According to a recent study, the percentage of Americans who profess no religion has been increasing over the last 20 years:
The Catholic population of the United States has shifted away from the Northeast and towards the Southwest, while secularity continues to grow in strength in all regions of the country, according to a new study by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College. “The decline of Catholicism in the Northeast is nothing short of stunning,” said Barry Kosmin, a principal investigator for the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). “Thanks to immigration and natural increase among Latinos, California now has a higher proportion of Catholics than New England.”
In broad terms, ARIS 2008 found a consolidation and strengthening of shifts signaled in the 2001 survey. The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that reflects an additional 4.7 million “Nones.” Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country, with Vermont, at 34 percent “Nones,” leading all other states by a full 9 points.
It’s a commonplace of sorts in Catholic and conservative circles that democracy without virtue will quickly become tyranny. At the same time, this is one of those phrases which seems to drive secular commentators to distraction. How could liberal democracy lead to tyranny when it’s clearly those authoritarian religious people who want to be tyrants?
Damon Linker (the “the theocons are coming” chicken little whom First Things once made the mistake of briefly employing in his younger days, thus giving him the claim to know the “theocon conspiracy” from the inside) has a post on The New Republic blog which seems to me to throw this point into sharp relief. Linker, it seems, tired of attacking “neocons” and decided to go after the more quixotic paleocons as his newest batch of crypto-authoritarians. The following section is fascinating in its thought process:
Damian Thompson from the Holy Smoke blog in London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper has declared Barack Obama as America’s first secular president. Not far from being the truth some would say that Bill Clinton was pretty secular as well. But I believe the point that Mr. Thompson was attempting to get across was the simple fact that the majority of church-going Christians voted for Senator McCain than did Senator Obama. What is more revealing is that ‘Christians in name only’ voted overwhelmingly for Senator Obama.
The breakdown of voting figures in the US election indicates an extraordinary gulf between churchgoing and non-churchgoing voters. Barack Obama hoovered up the votes of non-churchgoers to an unprecedented extent: 65 per cent of them voted for him. I’ve thought for a long time that American agnostics and atheists are a growing force, under-represented in opinion polls. Obama will be their president.
He’ll also be the president of non-practising Catholics who, according to Beliefnet figures, voted 61 to 37 per cent for Obama. That’s no surprise: the Democrats were always the party of Catholics.