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This Week in God: Losing Religion, Catholic Mistakes, and the Baha'i Faith

A look at what went down in religious circles this week.

First up from the God Machine this week is a fascinating trend in American religiosity.

America is a less Christian nation than it was 20 years ago, and Christianity is not losing out to other religions, but primarily to a rejection of religion altogether, a survey published Monday found.

Seventy-five percent of Americans call themselves Christian, according to the American Religious Identification Survey from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1990, the figure was 86 percent.

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League said he thinks a radical shift towards individualism over the last quarter-century has a lot to do it.

"The three most dreaded words are thou shalt not," he told Lou Dobbs. "Notice they are not atheists -- they are saying I don't want to be told what to do with my life."

At the same time there has been an increase in the number of people expressing no religious affiliation.

One of the keys to looking at the data is to appreciate the mainline "squeeze" -- it's not just that Christian identification is shrinking, it's also changing. There are far fewer Episcopalians and Lutherans, but evangelical numbers are on the rise. Indeed, mega-church associations went from 200,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million now.

The trends -- fewer Christians, higher unaffiliated rates, more born-again Christians -- are very likely related. The more Christianity becomes associated with evangelicals and the religious right, the more, I suspect, Americans are disinclined to consider themselves Christian. And as more people express no religious preference, the more socially acceptable it becomes, which in turn makes it easier for others to make the same shift.

Also from the God Machine this week:

Steve Benen is "blogger in chief" of the popular Washington Monthly online blog, Political Animal. His background includes publishing The Carpetbagger Report, and writing for a variety of publications, including Talking Points Memo, The American Prospect, the Huffington Post, and The Guardian. He has also appeared on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Air America Radio's "Sam Seder Show," and XM Radio's "POTUS '08."
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