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There’s a new power in America – atheism

Posted in Uncategorized by Rodibidably on March 16, 2009

[Originally posted at: Times Online]

The faithless are a growing force as the churches duck the challenges of the age

There is one thing that is not allowed in American national politics – and that is atheism. “In God We Trust” is on the currency; and the number of congressional members who avow no faith at all are about as plentiful as those who are openly gay (none in the Senate; five in the House).

Under the last president, religious faith – evangelical Christianity or Benedict-style Catholicism – was a prerequisite for real access to the inner circle. But the requirement is not just Republican. Among the more excruciating campaign events of last year was a faith summit for the Democrats in which candidates vied with one another to express the most piety. Barack Obama’s Christianity – educated, nuanced, social – is in many ways more striking than that of, say, Nixon, Truman or Eisenhower.

Americans are losing faith, though; and those who have it are moving out of established churches. The nonreligious are now the third biggest grouping in the US, after Catholics and Baptists, according to the just-released American Religious Identification Survey. The bulk of this shift occurred in the 1990s, when they jumped from 8% to 14% of the population – but they have consolidated in the past decade to 15%.

As elsewhere in the West, mainline Protestantism has had the biggest drop – from 19% to 13%. Despite heavy Latino immigration, the proportion of Catholics has drifted down since 1990, and their numbers have shifted dramatically from the northeast and the rust belt to the south and west. Take South Carolina, a state you might associate with hardcore Protestant evangelicalism. It certainly does exist there – but in that southern state, the percentage of Catholics has almost doubled since 1990 and the percentage of atheists has tripled.

[Read the rest of this post at: Times Online]

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