2009 American Religous Identification Survery Analysis

I promised a day ago that I would pour through the ARIS 2008 (Published March, 2009) survey that forms the basis for Jon Meacham’s article in Newsweek, “The End of Christian America.”  I have spent hours looking through the survey, highlighting, commenting, and reading the original article that first lead me to this survey.  It is the cover story for the magazine.  The cover reads, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America.”  I will do my best to summarize the basic findings of the survey and interact with them.

First, while I am not a professional statistician.  I will say that anyone who immediately finds fault in the survey itself has probably not read it.  The survey is quiet airtight.  It asks only open ended questions.  There is no “Do you think Christianity is A-Evil; B-Bad; C-just OK; D-A lie.”  Nothing of the sort.  Further, they did a good job of polling large numbers of people around the country in a random sample, that appears unbiased to any outcome.  In fact, the survey effort seems quite impressive.

Meacham’s article seems quite fair to the outcome of the survey itself, with a couple of areas that were significantly unmentioned, in my eyes.  Meacham did his job, and I am not criticising him at all.  But his article did leave me with some impressions that analysing the survey modified in some ways.

First of all, the survey was not a 2 part survey taken in 1990 and 2008.  It was a three part survey taken in 1990, 2001, and 2008.  the numbers can be compared between 1990 and 2008, and they should.  But leaving out the middle survey leads to one significant false impression.

When I read the Newsweek article, I was alarmed to the growing crisis of faith our country is now having.  When I read the ARIS survey, I realized that even though the numbers are striking, the real striking change did not take place between 2001 and 2008.  the really big change mostly took place between 1990 and 2001!  In almost every case, the change between the first and second survey is striking, and the change between the second and third is a slowed continuation of that trend.

Take for example, the biggest statistic quote of the article, that the numbers of Christians have decreased from 86.2% in 1990 to 76% in 2008.  That is true, but the 2001 number was 76.6%.  This means that in the 11 years of the first survey, the number of Christians decreased 9.6% in America.  That is .87% a year.  Between 2001 and 2008, the number decreased .7%.  That is a decrease of .1% per year.  This means that the Christian slide has been decreasing as of late, not rapidly increasing.  The increase in those with “no religion” also has followed a similar pattern.

Of course, this doesn’t make the survey good news.  It is bad news…very bad news.  It does mean that this is not a sudden and new trend.

Another thing that is worth noting is that the Christian slide is not across the board.  The article interviews a Baptist leader, and the Baptists have a whole lot to be worried about.  They are in steady decline.  There is no real slowing of the curve between 2001 and 2008 for them.  The “Mainline Christian” group (which includes Methodist, U. Meth, AME, Lutheran, Presbyterian Episcopal/Anglican, U Church of Christ, Reformed, DoC, Moravian, Quaker, and all of the Orthodox groups) have fared even worse, with their numbers declining even more in the 2001-2008 leg than the one before.

But, the “Christian Generic” group (containing those who would only answer that they were “Christian,” “Non Denom Christian,” “Protestant,” “Evangelical,” “Born Again,” and those who said that they were Pentecostal or Charismatic) actually increased in each survey period across the board.  Some of these numbers were striking.  Non Denominational Christians almost tripled between 2001 and 2008.  They increased by almost 6 million adherents in that time period.  that is amazing, compared with all of the other trends.

Those that list no religion have outgrown every other group in every single category, though.  Their geographical and demographic information is very interesting as well.  The Pacific Northwest is no longer the center of irreligion in the US.  That title is now held by the Northeast.  Vermont is particularly noteworthy, where No Religion is now the largest religious group, when catholics and protestants are separated.  They have  a population of 34% who claim to have no religion.

The No Relgion group has the largest disparity of any group between the sexes, as well.  Twenty percent more men than women (60-40) claim this category.  Every other religious group has more women adherents than men (Baptists with the biggest disparity that way at 14%), except for Muslims, Eastern religions, and the off-brand religions (wiener-dog worship, etc) who have more male adherents.

A lot has been said about rapid growth of Islam.  Statistically, it appears to be largely from immigration, and it is almost solely from unmarried men.

The biggest thing I noticed about the survey though, was how stratified it was according to race.  When race is factored in, black people are holding to their faith largely, and Hispanics are mostly shifting from one Christian group to another.  But Asians, and even more markedly whites, are leaving faith for agnosticism/atheism at huge rates.  While Asians (it must be noted that Asian includes any group from the continent of Asia—something that we need to stop doing—there is no way a Chinese person has that much in common with an Iranian, or Indian) are the largest group with no religion at 27%, the whites without faith doubled between 1990 and 2008, with the vast majority of that growth between the first and second surveys.

The numbers in these surveys are very bleak for Christianity, on the one hand.  It might be good for Christianity on the other, though.  This might force American Christians to re-examine the orthopraxy, one they realize that their orthodoxy doesn’t need to be changed.  Further, the old mainline denominations are rapidly deteriorating, while the more outside the box non-denominational groups are actually growing.  It must be noted that throughout the 90’s and 2000’s the mainlines were characterized by large theological battles over liberalization of theology, while the charismatics and non-denominationals did not have these struggles.  I do not think there is much doubt that these struggles factor in significantly to the trends shown in this survey.  It appears to me that theological and social appeasement has not led to increased adherents, but large exodus to other Christian groups.  –Ryan Shinn

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What Are We Doing Here Anyway?

This blog really stems from who I am.  I am a youth pastor/church planter, Internet entrepeneur, and the husband of an awesome woman from Taiwan.  I have a passion for writing, seeing the Church use communication technology (specifically the Internet) in the most effective way possible, and helping to grow Christianity in America into what Jesus intended it to be.  I blog about these things here in separate pages according to these various themes.

2009 American Religious Identification Survey

This week’s Newsweek has a cover story on “The Decline and Fall of Christian America,” written by Jon Meachan.  I read the article today (more on that in another post) and am now pouring over the actual survey that formed the basis of the article.  I will explain my findings on that in the next few days, as I discover new things.

Incidentally, it wasn’t easy to find.  There are simply so many blogs talking about it, most of them just scrapes of the Newsweek article itself.

Pledging Allegiance

This may seem like a stretch at first, but I think it bears consideration:

Do you remember when you were a kid and you stood up every day to say the Pledge of Allegiance in class?

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Those words are indelibly imprinted in my mind.  It is like an old TV or computer screen that was stuck on one thing for an extended period, and had that image burned into it for all time.  When I was younger, I felt like I couldn’t pass a flag without getting teary-eyed and patriotic.  Really!  I know it sounds hokey, and if you aren’t an American, you are probably rolling your eyes.  Maybe even if you are an American, you might be too.  There is nothing wrong with having a deep love for your country.

All of those feelings were concurrent with the whole “my daddy can beat up your daddy” phase.  That is natural.  Back in childhood we all had a natural sense that there were certain things in life that were unquestionable.  Your mom was a better cook than every other mom.  Your dad was the strongest man in the world, and everything they said about the world was written in stone as by the very hand of God.  Even when they said you had done something wrong, and you were angry, still you knew inside that they were right.

At some point in childhood this all goes away, slowly at first.  Then you wake up one day when you are about 13, and suddenly you realize that the opposite is true.  It sort of comes on you like a flood in the night, and you wake up in the morning, and you know everything about everything.  Anything else is to be questioned with the most stringent of examinations.  It isn’t until later when you realize that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Now, as I read my Bible I am daily confronted with a nagging question.  What should I do about those things that I am reading that challenge the way I’ve decided the way things are and should be?  What do I do about the words and commands in the Bible that say something I don’t want to be true?  Do I tear them out, pretend they are not there, or in the fashion of the day, explain them away as saying something else entirely?

I don’t have to enumerate these issues.  Anyone who has truly read the Bible has found them.  Issues of sexuality, the proper roles of men and women, giving money to the Church, speaking only words of kindness and blessing, all of these and more assault me daily.  In a post-Christian world this is increasingly going to be a battle line.  We have lost an innocence that repeats, “God says it, so I must believe it.”

One of the many questions to ask is how accurate is this paradigm of adolescence to the spiritual landscape?  In many ways I think we are in our spiritual teens as a society.  I think that we have in large part decided what we want to be true.  We want issues of sexual morality to be however we’ve determined them.  The Bible has to be wrong, in our eyes, if it says something other than what we’ve already determined is right.

The answer to this that many Christians in a post-Christian world are going to have to learn is not to simply return with “God says it, so you must believe it.”  That won’t affect people any more than convincing a teenager that you are right simply because you are their parent.  Notice the use of the word “you” in that quotation.  We must continue and hold fast to the fact that we MUST believe it simply because God says it.  That is where our allegiance lies.  Our reality must not be conditional or subjective.  But our dialogue must point to Christ, not to behavior.

Christ will continue to affect lives, no matter what title we give to an era.  But we Christians have failed in many ways to point our lives and rhetoric to Christ.  Instead we have pointed both towards our code of behavior.  This is not my idea of how things are.  It is fact.  Most un-Christians statistically view Christianity mostly as a code of behavior, and their criticisms of our faith almost unanimously stem from that.  Our behavior is important, as it points others toward Christ (as is the main point of Ephesians 5), not as an ends to itself.

What the post-Christian era knows that we don’t is that it makes no sense to say “God says, so I must believe it, and therefore do it,” if they have no allegiance to God.  We would do well to stop saying “you should live this way,” and start saying living lives that make people ask us “How can I have a life like yours?”

Evangelical Atheism

I just read an article about 100,000 people in the UK downloading and signing “certificates of de-baptism.”

I have noticed lately that the rhetoric from atheist groups has been significantly increasing in the last few years. From a logical standpoint, I totally do not understand this. Despite the lack of understanding from secularists, the Christian has a huge (and positive) mandate for spreading his faith. The Christian believes that those who don’t know God are “dead in their sins,” living a life that is detrimental to both their present reality and their future state, and blinded to the one real truth behind all of existence. Continue reading “Evangelical Atheism”

2009 In Preview

Yeah, yeah…so I know that we are already nearing the end of the first quarter of 2009.  I am very late with my predictions this year.  Better late than never, right?  Well, frankly I have just been really busy with all of the stuff I’ve got to do, and this just fell to the back burner.  Having said that, I don’t actually usually do these until the end of January to mid-February.  I promise not to evaluate myself positively at the end of the year based on anything that has already happened as of this writing.  Well, here goes. Continue reading “2009 In Preview”

A Piece From Some of My Personal Correspondence

The following is part of an email conversation that I had recently.  I felt it really got to the heart of some of my current political/spiritual thinking.

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I completely agree with the giant problem of fiscal irresponsibility, the redefining of conservatism as of late, especially in regard to fiscal issues, and even identification as more of a libertarian (to a degree).  Actually, on the last one, more appropriately, I would be a true conservative Republican.  I don’t like some of the libertarian social stances.  I know that there is a big difference between having the government decide what I am allowed to do, and me actually doing that.  Governments always tend to get more and more restrictive over time.  After all, when was the last time you heard of the government repealing a law in order to give more freedom. Continue reading “A Piece From Some of My Personal Correspondence”

My 2008 Predictions Analyzed

Every year I create a list of educated guesses as to what the next year holds. Every year I come up with my best attempt at a fair analysis of my guesses for the previous year.  This is my analysis that I posted at my WordPress blog of 2008’s predictions.

Now that 2008 is well done with, we can look back and see how well I did.  I try every year to be fair with this.  Let me know what you think in the comments.  I will give myself a percentage rating on each.  I have shifted the original colors to straight black and my rating of each to red.  I have not changed any of the content from the original posting.   However, I was appalled at my usually impeccable spelling/grammar.  I have improved those errors. Continue reading “My 2008 Predictions Analyzed”