Christianity and religion in general are dying in America, especially among Hispanics

July 18, 2021 • 11:15 am

A religious organization has collected some new data showing that Christianity in America is waning even faster than I thought, especially among Hispanics who are abandoning Catholicism like a sinking ship. A precis of the data is published on the Rosa Rubicondior site (“RR”; first screenshot below), which graphically distills the data from a five-page study released by the Barna Group (screenshot below that one), a group headed by a religious man and hosted by Arizona Christian University.

If the Barna group raises red flags about the decline of religion in America, you can bet they’re not making it up. Their survey was based on 2,000 American adults surveyed in February. And it shows what I’ve long maintained—this is not my theory that is mine but the conclusion of many people—that Christianity, and religion in general, is dying in America. (The exceptions are an increase in Islam, probably due to immigration, and in Buddhism, a basically godless religion.) The decline is due largely to a loss of faith among young people, as we’ve seen several times before. Religion wanes one corpse at a time.

The Rosa Rubicondior summary:

And a pdf of the original Barna survey (five pages):

Here are the main findings taken from the study itself:

The latest findings from the American Worldview Inventory 2021 identify a number of major shifts in the U.S. religious landscape, including:

• dramatic changes in the faith of American Hispanics, with a decrease in the number of Hispanic Catholics, accompanied by a sharp increase in Hispanic “Don’ts”—those who don’t believe, don’t know, or don’t care if God exists;

• fast growth in Islamic, as well as Eastern and New Age religions;

• a consistent 30-year decline in both Christianity and confidence in religion;

• a breathtaking drop in four critical spiritual indicators: belief in God, belief in the Bible, recognition of salvation through Jesus Christ, and possession of a biblical worldview;

• and a surprising increase in belief in reincarnation, even among Christians.

Rosa Rubicondior has made graphs, which show the data very nicely. All of them shown below come from the RR site, and when I quote I’ll give which of the two sources I use.

First, we have a rise of what both pieces call the “don’ts” in America, a term roughly equivalent to the “nones.” These are, according to Barna, “people who say they don’t know, don’t care, or don’t believe that God exists.” This proportion rose from 10% of all Americans in 1991 to 34% this year. There was a big jump in the last decade.  Here’s the chart:

As Barna notes, this is due to the young:

The expansion of the Don’ts among Hispanics is indicative of how rapidly that segment is growing across America. While one out of 10 U.S. adults qualified for that category in 1991 and again in 2001, the segment nudged up by just a couple more percentage points by 2011. That means the incredible growth of that category has taken place in the past decade, with the number of Don’ts nationwide nearly tripling from 12% in 2011 to 34% in 2021.

Who is responsible for that rapid and substantial growth? One of the leading segments is the Millennial generation (currently ages 18 through 36). The American Worldview Inventory 2021, an annual survey of Americans’ worldview conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, reveals that 43% of Millennials are Don’ts—the highest of any adult generation in the country.

I was surprised to see this paralleled by a loss of Catholicism among Hispanics, doubtlessly due to both acculturation and the secular Zeitgeist. The proportion of Hispanic-Americans identifying as Catholic has more than halved since 1991:

And we see the rise of the “Don’ts” among Hispanic-Americans as well, which has increased elevenfold since 1991:

Most of the loss of faith among Hispanics has occurred among Catholics, but it hasn’t been picked up by other religions—except for the “Don’ts”:

There are two “outlier facts” here.  First, as I said, Islam and Buddhism are the exceptions to the general loss of faith. From the Barna survey:

But the American Worldview Inventory 2021 also identified two other rapidly growing faith segments. One of those is Islam. While the Muslim faith had virtually no presence in the United States prior to the early 1990s (less than one-half of one percent of adults affiliated with Islam in 1991), that proportion has jumped in the past decade to nearly 3%. While that percentage is still small in comparison to several other faiths, the growth rate of Islam in America has exceeded even that of the Don’ts during the last decade.

In addition, Eastern religions (such as Buddhism and Hinduism) have also experienced resurgence in recent years. Presently, nearly 5% of adults associate with an Eastern or New Age religion. While that is more than double the proportion measured a decade ago, it is also indicative of the current search for alternatives to Christianity. Some that increase is also attributable to the continued expansion of the Asian population in America, now estimated to exceed 5% of the aggregate population.

The other is a rise in belief in reincarnation, which may be part of the same tendency that has led to an increase in Buddhism and Hinduism. (While Buddhism is a godless faith, it is not a “scientific” faith. Despite the Dalai Lama’s profession that science and Buddhism are completely compatible, he’s wrong. The concept of reincarnation and karma, both of which I think the Dalai Lama accepts, are profoundly unscientific. And of course Hinduism is a long way from secularism. )

From RR:

Also growing appears to be a contradictory belief of many Christians, in reincarnation. 24% of self-identified ‘born again’ Christians who profess to believe they face an eternity in God’s presence if they confess their sins and accept Jesus, with the alternative of hellfire if they don’t, also believe they may be reincarnated. Clearly both can’t be true.

Finally, we can break down faith into four separate propositions. Each of these (save belief that one will go to heaven) has decreased pretty steadily over the years. General belief in an “orthodox biblical view of God” has shown a particularly striking decrease. Only 2% of Americans accept the idea of a Hell, and that figure hasn’t changed much in 40 years. Sheer wish-thinking, especially when you consider that 30% of Americans think that they themselves will go to Heaven.

Now the head of the Barna Group, George Barna, is deeply concerned at these results, for he’s a religious man. First he limns how he sees America changing:

Barna explained, “This new America we see emerging is radically different—demographically, politically, relationally and spiritually. It is a young, non-white, mobile population. This group is largely indifferent to the United States, and is demonstrably skeptical of the nation’s history, foundations, traditions, and ways of life. They are technologically advanced, sexually unrestrained, emotionally unpredictable, and a spiritual hybrid. Christian ministry as practiced for the last five decades will not be effective with this unique population.”

No kidding!

Barna suggested some new avenues for ministry to pursue. “Because a worldview is developed when people are young, it is imperative that churches focus on and invest most heavily in reaching children and equipping their parents,” he said.

“Because the Bible is increasingly rejected as a trustworthy and relevant document of life principles, we must re-establish the reasons for its value and reliability.”

Good luck with that, George! Get the children when they’re young, and Barna will show you the (brainwashed) adults.

Barna continued, “Given that most young Americans view success as whatever produces happiness or satisfaction, we will have to address the emptiness and inadequacies of a life devoted to self and our fluid emotions. And without a solid foundation of truth upon which choices can be made, a society is doomed to hardships, failures, and conflict. In the person of Jesus Christ and through the pages of the Bible, absolute moral truths are knowable and can be applied to facilitate a successful and meaningful life.”

The Arizona Christian University professor also explained that many of the approaches now relied upon by Christian ministries—and especially by churches—may be inadequate to impact the new population that needs to be reached with God’s truths and principles.

“Typical church services and programs are not likely to minister to people in the way they did in the past,” he cautioned. “Reconsidering what it takes to facilitate disciples in such a different environment is a necessary step in the reimagining process.”

What Barna doesn’t see here is that even if you convince people that their lives are “empty and inadequate” if they pursue their own self-interest, that won’t necessarily drive people back to religion. There are many ways to reach out beyond oneself and help others without dragging the supernatural into it. And what Barna doesn’t realize, despite the strength of his very own data, is that America, like most of the West, is engaged in a wholesale loss of religion in favor of seculariam. Unless Jesus comes back or the Four Horsemen ride in, I don’t think this trend can be stopped, except perhaps for a slight increase of Islam in America. As well-being and secular morality increase in the West, religion will be discarded—just as children discard the toys they no longer need.

h/t: Barry

43 thoughts on “Christianity and religion in general are dying in America, especially among Hispanics

  1. “…just as children discard the toys they no longer need.” Best news I’ve had in a while. We will be so much better off when god finally ceases to exist in the minds of the faithful.

  2. “Because the Bible is increasingly rejected as a trustworthy and relevant document of life principles, we must re-establish the reasons for its value and reliability.”

    You might want to start by proving that bats are birds! 😉

    1. Strictly speaking the words “bird” and “bat” never appear in the Bible and before anyone goes looking for links let me point out that it is not written in English. Instead we have a Hebrew word which is variously translated at “bird”, “fowl” of “flying thing”. So it could just as easily have meant “things that fly” to the people who wrote it.

  3. I expect this will be the best news I will have read today. But I do have one concern. Looking at the data, and the expressed belief that the Goddies have to get to children early, will we see an increasing and more fervent effort to get religion into the schools? After all, where else is there a captive audience for their indoctrination?

    1. … will we see an increasing and more fervent effort to get religion into the schools?

      Maybe (though the chances of success are nil).

      What’s much more likely is a fervent effort to get children out of public schools and into religiously based schools funded with taxpayer money via voucher systems. Indeed, that effort has been underway for some time now, and picked up its pace while wingnut Betsy DeVos was US Education Secretary.

    2. It’s already in US schools in many parts of the country, especially in the South. Or more accurately, it’s always been in schools, with little chance of that changing. It’s not uncommon to have public school teachers in more rural and small-town regions who openly preach Christianity in their classes.

      It would be interesting to see how big the difference in belief is between urban and rural populations. I’d hazard that the majority of the religious are in rural regions, although it appears to still be strong among urban Black Americans.

      1. As our host as pointed out, religiosity is correlated with poverty — and, inversely, with standard of living.

  4. Over 20 years ago, I observed scrimshaw carvings with Hebrew characters in Skagway, Alaska. This presumably reflected the spread of Judaism among the natives of the Alaska panhandle. Since then, however, there may well have been a decline in Hebrew-speaking members of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian communities—or, as we say these days, the Tlingitx, Haidax, and Tsimshianx.

  5. “As well-being and secular morality increase in the West, religion will be discarded—just as children discard the toys they no longer need.”

    That is very good.

    However, atheism is not necessarily a solution without problems – in particular, the “toys” one has discarded as a child may very well be replaced with other “toys” – namely, ideologies or such other ideas that may compete with religion and without one knowing it.

    The atheist-by-choice may very well have a god shaped hole that needs to be cared for like a wound, lest other entities infect it.

    To paraphrase Ginsberg, you can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game.

    1. The concept of a ‘god shaped hole’ is, I suspect, the result of centuries of religious PR. There could well be a ‘meaning shaped hole’ or a ‘purpose shaped hole’ arising from peoples’ natural dispositions and how they live. But that hunger for meaning/purpose could be filled in many ways.

      1. The GSH seems to exhibit the strength of a psychological primitive dating from even before any specific religion.

        Wouldn’t it be the style of an Abrahamic religious ruling class to wield it upon its early victims, thus, as you point out, propagating the viral idea so as to be ubiquitous in the 21st century.

    2. Wasn’t that line from … George Gamow, or RIchard Feynman, or one of that ilk (Nobel laureates, or thereabouts) ? Maybe Boltzmann or Carnot? It’s a summary, in layman’s terms, of the first, second and third laws of thermodynamics.

      1. I first heard it in the context of thermodynamics. I later learned – having thought it was coined a big thermodynamics figure – Allen Ginsburg wrote it down and maybe published it, and maybe pre-dating the source I originally heard it from.

        It is on Wikipedia.

        1. Same route here. But I thought you were talking about the SCOTUS judge “Ginsberg”.
          Allen Ginsburg – name rings a bell. [Wiki] “poet and writer”. That would explain why he’d made almost no contact with my memory. “Howl” – I remember a program about the censorship row over that.

          1. “Ginsberg’s theorem is a parody of the laws of thermodynamics in terms of a person playing a game. The quote was first attributed to the poet Allen Ginsberg in a 1975 issue of the Coevolution Quarterly[1]]

            British scientist and author C. P. Snow is given credit by his students for using this to help learn the laws of thermodynamics in the 1950s.[4]

            0. There is a game (consequence of zeroth law of thermodynamics)
            1. You can’t win. (consequence of first law of thermodynamics)
            2. You can’t break even. (consequence of second law of thermodynamics)
            3. You can’t even get out of the game. (consequence of third law of thermodynamics)

            For more details :

            https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ginsberg%27s_theorem

  6. Maybe young Americans are more worried about “the emptiness and inadequacies of a life devoted to” the wrong religion, or to superstition in general.

    1. Yes agreed. Young people are also worried about a life devoted to mindless material consumption that’s destroying the planet. Abrahamic religions have nothing to say on this point. Or worse they suggest we should claim dominion over the natural world and use it up because Jesus is coming and we should all look busy.

      1. Dear Coyne, this is an interesting data point. But then there is also this survey from widely cited public religion, from 2020, with a few counterintuitive findings: the downward trend of Christianity is the US has stooped, that growth of nones has plateaued at 23%, and most surprising perhaps, mainline protestants have been growing and now match the evangelicals.
        Some of this may not be unexpected, given the hardships brought by the pandemic, economic downturn, and racial unrest over the last year and half. But still overall it is strange, particularly with regards to growth (at least stabilization) of mainline protestantism.
        https://www.prri.org/research/2020-census-of-american-religion/#page-section-1

  7. What worries me is the growth of two religions.
    The first one is ‘Wokism’ which, I guess, is part of the ‘Don’ts’. No clear data here though.
    The second one I fear much more, and that is Islam. From <0.5% to 3%, that is a six-fold increase!
    Immigration maybe the most important cause, but there is little indication that the younger generation is leaving Islam (I hope someone can correct me there). Ex-muslims appear a very small and (literally) threatened group.

    1. Immigration is not the only factor increasing Islamisation. In Europe, during the last few decennia of the last century, Saudi Arabia flooded Europe with hundreds of Imans, and supported the whole operation with hundreds of millions of dollars. When I was a student in the 1960s I had several Arabian friends, and no one of them would call themselves a Muslim.

      Elementary schools here in Antwerp report some classes where more than 50 percent of pupils follow Islamic religion courses.

  8. The decline in religion is only important as long as it is not replaced by other irrational belief systems that attempt to foist its values on the rest of us. As we have seen in recent years, the growth in wacko conspiracy theories have captured the Republican Party thereby threatening democracy. What we need to do is keep our eyes on is the trajectory of belief in the irrational as a whole, of which religion is just one part. The substitution of QAnon or other secular nonsense for Christianity may not be that great of a deal. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

    1. In America religion and republican are almost the same thing. The Evangelical Protestants are hooked up with the politics of Trump and the republicans. Some of the newer churches getting started in the south are very much into the politics of Trump. I was just reading about one in Ft. Worth, Tx the other day. Lots of music and jam packed fun in this one with three services on Sunday including one in Spanish.

      1. Lots of music and jam packed fun in this one with three services on Sunday including one in Spanish.

        Killing their constituents by infecting them with COVID with a gleeful massacre rarely seen since the depths of the Rambo films.
        Hey, there’s something to look forward to : when this pandemic is over (5th or 6th wave, maybe some time in 2023? 2024?), do you think Hollywood is going to lay into the politicians most lethally effective in promoting the death toll?

  9. The experience of Hispanics in south Florida has been somewhat different. The los exilios generation — those who came to the US in the immediate aftermath of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, as well as those who have followed in the continuing exodus since — tend to arrive in this country with such strong anti-Castro sentiments that they immediately align with ultra-conservative Republicans. Many find the American Catholic Church too liberal for their liking, so have abandoned it in favor of evangelical Protestantism.

    Their children, on the other hand, and especially their children’s children (and subsequent generations) leave the insular Little Havana and Hialeah communities and (like the offspring of other immigrants) get sucked into the vortex of the American zeitgeist, becoming evermore a-religious in the process. It just takes a while longer.

  10. What, exactly, is “possessing a biblical world-view”? Would that be a Creationist? Or someone who believes that the bible is literal? What’s the difference between a biblical world-view and someone who has an orthodox, biblical view of god?

    Either way, I’m always pleased to see data showing that religion in America is waning.

    1. What, exactly, is “possessing a biblical world-view”?

      Someone whose world is bounded by the Negev, the River Jordan, the Golan heights, and the port of Tyre. A vague idea of the postions of Babylon, Ur and Thebes might be considered desirable by some, but to others such knowledge smacks all too much of school-larnin’ or even (tell it not in Gath) educayshun!
      Hmmm, if you educate a person with a properly biblical world view, as described above, would they spontaneously combust? Is the experiment worth the cost of the video tape and the mopping up?

  11. “As well-being and secular morality increase in the West, religion will be discarded—just as children discard the toys they no longer need.”

    Paul was partly right when he wrote: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Perhaps there are childish and more “adult” approaches to faith. But the final putting away of childish things has to include learning that the “magic of reality” as Dawkins puts it is so much more beautiful and satisfying than the fairy tales of one’s youth, including religion.

    As an erstwhile believer (returned Mormon missionary here) turned atheist, it was reading the writings of Dawkins and others that helped fill the “god-shaped hole” in my life. I found the wonder of the world as it really is, good and bad, more than adequate for the next stage of “becoming a man”.

  12. Looks like good news, generally.

    “The exceptions are an increase in Islam, probably due to immigration, and in Buddhism, a basically godless religion” – not so good, and the misperception of Buddhists as inherently peaceful is given the lie by the on going situation is Myanmar, sadly.

    1. Over the long course of history, wouldn’t the behavior of the Myanmar Buddhists (or rather their military government) be listed as out of the ordinary? Conversely, the peaceful Quakers and Sufis would have to be listed as distinct outliers on the fringes of their respective religious establishments.

    2. Those who were aware of the mutual massacres of Hindus and Buddhists through the Sri Lanka civil war through the 2000s, 1990s and 1980s didn’t have much of that illusion left to shatter.

  13. Barna says of those who have turned away from Christianity: “They are technologically advanced, sexually unrestrained, emotionally unpredictable, and a spiritual hybrid”. Evidence? They may well be technologically advanced; but the other assertions seem to derive more from Barna’s assumptions about the sort of people who might reject his dogmas than any actual data.

    Whatever. It’s good news. And such evidence as there is from the UK suggests that, even if the god-botherers do get access to the kids, their efforts at indoctrination won’t work if there isn’t parental involvement and support. Which there won’t be, hopefully.

    1. I have a friend who is deeply religious but otherwise intelligent and open-minded, who keeps reminding me that he never thought it possible that an atheist could be a good, moral, caring person, that I changed his view of atheists in general.

      One person at a time, I guess.

      In my own case, one of the first cracks in my faith was when I observed non-Mormons who I could tell were more charitable, generous and even happier than most Mormons I knew. We were constantly taught in Sunday school that true happiness and goodness weren’t possible outside our faith. The power of example.

  14. I would maintain the these young Hispanics listed in these data have found ‘freedoms’.
    Freedom from a static stifling unimaginative ruling set for a start. They can see alternatives large and looming that was not available to their parents.
    We all know that vacuums are fraught with danger as expressed here by some but I see no reason for alarm as long as they can prosper intellectually and materially relative to all others, It is not necessarily that both of those qualities apply.
    I suspect also they have a big yardstick as in, family, friends, and still left in their home countries… all those individuals and families stealing their way in to the US. Why?
    Praying didn’t get them that freedom, willful action did.
    Long may it continue whatever the reasons.

  15. Religion dieing, still?
    Where’s it gone? I can never find the damned thing.
    As ever, I am searching for the worlds tiniest violin, to play terribly badly and at a (thankfully) inaudibly high pitch.

  16. Th Saudi export of mosques, propaganda and fanatical Imams since the 1980s is a HUGE (underrated) factor in the rise of hard core Islam, particularly in (formerly tolerant) Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, etc.
    D.A.
    NYC

  17. I very much like the line: “They are technologically advanced, sexually unrestrained, emotionally unpredictable, and a spiritual hybrid.” Woo hoo!!! Let’s party!

  18. Humanity has invented and developed sport as something of a substitute – but not a complete replacement – for war.

    Perhaps if necessary, such a substitute for religion might serve a purpose – or as a way to at least occlude the space in the mind where religion otherwise would infect it – to keep it out. Again, sport might play in such a role, but there are clearly issues. Gardening, perhaps… hobbies. As the quote from Ewan McGregor’s character in Trainspotting went, (paraphrasing): you’re still an addict – just find something else to be addicted to. (in that case, shifting from drugs to something else that isn’t as damaging to health, economics, relationships…)

    Anything but that commonly known as religion.

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