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Number of Protestant Americans Is in Steep Decline, Study Finds

Chris Bergin for The New York Times

For the first time since researchers began tracking the religious identity of Americans, fewer than half said they were Protestants, a steep decline from 40 years ago when Protestant churches claimed the loyalty of more than two-thirds of the population.

A new study released on Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that it was not just liberal mainline Protestants, like Methodists or Episcopalians, who abandoned their faith, but also more conservative evangelical and “born again” Protestants. The losses were among white Protestants, but not among black or minority Protestants, the study found, based on surveys conducted during the summer.

When they leave, instead of switching churches, they join the growing ranks who do not identify with any religion. Nearly one in five Americans say they are atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”

This is a significant jump from only five years ago, when adults who claimed “no religion” made up about 15 percent of the population. It is a seismic shift from 40 years ago, when about 7 percent of American adults said they had no religious affiliation.

Now, more than one-third of those ages 18 to 22 are religiously unaffiliated. These “younger millennials” are replacing older generations who remained far more involved with religion throughout their lives.

Read on at the New York Times.

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  1. Jean Barker October 11, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    Quakerism is a choice. The Light is within us all. No need for dogmatic statements of belief.

  2. Judith Berry October 13, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    The decline isn’t just in recent times. As a pastor’s wife for 20 years, I saw that the “books” on individual churches were not telling the truth in the first place. For one example if a family was enrolled in a congregation, the members of the family weren’t all active and very rarely was the man of the house active. Mostly it was the women and children. So as far back as the 1960s I saw that a church’s membership was not a true picture of how many active members it had.

    My personal opinion, and why I left the church, is because in all of my 45 plus years as being very active, toward the end of that timeframe the church hadn’t grown at all. It wasn’t until 15 years ago that I took a different course and found to my amazement that I feel so much better about myself, and I no longer have any guilt feelings about not being able “to do it right.”

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