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In a single generation, the number of people in the United States who label themselves-even loosely-as Christian has gone down 11 percent. According to the latest American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), almost all church denominations have declined since the original study was conducted in 1990.

Although that may not seem like new news to many pastors, this likely will: Americans who claim no religion at all now outrank every major religious group except Catholics and Baptists. These "Nones"-a term coined by the researchers for those who answered "None" when asked about their religious affiliation-currently represent 15 percent of the population, which is almost twice as many as in 1990.

"These people aren't secularized," said Barry Kosmin, co-author of the massive study that polls more than 54,000 people across the United States. "They're not thinking about religion and rejecting it; they're not thinking about it at all."

Indeed, the survey found that 40 percent have never experienced any kind of religious initiation ceremony (e.g., baptism, christening, bar mitzvah), while 55 percent who are married had a ceremony devoid of any kind of religious overtones.

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"More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, ‘I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself,'" said Kosmin. In 1990, he concluded that many Americans saw God as a "personal hobby," and characterized the country as "a greenhouse for spiritual sprouts." Today, however, "religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many."

So where is God the least fashionable? According to the 2009 ARIS, Vermont is now the least religious state with 34 percent of "Nones," leading all other states by 9 percentage points. Overall, the percentage of Christians in America now stands at 76 percent-down from 76.7 percent in 2001 and 86.2 percent in 1990.

"The challenge to Christianity," concluded the report, "does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion." [AP, 3/9/09; usatoday.com, 3/9/09]

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