Christmas in America: Less Christian Than Ever

Is the United States a Christian nation?    Well, a whopping 78 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians.   But that’s less than ever before.  And the number of people identifying as having no religious identity is at its highest point ever, as is number saying religion is “not very important” in their lives.

Gallup’s Frank Newport:

This Christmas season, 78% of Americans identify with some form of Christian religion, a proportion that has been declining in recent decades. The major reason for this decline has been an increase in the percentage of Americans claiming no religious identity, now at 13% of all adults.

usa-religion-trends-gallupThe trend results are based on annual averages of Gallup’s religious identity data in America that stretch back over 60 years. One of the most significant trends documented during this period is the substantial increase in the percentage of American adults who don’t identify with any specific religion. In 1948, only 2% of Americans did not identify with a religion. That percentage began to rise in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Eleven years ago, in 1998, 6% of Americans did not identify with a religion, a number that rose to 10% by 2002. This year’s average of 13% of Americans who claim no religious identity is the highest in Gallup records.

[…]

There was a substantial drop in the percentage of Americans who said religion was “very important” in their lives between the 1960s and the 1970s — from 70% in 1965 to 52% by 1978 — but in recent decades, this “very important” percentage has remained relatively steady. The overall figure today — 56% — is slightly higher than it was 31 years ago.

usa-religion-importance-gallup

There has been a slight tendency over the years for Americans to shift from a “fairly important” category to the “not very important” category in answer to this religious importance question. The percentage saying religion is not very important in their lives was routinely in the 12% to 15% range from 1978 through the early years of this decade. In more recent years, this percentage has drifted slightly upward, and is at 19% this year.

The bottom line is that the United States remains an overwhelming Christian nation and one where religion plays a much more important role than in virtually any other developed country.  But more of us are non-religious than ever before, a trend that’s likely to continue.

FILED UNDER: Public Opinion Polls, Religion, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Have a nice G.A. says:

    The bottom line is that the United States remains an overwhelming Christian nation and one where religion plays a much more important role than in virtually any other developed country.

    There is great movement in China, some say between 100 and 300 million Christians there, if the later number is true, thats far more then our whole country in a place were it can get you killed.

    Well anyway, have a Merry Christmas OTB…..

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    The bottom line is that the United States remains an overwhelming Christian nation and one where religion plays a much more important role than in virtually any other developed country. But more of us are non-religious than ever before, a trend that’s likely to continue.

    I’m uncertain of the larger trends. It would appear to me that religiosity has both waxed and waned in other places. Consider, for example, the Methodist Revival of the 18th and 19th centuries.

    When I reflect on the experience of my own family over the last century or so, my siblings and I are clearly more religious than our grandparents were. Maybe we’re bucking the trend or maybe we’re the leading edge of a wave.

    Additionally, beyond the question of actual piety, the United States is overwhelmingly culturally Christian in a way that influences not only Christians here but those don’t profess Christianity here and elsewhere in the world. Many American Jews have Christmas trees and give gifts. The Japanese have adopted Christmas in a rather big way as a sort of corporate commercial festivity.

    The commenter above also makes a good point. Will the influence of India, Africa, and China on Europe and the United States be more or less over the next century than it has been in the last? And how will that change views on religion here?

  3. superdestroyer says:

    This shows why the Republicans were very foolish to make a mix of politics and religion. If the graph was for whites only (the only groups that really votes for Republicans) the drop would be more severe.

  4. Herb says:

    I tend to cringe whenever I hear the phrase “Christian nation,” because –well– we’re not actually a Christian nation.

    We’re a nation, and most of us are Christians, true, but our nation has written into its bylaws that it’s NOT a Christian nation or a Muslim one or a Jewish one or any other religion. It may seem like a small point, but we’re a nation of Christians, not a Christian nation.

    The former leads to the religious diversity we enjoy so much. The latter leads people to start arguing that we need to teach the Bible in science class…

  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Only a scumbag would feature such a blog on Christmas Day. Which of the ten commandments do you disagree with James? Which of the teachings of Christ do you find wrong? I know your BELIEF in science is stong, are you living in an example of AGW were you live. It snowed in Dallas for the first time in 80 years. Pile it Higher, deeper.= PHD

  6. Have a nice G.A. says:

    The former leads to the religious diversity we enjoy so much.

    The fact that we are a Christian nation is the only reason for this, and what does it have to do with teaching the truth of creation?

    Do you have any idea what has happen to us as nation since we stopped using the bible as the main text book and then again since we took prayer out of schools?

    Many times has atheism risen its ugly head throughout history only to be met with a new revival from the only worldwide religion, it’s called Christianity.

  7. Have a nice G.A. says:

    This shows why the Republicans were very foolish to make a mix of politics and religion. If the graph was for whites only (the only groups that really votes for Republicans) the drop would be more severe.

    Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them.
    Joseph Story

  8. […] Outside The Beltway […]

  9. Our Paul says:

    Allow me to break into this thread to wish Dr. James Joiner a super Holiday with the usual all the best etc… There is little other than good health one can wish for a man who has a beautiful and smart wife, a baby daughter who is just starting to walk, and a one and half inch T-Bone sizzling on the grill.

    The sole exception in this spirit of peace and good cheer in his Universe remains the odious and heinous Dallas Cowboys who stand in the way of the magnificent Men in Blue achieving a play off berth.

    Similar wishes to his associate blogegrs Dave Schuler, Alex Knapp and Steve Verdon. Together with Dr. Joiner, they have tickled the brain cells and expanded my Universe.

    I would like to share these greetings and sentiment with the all correspondents to this blog. I admire and at times stand in awe as they with bounty of grace and bonhomous attempt to correct some of Dr. Joiner or one of his Associates blog posting. The screaming, skewering, and blood letting that on occasion may follow between correspondents warms this warrior’s soul — the gladiator gene still lives.

    Cross posted to all of today’s threads.

  10. Herb says:

    Sorry, G.A. We are not a Christian nation.

    We are a Nation of Christians: Generic, diverse, lots of room for all the various Christian sects like the Methodists, the Catholics (even the Mormons!) not to mention the Jews, Muslims, and Atheists to worship as they please.

    That’s how our country operates.

    No doubt YOU think you practice the one-true religion, not just a brand of Christianity, but THE TRUE brand of Christianity, but wiser men than you made it quite explicit that when it comes to our national character, religious freedom is the defining characteristic, not religious orthodoxy.

    “Christian Nation” implies that everyone in that nation is a Christian, that there’s some general agreement on doctrine (there’s not), and that anyone not a Christian is not fully a part of that nation. And all of that is bunk.

  11. Do you have any idea what has happen to us as nation since we stopped using the bible as the main text book and then again since we took prayer out of schools?

    Why yes, yes I do.

    We extended full civil rights to African Americans who had long been oppressed with the tacit acceptance or open support of many southern Christian denominations.

    We began to treat women as equals.

    We continued to be the richest and most powerful nation on earth.

    We saw the defeat of Communism.

    We have now begun to extend full civil rights to gays.

    We invented and extended this techno-marvel we call the internets.

    Just as a little aside, make a list of the richest, freest nations on earth. Now make a list of the least religious nations on earth? Notice something? An awful lot of countries are on both lists.

  12. anjin-san says:

    Do you have any idea what has happen to us as nation since we stopped using the bible as the main text book and then again since we took prayer out of schools?

    Ah yes, here on Christmas, let us remember the good old days. The only people who had any power or a real stake in our society were white men. All others were chattel to some extent, often a great one.

    A very small group of people owned damn near everything, and woe on to those who pissed off the ruling class. In extreme situations, they would call in professional head breakers, and blood would run in the streets. Conformity, keeping your head down and your mouth shut was a very smart strategy for the average guy.

    Yes, those were the days folks. We have lost so very much…

  13. Have a nice G.A. says:

    Sorry, G.A. We are not a Christian nation.

    We are a Nation of Christians: Generic, diverse, lots of room for all the various Christian sects like the Methodists, the Catholics (even the Mormons!) not to mention the Jews, Muslims, and Atheists to worship as they please.

    That’s how our country operates.

    Yes, because we are a Christian nation.

    No doubt YOU think you practice the one-true religion, not just a brand of Christianity, but THE TRUE brand of Christianity, but wiser men than you made it quite explicit that when it comes to our national character, religious freedom is the defining characteristic, not religious orthodoxy.

    Well you almost got this right.

    And no, I don’t, but I can see what works and what does not.

    And wiser men then me created a free open society because of their Christian beliefs,because the understood that God rules nations, witch makes us a Christian nation, the only kind that tolerates the practice of other religions, truly, well it was their intent that became fulfilled..

    But we have been over this before.

    “Christian Nation” implies that everyone in that nation is a Christian, that there’s some general agreement on doctrine (there’s not), and that anyone not a Christian is not fully a part of that nation. And all of that is bunk.

    Were do you get this kind of understanding from, I don’t see it, but I have heard it used by others.

  14. Have a nice G.A. says:

    Why yes, yes I do.

    We extended full civil rights to African Americans who had long been oppressed with the tacit acceptance or open support of many southern Christian denominations.

    Harry, who got them civil rights? Who freed them? If your answer is anything other then Christian Republicans, well.

    We began to treat women as equals.

    Thats a bit weak, and how are they doing now.

    We continued to be the richest and most powerful nation on earth.

    So your saying God just turned his back on us and we never really needed him, or what?

    We saw the defeat of Communism.

    Mna now thats way out there.

    We have now begun to extend full civil rights to gays.

    What ever that means.

    We invented and extended this techno-marvel we call the internets.

    Yup the bible and prayer was really holding that back,But hey it might have held back what it’s being used for much of the time too, gosh Harry.

    Just as a little aside, make a list of the richest, freest nations on earth. Now make a list of the least religious nations on earth? Notice something? An awful lot of countries are on both lists.

    Sorry, but I think we would be in a column all by our lonesome.

  15. Have a nice G.A. says:

    Ah yes, here on Christmas, let us remember the good old days. The only people who had any power or a real stake in our society were white men. All others were chattel to some extent, often a great one.

    So you see things differently now?

    A very small group of people owned damn near everything, and woe on to those who pissed off the ruling class. In extreme situations, they would call in professional head breakers, and blood would run in the streets. Conformity, keeping your head down and your mouth shut was a very smart strategy for the average guy.

    Unions?

    You know, I just missed you guys to much, Merry Christmas guys and I hope God blesses you on his Sons birthday, well our little celebration of it anyhow.

  16. Herb says:

    “And wiser men then me created a free open society because of their Christian beliefs…”

    Ha! I don’t mean to laugh, but Thomas Jefferson’s “Christian beliefs” were so strong that he edited the Bible to remove ALL of the Christ-y God stuff Jesus did. I think his exact quote was, “I don’t believe any of that bullshit.”

    Remember, when I said wiser than you, I meant it.

  17. anjin-san says:

    So you see things differently now?

    Hmmmm. Well, we do have a black President and a woman speaker of the house.

    Unions?

    No, Pinkerton’s. Check it out on the Googles….

  18. Is G.A. formerly someone else? His particular brand of clueless reminds me of someone but I can’t quite place it.

  19. anjin-san says:

    who got them civil rights?

    They got them civil rights. And they did it in spite of Christians siccing dogs on them and cracking their heads open with billy clubs. How many times was The Reverend King tossed in jail on bogus charges? Was that some sort of act of Christian charity?

  20. UlyssesUnbound says:

    Is G.A. formerly someone else? His particular brand of clueless reminds me of someone but I can’t quite place it.

    Seems to remind me of one commentator who swore he would never return. Oh how wonderful OTB has been since that day. Discussions have been rational, with doses of levity provided by Triumph and Zels’s brands of parody. I guess all good things come to an end.

  21. anjin-san says:

    Seems to remind me of one commentator who swore he would never return

    Is that Bithead?? Oh, happy day. Guess the rational discussion, reason, actual exchange of ideas, and use of logic was just more than he could take.

  22. sam says:

    Is G.A. formerly someone else?

    This one writes better than the other one.

  23. Have a nice G.A. says:

    You know, I just missed you guys to much, Merry Christmas guys and I hope God blesses you on his Sons birthday, well our little celebration of it anyhow.

    I know you guys are severely indoctrinated, but even that I had said so, I never thought you was stupid, well most of you.

    Ya I quit being the troll for fun, because I was getting carried away, and acting to much like my old self, you know an ignorant wise ass liberal. Now you have Nice G.A..

    you see Harry you take the Phillips off G.A.Phillips,It’s so my friends who really cared would know it was me:)

    And I’m also lol. I know how much you guys like when I type that, so it will now be in front of every time I place in the caption contest, my gift to my fans. Kind of like laugh out loud, then my joke or punch line.

    I love it, since I stopped being mean you dudes it kinda make me feel like a kindergarten teacher:)

    UlyssesUnbound, oh, I did I ever tell you your the only liberal here I don’t like.

    Oh and Sam I’m saving up to get white smoke:)

    I was getting to pissed and hitting post, and with my short comings in word smithing, well you know what would happen.

    I can do OK when I don’t get emotional, but when I save up 80 bones I’m gonna cheat.

    But don’t worry I’ll stick to the posts that interest me and the caption contest, I won’t fish for the silly thing you guys spout on almost every post anymore.

  24. Have a nice G.A. says:

    I don’t mean to laugh, but Thomas Jefferson’s “Christian beliefs” were so strong that he edited the Bible to remove ALL of the Christ-y God stuff Jesus did. I think his exact quote was, “I don’t believe any of that bullshit.”

    I tell you what happened and why and you pull out old Tom, Please don’t waste time, you can not indoctrinate me with your simple nonfactual infinitesimal to the whole picture ploys.

  25. Have a nice G.A. says:

    And the rest of you, you need to go back and learn some history, many bad thing are done by all labels, it is besides the point that we argue, good golly.

  26. Oh, yeah, Phillips.

    Sorry, but under my current rules of engagement I’m not allowed to waste my time on you. Nothing I can do about it: orders from Jesus.

  27. anjin-san says:

    many bad thing are done by all labels

    Thats true, but you are the one wrapping himself in a cloak of righteousness, not the other posters.

  28. Have a nice G.A. says:

    Thats true, but you are the one wrapping himself in a cloak of righteousness, not the other posters.

    When have I ever done that? The point here is, we are all sinners, I fell bad about it, most of you don’t, and you don’t want anyone else to fell bad about you being sinners so you try to force them to believe there is no such thing.

    And I see most of you counterparts wrapped in a cloak of rewritten history,like a snuggie that a latenite merchant form Obamaco got your credit card number for.

    Harry are you still mad about that Wolverine crack, I apologize.

  29. anjin-san says:

    When have I ever done that?

    Well, in your very next sentence, for example.

    The point here is, we are all sinners, I fell bad about it, most of you don’t, and you don’t want anyone else to fell bad about you being sinners so you try to force them to believe there is no such thing.

    And here:

    The fact that we are a Christian nation is the only reason for this, and what does it have to do with teaching the truth of creation?The fact that we are a Christian nation is the only reason for this, and what does it have to do with teaching the truth of creation?

    And here:

    Do you have any idea what has happen to us as nation since we stopped using the bible as the main text book and then again since we took prayer out of schools?

  30. Have a nice G.A. says:

    That wraps me in a cloak of righteousness? I’m pointing out the obvious.

    Let me ask you this question: Do you think your a good person?

    Come on Anjin-san, look to the evidence that history provides.

  31. UlyssesUnbound says:

    UlyssesUnbound, oh, I did I ever tell you your the only liberal here I don’t like.

    You know, it’s true that the best Christmas gifts don’t come wrapped in paper and tied with a bow. They come from deep down in the heart. To be honored with this recognition is truly warming. God Bless you.

  32. Alex says:

    Why does it matter that people are being less religious cause that Christmas is not so much religious these days anyway cause that many other cultures like Indians support Christmas but not so much a religious thing but a festive thing instead.