Newport's book is based on hundreds of thousands of interviews Gallup has conducted in recent years.
He reports: “...80% of all Americans are Christians, and 95% of all Americans who have a religion are Christian.” (21) Also, 54% of Americans are Protestant. The Protestant portion of the U. S. population is shrinking. More and more Americans are going to a nondenominational Christian identity. Because of this and other factors, traditional Protestant denominations will continue to shrink.
He notes the health benefits of being religious, the interaction of religion and politics, and how the degree of religiousness affects culture.
What about the future? Studies show that people get more religious as they age. If the baby boomers follow that pattern, the future looks good for religion. However, “If baby boomers keep the same relatively low level of religiousness they have now as they age, then older America is going to be a lot less religious than it is now.” (120)
The determining factor may be the explanation for older people being more religious. It may be the generational explanation, such as moving through the stages of live. It may be the cohort perspective – older Americans are more religious because of the circumstances in which they grew up. (134)
Newport believes the evidence points to a generational explanation. “It is likely that baby boomers will become more religious as they age, just like those they are replacing.” (139)
I do hope Newport is right. The future of religion in America certainly depends upon whether the baby boomers do become more religious as they age or not.
Also, I wonder about the claim that 80% of all Americans are Christians. Perhaps they identify themselves as Christians, but would they be called evangelicals? If so many Americans are Christians, why is America heading in the direction it is?
For me, something just does not ring true with Newport's optimistic hope for the future. If you'd like to read a book that I think is more realistic, try The Great Evangelical Recession. See my review of that book here.
Frank Newport is Gallup Editor-in-Chief and a leading public opinion analyst. He has been a professor, a partner in a market research firm, and now Gallup's chief pollster for more than 20 years.
Gallup Press, 280 pages.