Losing My Religion? Not So Fast...

Most of the headlines regarding the recent Trinity College poll: " The American Religious Identification Survey 2008," herald the demise of religion in the United States... a nation that boasts being the most religious country in the Western world.

The poll announced that there are now more people than ever claiming "no religion." From 1990 to 2008 the percentage jumped from 8.2 percent to 15 percent... nearly double the amount. And the number of people identifying themselves as Christian sank from 86 percent in 1990, to 76 percent in 2008, a ten point drop. It certainly does look like people are losing their religion.

If you include the numbers from the 2001 poll, the results may actually say something different. Most of the gains in the area of "no religion" occurred between 1990 and 2001. The numbers went from 8.2 to 14.2. Less than once percent of the gains occurred between 2001 and 2008.

This is also true for people dropping from the rolls of Christianity. That number went from 86% to 77% from 2001 to 2008. Again, it's barely a nudge from 2001 to 2008 (down to 76%).

What this tells me is that the exodus from religion and away Christianity was staunched in 2001. Perhaps 9/11 was the bench mark. It would be an obvious reason.

But it also demonstrates that we should never rely on polls to tell the whole story.-- Did you also notice in any of the articles that appeared on Monday that there was an exponential increase in the number of Christians claiming "no denomination"? That number went from .1 percent in 1990 to 3.5 percent in 2008. Now that may not seem like a big percentage but translate that to the population and the numbers look like this: In 1990 there were about 194,000 people who claimed "no denomination." That number climbed to 8 million Americans in 2008. -- Two thirds of that gain happened between 2001 and 2008.

Take all this information and couple it with the fact that religious books are flying off the shelves. How do you explain some 30 million copies soldof Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life"?

Or how about this -- a few weeks ago, the No. 1 book on the atheist best-seller list was written by a Christian evangelist? The book "You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence but You Can't Make Him Think", shot straight to the top of Amazon.com's sales charts, knocking Richard Dawkins' "God Delusion" to the number no. 2 spot. [Source: Christian Evangelist's Book Ranked Bestselling 'Atheist' Item: Christianpost.com Feb 14, 2009].

What I've learned about polls is that you can draw a variety of conclusions from them. The samplings are a microscopic representation of a country of some 300 million. And the kind of questions asked can often determine the response. Additionally, science and religion are destined to be at odds. Science is very good at observation, giving us answers to the "what, when, where, and how" questions. But science stumbles when it tries to tell us "Why?" That's where psychology, philosophy and theology are the strongest.

Here's one last thing about the people who represent the percentages we saw in the Trinity College poll. -- There's a truth about them and all of us that poll numbers can never reflect. One minister put it this way: human beings are telic creatures. We have to have to have a purpose in life. We have to believe in something. It's simply our nature. And the difference between religious and non-religious people is that religious people admit it.