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Religion in America is changing, not dying, some observers say
Pew Research Center's new report on religion in the U.S. found a decrease in Christianity and increase in unaffiliated identities. But this does not mean that religion in the U.S. is doomed. It is simply changing. - photo by Sarah Mikati
Many of the initial reports on the Pew Research Center's study on America's changing religious landscape could leave the impression that religion is on the decline in the United States.

But some observers don't see a drop in the number of people identifying as Christian and an increase in those saying they belong to no religion in the past seven years as dire for the future of faith in America.

The Atlantics Emma Green pointed out that 44 percent of those who did not identify with a religion in the survey still said that religion is very or somewhat important to them.

Thats not the pattern of a Godless nation; its the pattern of people finding God on their own terms, she said.

While Christians are losing more members than they are gaining (most significantly Catholics and Protestants), other religions are still on the rise in the U.S. Non-Christian faiths have increased by 1.2 percent between 2007 and 2014.

In response to the Pew survey, Ed Stetzer a pastor who also heads LifeWay Research, a Christian polling group affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention said the Christian church is not collapsing, but rather being clarified.

Those who were Christian in name only are now categorically identifying their lack of Christian conviction and engagement, he said.

In fact, he pointed out, though Christianity in general has declined, Evangelical Christianity has been growing in America, from 59.8 million in 2007 to 62.2 million in 2014. These numbers underscore the obvious: Those who are more committed to their religion stick with it, while the others are dropping away.

People are being more transparent about their spiritual stories, and the 44 percent who are unaffiliated likely fall into the category of spiritual but not religious. According to research done by Boston University sociologist Nancy Ammerman, the population of this group is rather minimal.

You have to ask people what are they trying to tell us when they talk about themselves that way, Ammerman explained to the Deseret News.

Although nominal Christians are becoming more honest about their none identity, and others are pursuing a unique spiritual journey, a consistent backdrop is that religion will always play a prominent role in any society.

Rachel Nuwer wrote for the BBC last December that religiosity is innate in human beings because of the neuropsychology known as the dual process theory.

According to this theory, humans have two forms of thought: System 1, which is more intuitive and instinctual, and System 2, which is the logical think tank. Some scholars argue that System 1 has fostered the growth of religion.

System 1 makes us instinctually primed to see life forces everywhere we go, regardless of whether theyre there or not, Nuwer said. Human beings naturally want to believe that they are a part of something bigger. Our minds crave purpose and explanation.
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