The Pew Research Center published a study last week that predicts Christians will make up less than half of Americans by around 2050, if current trends hold.
According to this scenario, Americans will be split in 2070 between 46 percent Christian, 41 percent religiously unaffiliated, and 13 percent other religions. In 2020, the starting point for the report’s scenarios, 64 percent of Americans identified as Christian, 30 percent identified as unaffiliated, and 6 percent identified as part of another religion.
The study predicts that Christianity is collapsing in the U.S. in a similar fashion to its decline in Europe, just on a delayed timeline. In the U.K., the number of people who are religiously unaffiliated surpassed the number of Christians in 2009.
The question is now this: What will the rapidly rising group of Americans who are not Christian believe and practice?
Pew predicted the doubling by 2070 of those who belong to religions other than Christianity — primarily Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism — largely on the assumption that current migration patterns will continue. According to Pew’s most recent religious landscape study, 1.9 percent of Americans are Jewish, 0.9 percent are Muslim, 0.7 percent are Buddhist, 0.7 percent are Hindu, 1 percent are Unitarians, and 0.4 percent belong to New Age religions.
“Unaffiliated” does not mean that a person is atheist or agnostic. Rather, it means that a person says he or she does not identify as a member of a particular religious group. Those who are classified as unaffiliated are those who select “none” when asked their religion and thus have the moniker “the nones.”
“[R]eligiously unaffiliated Americans today are not uniformly nonbelieving or nonpracticing,” said Pew. “Many religious ‘nones’ partake in traditional religious practices despite their lack of religious identity, including a solid majority who believe in some kind of higher power or spiritual force.”
Everyone has to believe something about the framework of the universe. A Pew study from 2018 demonstrated some of the spiritual beliefs Americans have outside Christianity.
According to the study, 41 percent of Americans believe in psychics, 33 percent believe in reincarnation, 29 percent believe in astrology, and 42 percent believe that “spiritual energy can be located in physical things.” Seventy-seven percent of people who said they were “spiritual but not religious,” which is a majority of those who are unaffiliated, said they believe in at least one of these things.
These beliefs were also common among Christians. For example, 29 percent of Christians, including 36 percent of Catholics, said they believe in reincarnation.
It does appear that New Age beliefs and practices are growing alongside the collapse of Christianity.
Pew estimated in 2014 that about one million Americans identify as Wicca or pagan — a tenfold rise from their 1998 population of 100,000. On TikTok, videos labeled “#WitchTok” have exploded in popularity, garnering more than 18 billion views. Videos often teach magic and spells, and entire industry has risen up to sell herbs, incense, and crystals.
While some unaffiliated with Christianity in the U.S. turn to other spiritual practices, some also reject belief in any higher power or supernatural phenomena.
Those who said in the Pew study that they were “neither religious nor spiritual” were less likely than Christians (45 percent versus 61 percent) to profess belief in spiritual energy, psychics, reincarnation, or astrology. Such people could be among those who embrace science and reason as the fundamental basis of their understanding of the universe.
As the U.S. heads toward a minority Christianity population, New Age practices and beliefs could continue to increase their footprint, the belief in science as a complete explanation for existence could grow, entirely new religions could emerge, and traditional religions other than Christianity could gain adherents. The only thing certain is that the religious makeup of the U.S. is rapidly changing.