the percentage of Catholics in America at 20.8%.
Atheists and Agnostics outnumber Jews, Mormons, and Muslims in America
Another interesting Pew finding is that actively secularist individuals in America; atheists and agnostics, now outnumber Jews, Mormons, and Muslims.
Specifically Pew estimates identifying Jews make up 1.9% of America’s population. Meanwhile, those claiming to be Mormons make up 1.6% of America’s population, and openly Moslem people are 0.9% of the population.
Meanwhile, Pew estimates the percent of agnostics in America at 3.1% and the level of atheists at 4%. Hence, agnostics are America’s largest non-Christian religious group and atheists are Americans second largest non-Christian faith.
Finally, Pew’s survey shows non-Christian religions are statistically irrelevant in America. The total percentage of Americans admitting to non-Christian religions is 5.9%. To reach that number Pew has to count Buddhists and Hindus with the Jews and Moslems.
Do Religious estimates explain America’s political Divide?
My tallies of Pew’s religious percentage estimates eerily mirror poll results from 2016.
Specifically, RealClearPolitics estimates Donald J. Trump (R-New York) received 46.1% of popular support and Hillary R. Clinton (D-New York) received 48.2%. Meanwhile, I estimate the percentage of nonreligious people in America at 45.7% and the percentage of evangelicals and Catholics at 46.2%.
Gallup estimates 48% of highly religious people approve of Trump, but 67% of non-religious people disapprove of Trump. There is some overlap because 46% of highly religious people disapprove of Trump. Yet a significant majority of the nonreligious are hostile to the president.
How religious divides explain Trump’s election
Religious divisions could also explain Trump’s surprise victory in 2016. Trump won a majority in the Electoral College by carrying less populous rural states in the heartland.
Data indicates those areas are more religious. The Barna Group estimates America’s 10 Most-Christian metro areas are Portland (Maine) Boston, Albany, (New York), Providence (Rhode Island), Burlington (Vermont) Hartford-New Haven, New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Buffalo (New York).
With the exceptions of Burlington, Albany, and Buffalo, all these communities are high population coastal regions. Thus, secular America concentrates in a few affluent urbanized regions.
How Geography Explains Evangelical Political Power
Meanwhile, Barna’s 2017 list of the “most-Bible minded” metros in America is heavily rural and southern. Barna’s bible minded cities are: Chattanooga, Birmingham (Alabama), Roanoke/Lynchburg (Virginia), Tri-Cities Tennessee (Kingsport, Bristol, Johnson City), Charlotte, Springfield (Missouri), Little Rock, Knoxville, and Greenville/Spartanburg (South Carolina)/Asheville (North Carolina).
Barna’s research shows the secular congregate in urban population centers and the religious cluster in smaller rural areas. My guess is Bible-minded is Barna’s euphemism for evangelicals.
Evangelical political power could stem from this geographical concentration rather than the group’s numbers. To clarify, being concentrated in rural areas helps evangelicals elect US Senators and governors and dominate the Electoral College. Hence, the Republican Party pays a lot of attention to Evangelicals and their concerns.
Will Corporate America Turn on Evangelicals?
Unfortunately, Evangelical political power; and Republican efforts to cater to it, fuels a growing hostility to the Bible-minded. In particular, corporate America; which is heavily secular could turn on the Evangelicals.
Notably, Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) CEO Bob Iger took the unusual step; for an American corporate leader, of publicly criticizing a religiously motivated state law. Iger admits his company could stop filming movies in Georgia because of extreme antiabortion law that state’s legislature passed, Reuters reports.
Thus, a big corporation is taking a rare stand in America’s culture wars. Such a stand could blow the Big Business/Evangelical alliance that underpins the Republican Party apart.
To explain, Big Business provides the money and Evangelicals provide the votes that keep the Grand Old Party (GOP) in office. Take away either and the present-day GOP will fall apart.
I do not think Evangelicals could raise enough money to bankroll political campaigns with church car washes and bake sales. Moreover, I doubt Big Corporations could drum up enough votes to influence an election in America without Evangelical help.
America is a Post Christian Nation
Judging by Pew, Gallup, and Barna’s polling data, America is a post-Christian nation with a significant Christian minority. This disconnect is fueling political divisions and encouraging cultural conflict.
However, we must view such poll results with skepticism. Pollsters obtain data by asking people their beliefs and hoping they receive an honest answer. Consequently, dishonest answers can skew polls.
Many people who claim to be Christians; particularly in the Bible Belt, are probably non religious. These individuals, claim to be Christian; or Evangelical, because they live in communities where identification as an atheist can cost you friendships, jobs, and social status.
A Post Christian America is not a Secular America
Interestingly, there is also a significant minority of what I call “Cultural Christians” in America. Cultural Christians are people with strong religious and philosophical beliefs in Christianity that do not participate in organized church activities.
Writer Timothy P. Carney believes non-churchgoers with strong faiths account for a significant percentage of President Trump’s support. A March 2016 Pew Survey found 70% of Christian Republicans who did not attend church weekly supported Trump. Yet only 30% of Republican Christians who regularly attended church backed Trump.
Thus, a Post-Christian America is not necessarily a secular place and the culture wars are far from over. Tellingly, a highly secular figure like Trump still has to cater to Evangelicals to win elections.
I predict it will take another generation for Americans to reach a workable political consensus that accommodates the nation’s deep religious divisions. Until then, cultural and religious conflicts are likely to intensify and become more destructive.