USA Still Christian Nation

In a blinding flash of the obvious, Gallup finds that "Christianity Remains Dominant Religion in the United States."

In a blinding flash of the obvious, Gallup finds that “Christianity Remains Dominant Religion in the United States.”

This Christmas season, 78% of American adults identify with some form of Christian religion. Less than 2% are Jewish, less than 1% are Muslim, and 15% do not have a religious identity. This means that 95% of all Americans who have a religious identity are Christians.

More interesting but certainly not surprising is that “one major trend that is clear from Gallup’s and other organizations’ surveys is the increase in the percentage of Americans who do not have a formal religious identity. Some 60 years ago, in 1951, for example, just 1% of Americans in Gallup surveys said they didn’t have a religious identity. At that time, Gallup classified 68% of Americans as identifying with a non-Catholic Christian faith, and 24% who were Catholic.”

In this regard, we’re following if seriously lagging our counterparts in other developed countries. We’re much more religious than most Western Europeans but much less religious than our 1950s and 1960s ancestors. Then again, we don’t know how much of the decline is actual and how much is a function of Americans being more comfortable admitting that they’re non-believers.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, 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. Commonist says:

    No wonder concern for the poor, infirm and unfortunate is the norm in the US. Especially when it comes to the more religiously inclined political party.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @Commonist: Actually, the level of concern about the unfortunate is high, indeed, in the United States. It just manifests in charitable giving–including via churches–rather than in generous government-provided benefits.

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner:

    It just manifests in charitable giving–including via churches–rather than in generous government-provided benefits.

    Heaven forbid that God not get his cut. (sorry, could not resist)

  4. MarkedMan says:

    Ok, I know I’m a grouch, but I suspect the vast majority of money donated as religious charity goes to fund the religion itself, whether it be minister’s salary, the church building or the gas to heat it. Of the small fraction left, in many Christian religion’s those few coins go to proselytizing, not to helping the poor.

  5. In other groundbreaking news from the world of polling, Christmas is still America’s favorite holiday.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: I’m not arguing that donating to the church is the most efficient means of charity, although it’s probably not any worse than many of the flagship “charities,” which skim the vast bulk off the top to line the pockets of the top brass and other “administrative costs.” Nonetheless, even the residual amount that goes to help the unfortunate is still substantial.

  7. DRS says:

    James, I don’t want to get into an argument with you today of all days, but I have quite a bit of experience as volunteer in the not-for-profit world, and good planning is good planning regardless of whether you’re delivering widgets or after-school recreation programs. Good administrators are required to plan and produce measurable outcomes and when the organization depends on volunteers to make things happen, planning becomes absolutely vital. So please, let’s watch the sweeping judgement calls, okay?

  8. sam says:

    @James Joyner:

    Actually, the level of concern about the unfortunate is high, indeed, in the United States. It just manifests in charitable giving–including via churches–rather than in generous government-provided benefits.

    Ah, JJ, that’s not right at all. True, concern is reflected in private charitable giving, but to say that government-provided benefits are not reflective of concern for the unfortunate surely cannot be correct. Both methods of provision are reflective of the concern.

  9. Hey Norm says:

    Is Commonist being sarcastic???
    The “more religiously inclined” political party thinks that the poor and the sick and the old…the so-called 47%…should pay more taxes. And they want to abolish the decades old social safety nets that the old and the sick and the poor depend on.
    The “more religiously inclined” political party has embraced Ayn Rand…and Rand and Christianity are diametrically opposed.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    It’s amazing to see that 15% of the nation embraces reality. Based on our politics I would have expected far less.

  11. Neil Hudelson says:

    Curses! Once again, liberals, our war on Christmas has failed!

    We’ll get you next year!

  12. Well, there is obviously an important intellectual, philosophical, and political distinction between “a Christian nation” and “a predominantly Christian nation.”

    That said, Merry Christmas to those who fall in the majority, and a good day to the rest.

  13. de stijl says:

    James:

    Then again, we don’t know how much of the decline is actual and how much is a function of Americans being more comfortable admitting that they’re non-believers.

    Given the pretty drop in the Very Important between 1965 and 1977 (with all that span of years implies), and then with a fairly constant value thereafter, my guess is that your unstated hunch hunch is spot-on.

    People just felt less pressure to say that is was very important to them.

    It would be interesting to see the numbers of church attendance over the same span to see if there are any correlations.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @Commonist:
    Yes, in Sweden which is almost entirely non-religious the poor are hunted for sport.

  15. James, I want to wish you peace and love on this Christmas Day. I know this Christmas Day must be extraordinarily painful for you, although I hope some joy of the day is making you smile today. And, of course, being with your daughters and the rest of your family and close friends today.

    Best,

    Kathy Kattenburg

  16. michael reynolds says:

    My son has a t-shirt he wears to school that reads God = square root of -1. Of course I had to have this explained to me, but apparently there is no square root of -1. (Who knew?) Granted that only the smarter kids get it, there’s still been no backlash. 30 years ago when I had an atheist bumper sticker on my car (Hey, I was young. Youngish.) the more religiously-inclined would drive on my ass with their brights on, give me the finger or offer to send me to hell

    Religious bullying of atheists is in decline.

  17. Tlaloc says:

    I’m not arguing that donating to the church is the most efficient means of charity, although it’s probably not any worse than many of the flagship “charities,” which skim the vast bulk off the top to line the pockets of the top brass and other “administrative costs.” Nonetheless, even the residual amount that goes to help the unfortunate is still substantial.

    That’s missing the bigger point, JJ. The real issue is not that giving through a church leads to them skimming too much off the top, the problem is that churches have no idea how to distribute charity to those actually in need. While a given church may have insight into their actual parishioners that are having trouble they have no special ability to see beyond tat miniscule group. Furthermore socioeconomic grouping being what it is those churches with people giving the most are the least likely to have parishioners in the most dire need.

    As a means of helping the needy it’s absolutely idiotic. What’s needed is a system that can fairly evaluate what resources are available and distribute them to those in the most need. Now it’s not impossible for a NFP group to serve such a function but given the importance and need for oversight it’s far better off int he hands of government or at the least a private-public partnership.

    Giving to the church is not charity, it’s stroking your own ego at the expense of others. the sooner people accept that the sooner we can actually help the needy.

  18. Tlaloc says:

    My son has a t-shirt he wears to school that reads God = square root of -1. Of course I had to have this explained to me, but apparently there is no square root of -1. (Who knew?)

    There is a square root of -1, it’s called “i”. It’s an imaginary number but is nevertheless quite important in math and physics. I think that’s the real joke they’re saying god is imaginary.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Tlaloc:

    Yeah, and I, um, totally knew about “i.”

    Actually, now that I recall, it was part of Jake’s explanation. But as a rule once a number, let alone a square root is invoked i. . . zzzzzzz.

  20. G.A.Phillips says:

    Religious bullying of atheists is in decline.

    I guess that depends on your definition of what “Religious bullying of atheists is in decline” means Harry….

  21. Franklin says:

    … less than 1% are Muslim …

    Clearly this poll is flawed, I’m pretty sure I heard we were all under Sharia law or something.

  22. G.A.Phillips says:

    Music break””””’>>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfD6V8b1zco

  23. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Hey Norm: “The “more religiously inclined” political party has embraced Ayn Rand…and Rand and Christianity are diametrically opposed. ”

    Yes, thatr is ironic, isn’t it?

  24. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Tlaloc: While I see and agree with your general point about giving to individual churches and charity, your assertion as to the overall futility may be a little overstated. Larger denominational groups–Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and even Baptists have fairly elaborate and well run–i.e. low overhead–charitable agencies that do amazing work both in the US and across the world.

    Even so, these “liberal” (at least to the Baptists) denominations also advocate strongly for government-sponsored safety nets, if for no other reason because some people with no religious ties are either reluctant to seek help from churches or lack knowledge of what types of assistance is and isn’t available. Individual churches, and particularly non-denominational ones have frequently are more concerned about the afterlife than the here and now and are more inward looking in meeting societal needs–but both of those concerns have their place, too.

  25. Peter says:

    “USA Still Christian Nation”

    Hum no.

    USA still a secular nation where religious freedom is guarantied by the Constitution.

  26. James Joyner says:

    @Peter: The two are not mutually exclusive options; I’m an anti-theist but still acknowledge that the culture and polity is overwhelmingly Christian.