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A friend sent a link to a Gallup Poll on religion in America that was released on Christmas Eve. The poll shows that 78 percent of Americans consider themselves to be some form of Christian (56 percent Protestant or other non-Catholic group, 22 percent Catholic), down from 80 percent in 2003 and 85 percent in 1998.

Although 78 percent say they are Christians, however, just 63 percent report belonging to a church or a synagogue. Figuring that some of those 63 percent are Jewish, that suggests that about of fifth of those who claim to be Christian have no affiliation with a church. How many are simply “cultural Christians” who think watching a TV preacher or supporting a politician who touts “Christian values” puts them in the category? How many are postmodern believers who love Jesus but not the institutional church?

The number of those claiming to be Christian and reporting church membership have tended to decline gradually since the survey was first taken 40 years ago. The biggest short-term shift in the survey was the number of respondents who claim no religion at all: 13 percent this year, up from six percent just 10 years ago.

To what should we attribute these shifts? Is a growing reliance on science leading to a fall-off in religious faith? Is church falling from favor because more liberal Christians have watered down the faith by being too tolerant of changing cultural norms — or is it because more conservative believers have been so antagonistic toward change that they’ve given Christianity a bad name?

I can think of many potential reasons for why more Americans are feeling less at home with religion, but I’m particularly interested in what readers think about it from their particular contexts. One of my students will be doing an independent study next semester on the growing trend of those who say they are “spiritual,” but not religious.

Both I and she would be interested in what you’re thinking. Care to share?

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