Religious Denominations in the United States

There is no shortage of religious denominations in America. According to most estimates, there are upwards of 200 reasonably sized Christian denominations alone in America.

The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) website contains an impressive amount of information about the religious makeup of the United States. Despite the increasing influence of secularism in America, Christians still make up about 70-80% of the American population, with the exact number depending on how “Christian” is defined. Here’s a chart of how other religions stack up:

 

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Percent of American population that adheres to each religion

American Christianity can typically be divided into smaller groups based on common beliefs. Most broadly, Christians can be thought of as being either Catholic or Protestant. Based on fairly recent estimates, there are about twice as many Protestant Christians in America than there are Catholics. Using information from ARDA, I created a map of the United States that shows if there are more Catholic or Protestant Christians in each state:

1. Prot Cat Map

 

As you can see, the vast majority of states (42 of them) have more Protestant Christians than Catholics. Only 8 states, all situated on the upper East Coast, have more Catholics than Protestants.

The Protestant Christian category can be further subdivided into Mainline Protestants and Evangelical Protestants. The Mainline Protestant category would include, for example, certain Reformed churches like the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Episcopal Church. This category also includes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Many of these churches are more theologically liberal than their Evangelical Protestant counterparts.

The other category, Evangelical Protestant, is typically composed of various Baptist, Pentecostal, Anglican, and some Reformed churches. This category would also include the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Most churches in the Evangelical category are known for being theologically and socially conservative.

Broken down into percentage, about 60% of Protestants belong to Evangelical churches, while the other 40% belong to Mainline churches.

There are a few other religious groups that have a strong showing in America, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Judaism, and Islam. Using information from ARDA, I created another two maps that show the largest and second largest denominations in each state:

2. Largest Denomination.png

3. Second Largest.png

Only two non-Christian religious groups show up on these maps –

  1. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons (although they are widely considered by many to be just another Christian group, their vast theological differences from historical Christianity are enough, in my mind, to consider them far outside of the Christian Church.) Looking between both of the above maps, it’s obvious that the Mormon Church has a great foothold in the Westernmost states, and, interestingly, Hawaii.
  2. Orthodox Judaism, which is the second largest religious denomination in New York

You might note that even in many states that have more Protestants than Catholics, the Catholic Church is still the largest single denomination. This is because Protestantism is so divided into different denominations and the number is split between them.

On the first map, it can be easily seen that the Southern Baptist Convention is the most prominent religious group in states around the “Bible Belt,” a region that is well-known for Evangelical Protestants with social conservatism.

On the second map, it’s also apparent that Lutheranism has a good showing within the Northeastern Midwest in the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is very prominent in these states, and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod is the second largest denomination in Nebraska, only behind the Catholic Church.

The United Methodist Church has an impressive number of adherents in the middle of the Eastern portion of America, and is actually the denomination with the most adherents in West Virginia.

In Maryland, Alaska, and New Jersey, non-denominational Christians were the second largest “group.” I put them on the map because I thought it was very interesting that there were that many Christians without a denomination. If non-denominational Christians aren’t considered for this map (due to the fact that they are, as per their name, not a denomination), then the second largest group in Alaska is the Mormon Church, the second largest in Maryland is the United Methodist Church, and the second largest in New Jersey is Islam.

Here’s an interesting factoid: During the process of gathering information for these maps, I visited all 50 states’ Wikipedia pages to look for summaries of their religious demographics. Out of all of the 50 states, Vermont’s page was the only one that did not contain a section on religious demographics. In fact, the words “religion” and “Christian” do not even appear at all on Vermont’s Wikipedia page.


 

Although many of the more mainstream groups within American Christianity have abandoned some of the most basic Christian Biblical principles, we still ought to be thankful that the vast majority of Americans at least identify themselves as Christians. It is our mission as followers of Christ to live out our vocations and contribute to the things that make this nation great.

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The End of Moral Absolutes?

I recently stumbled upon a poll by the Barna Group, an Evangelical Christian polling group that conducts surveys about the thoughts, attitudes, and spiritual beliefs of America. Over 1000 individuals of different faiths were surveyed and asked various questions regarding the state of morality in America and the nature of moral truth.

Frankly, the results are fairly disheartening to read, but they aren’t all that surprising. Let’s take a look at some of the most important findings here.

Question: Are you concerned about the nation’s moral condition?

Demographic Percent “Yes”
 Overall  80%
 Elders  89%
 Baby Boomers  87%
 Gen-Xers  75%
 Millennials  74%
 Practicing Christians  90%
 No Faith  67%
 Faith other than Christianity  72%

An overwhelming majority (80%) of the American population as a whole is concerned about America’s moral condition. As one might expect, the amount of moral concern decreases as the age of the group decreases. While 89% of elderly people show concern, only 74% of Millennials show the same. Practicing Christians are the most concerned about the nation’s morality at 90%, as they should be. The widespread acceptance of things like abortion and sexual deviancy have further polarized our nation’s moral views.

While a majority of adults with no faith (67%) said they were concerned about the moral state of America, I can only assume that some of these respondents said so because they believe America is too conservative in its moral convictions. There are many atheists who believe the moral constraints of our culture that result from being a majority Christian nation are problematic and need to be thrown off. Many of them view traditional Christian moral values as hindering to America’s “social progress” (whatever that means.)

Statement: Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 9.03.17 AM
From barna.org

An overwhelming majority of Millennials (74%) agree with this statement to some degree. 31% of them strongly agree with this statement. Younger generations are increasingly given the impression by our culture that the only truth in this world is what you feel works for you. Obviously, this is a dangerous message to convey to a culture that increasingly needs to hear the absolute truths of God’s Word.

67% of adults with no faith agree with this statement to some degree. I’m puzzled by the other 33% who do not agree with the statement. While it’s possible for an atheist or agnostic to behave in a moral fashion, the belief that there is any kind of absolute moral standard is completely inconsistent with their atheistic worldview.

While it’s good that only a minority of Christians agree to some degree with this statement (41%), that minority is nonetheless alarmingly large. Take a look once again at the statement they were asked to react to: “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.” I would agree that every individual has unique experiences and has a life that functions differently from other individuals. However, that’s not what this question is asking. To sincerely believe that “what works best for an individual is the only truth one can know” is to completely deny the foundations of the Christian faith. While some of the Christian respondents may not have recognized the implication of their response, or even misinterpreted the question, I still feel spiritual concern for the 41% who answered in the affirmative. God’s Word is ultimately the only truth we can know and trust, and anyone who believes differently is not familiar with the most basic tenets of the Christian faith.

Statement: The Bible provides us with absolute moral truths which are the same for all people in all situations, without exception.

Question 2.png
From barna.org

According to the survey description at barna.org, a majority of all American adults (59%) agreed with this statement. 83% of Christians agree with the statement to some degree. There are some interesting things about this. First, I would love to have a conversation with someone from the 17% who disagree with this statement. It would do them some good to open up their Bible sometime. While not every statement or commandment in the Bible applies to all people at all times (take, for instance, the Old Testament ceremonial laws), the Bible nonetheless communicates many absolute moral truths that are meant to apply to all people indiscriminately.

The other anomaly here is the disparity between the responses to this question and the previous one. 83% of Christians believe that the Bible has absolute moral truths for all people at all times, but 41% of Christians think that the only truth we can know is relative to the individual. Those numbers simply don’t add up. Either some of the respondents did not understand the questions, or they are simply inconsistent in their beliefs.

The other percentages in the graphic above aren’t too much of a surprise. What is fairly interesting, however, is the fact that 27% of adults with no religious faith still believe that the Bible has moral truths that apply to all people at all times.

Question: Is moral truth absolute or relative?

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This question is the one that gets to the crux of the issue. Only 35% of American adults believe that moral truth is absolute. 44% believe that moral truth is relative, and 21% haven’t given it much thought. The fact that only 59% of Christians believe that moral truth is absolute is extremely disappointing and disheartening. These results all but confirm what many of us have sensed for a while now: America is rejecting moral absolutes that previous generations recognized.

Oh, but it doesn’t end there. I don’t want to ruin anyone’s day, but there’s even more frustration to be felt with these next results:Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 9.43.01 AM

 

These results are pretty self-explanatory. Sadly, more Christians seem interested in living a life of pleasure and personal fulfillment than anything else. To the 76% of Christians who think we need to just “look within” to find ourselves: you need to read Colossians 2:9-10 –

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.
We don’t “find ourselves” by looking inward. We find our true identity and fulfillment by looking to Christ who redeemed us and brought us to fullness. The same goes to the 72% who think fulfillment comes from pursuing the things you desire most.
The most disturbing thing here is the percent of Christians (67%) who believe the highest goal of life is to enjoy it as much as possible. I hope and pray that most of these people simply misunderstood the question. Where can you even start in responding to that kind of sentiment? Are these Christians so completely unfamiliar with what the Bible says about these questions? There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting and striving for a happy and peaceful life, but I don’t recall any passages that address the importance of just doing whatever “feels best” and makes us happy. In fact, Scripture overwhelmingly says just the opposite –
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
– Romans 12:2
Scripture makes it clear that we are not to be conformed to the hedonistic and self-seeking philosophies of this world. We are to be transformed by renewing our minds in Christ, which means that our ultimate purpose is found in him.
While the results of this survey are certainly disappointing and even frustrating, they give us all the more reason to reach out to those around us and share with them what God has to say on these issues. Apparently, even many Christians need to be reminded of many of the basic things the Bible has to say about morality. As Paul says in Colossians 3:16 –
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Encourage, instruct, and admonish one another in love. And whatever you do, don’t be the 67%.

Is Darwinian Evolution the Phlogiston of Today?

Imagine, for a moment, what it would have been like to live 400 years ago. The falling of rain, the blowing of the wind, and the crackling of a fire at your hearth are all natural phenomena that you experience on a frequent basis. Also imagine, for a moment, trying to comprehend the inner workings of these natural phenomena. What causes a lightning strike? Where does rain come from? If you can feel the wind, why can’t you see it? Why do fires start, and what is fire made out of?

Keep in mind, this is during a time when Francis Bacon’s ideas about empiricism and the scientific method were only just beginning to catch on. Most natural phenomena could not yet be described on a fundamental level, and many would not be for hundreds of years. Atomic theory had not been developed. Imagine what it would have been like to comprehend the world without any concept of what gravity is. To the common person, everything must have simply boiled down to “magic.” And, in a sense, the inner workings of science are so impossibly complex and precise that it does, to many today, still seem like magic.

German alchemist Johann Joachim Becher (1635-1682) wanted to describe, in a fundamental fashion, how combustion worked. He posited that every combustible substance contained something that would later be called phlogiston. When a combustible substance burned up, phlogiston was given off into the air. For example, wood was believed to simply be a substance composed of phlogiston and ash. When the wood was burned, the phlogiston within the compound was liberated into the air, leaving only ash. When an empty glass jar was placed over a burning piece of wood, the wood stopped burning because the jar became too full of phlogiston for any more to be liberated from the wood.

From a logical standpoint, the theory made a lot of sense. From a modern scientific standpoint, however, it is patently false. Looking back, we might find the theory of phlogiston to be a little amusing, but can we really blame them for believing it? If there was no concept of oxygen molecules and how they interact with heat, how would they have come to any conclusion other than the theory of phlogiston?

Grant me the premise, for a moment, that God created the universe and all of its living inhabitants during six 24-hour days. No Darwinian evolution was involved – God simply used His omnipotence to speak the world into existence.

Now, imagine if a scientist were to try to explain the existence of life without involving God in the process. Imagine if that scientist didn’t even believe that God exists. What would this “naturalistic” explanation look like? In a sense, this is Darwinian evolution. It is an attempt to explain and account for creation in a way that doesn’t involve God. Evolution has been put forth as a theory based purely on scientific evidence, having absolutely nothing to do with the supernatural. Darwinian evolutionary theory (in its modern sense) posits that:

  1. There is no God.
  2. Life arose from purely naturalistic origins (i.e. no supernatural phenomena).
  3. At the time of the universe’s beginning, no life existed.
  4. Over billions of years, basic chemical building blocks, by chance, organized themselves into self-replicating “living” organisms.
  5. Through genetic mutation and natural selection, these organisms evolved (and continue to evolve) into more complex and functional organisms.

If creationism is true (and I believe it is), a parallel can be drawn between Darwinian evolution and the phlogiston theory. Perhaps Darwinian evolution is a theory that attempts to explain a complex phenomenon while lacking sufficient prior and foundational knowledge. This is obviously not a perfect analogy, because creation in this case does not have a purely naturalistic explanation the same way combustion does. Evolutionists are also fully aware of biblical creation, but they simply reject it based on their premises.

These aren’t just the doubts of a rabid “anti-science” fundamentalist Christian. A growing number of scientists are questioning the validity of Darwinian evolution, and many of them are not even creationists. Many are atheists who simply believe that Darwinian evolution fails to adequately explain the origins of life. The site http://www.dissentfromdarwin.org/ provides an impressive list of distinguished scientists from aroucharles_darwin_photograph_by_herbert_rose_barraud_1881nd the world who question the validity of modern evolutionary theory. While most of these scientists would reject creationism as the alternative to Darwinism, the mere fact that they doubt naturalistic evolution is remarkable, even from a purely secular standpoint.

Modern American culture and popular science have attempted to present neo-Darwinism as an indisputable fact that enjoys absolute scientific consensus. Most people tend to ignore creationists’ rejections of Darwinism, but the questioning of Darwinism even among atheistic scientists gives this movement even more credibility. In the future, will Darwinian evolution have a legacy analogous to that of phlogiston? Perhaps. Even if the scientific community eventually rejects evolution, it will be replaced by another naturalistic theory that doesn’t involve the supernatural. One can only hope the questioning of neo-Darwinism will lead some to examine the creation account of Genesis and recognizing the truth of the Scriptures.