According to a new Gallup poll, people who belong to a church or some other religious institution has dropped 20 percentage points over the last 20 years, hitting a low of 50 percent last year.
In 1999, church membership was at 70 percent but has fallen ever since. In regards to the percentage of adults in the U.S. who claim no religious affiliation, that number has jumped from 8 percent to 19 percent.
The Catholic Church has seen a significant drop as well, with people who identify as Catholic dropping 13 percentage points over the last two decades. Protestants saw a drop in membership of 73 percent to 67 percent.
Hispanic Americans saw one of the biggest declines in church membership, from 68 percent to 45 percent since the year 2000.
When it comes to political affiliation, Democrats saw a much larger decline than Republicans. According to Gallup, Dems fell from 71 percent to 48 percent, compared to a small drop for Republicans — 77 percent to 69 percent.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Boston University sociology professor Nancy Ammerman said the declines are due to changing cultural and generational factors.
“Culturally, we are seeing significant erosion in the trust people have for institutions in general and churches in particular,” she said. “We are also seeing a generational shift as the ‘joiner’ older generation dies off and a generation of non-joiners comes on the scene.”
The Friendly Atheist‘s Hemant Mehta thinks the changes are also due to more sinister reasons, namely the sex abuse scandals that have rocked religion, along with the increasingly apparent hypocrisy of its leaders. In short, the declines shouldn’t be “all that shocking,” Mehta writes.
“The largest religious denominations in the country — Catholics, Southern Baptists, white evangelicals — have all been going through public sex abuse scandals that involve covering up the crimes on behalf of leaders,” Mehta says. “White evangelical Christianity has also effectively become synonymous with the atrocities of the Republican Party and the Trump administration specifically.”
“When that’s what religion has to offer, what benefit do you gain by proclaiming yourself one of them?” he added. “Even beyond that, those organized religions oppose LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom, scientific data, and sex education. They stand for discriminating against gay people, not defending the poor. After a tragedy, they offer thoughts and prayers, not solutions.”
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