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I start the parenting seminar with a slide intended to help us all relax about the place of secularism in the United States.

Most freethought blogs and periodicals give the impression that aggressive, fundamentalist evangelical Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds, threatening to capsize the frail craft of secular humanism any day now.

I suppose this keeps us manning the barricades instead of scratching ourselves and reaching for the remote. But the way I see myself in the culture affects the way I parent, so I need to know what’s really going on. If my worldview is being pushed to the margins, I might be forced to strike a dukes-up posture and teach my kids to do the same.

But if it isn’t true, I need to know that as well. It would allow me to be less fearful, more open, and more relaxed — and to encourage the same in my kids.

My opening slide shows the percentage of religious identification in the U.S. as determined by the gorgeously detailed American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). ARIS has taken the pulse of American religious identity three times: in 1990, in 2001, and in 2008, these latest results released just days ago.

The data in ARIS and other polls show a clear trend toward a much healthier pluralism in the U.S. Among the fascinating data: From 1990 to 2008…

  • Christian identification has shown a steady decline, from 89 to 75 percent of the US — including drops in 46 states;
  • Evangelicals make up an ever-growing percentage of the water in the hold of the Protestant ship (if you get my metaphor);
  • Nonreligious identification has increased from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008, including growth in all 50 states;
  • Non-Christian religions have grown from 3 to 9 percent, including growth in 44 states;
  • The percentage of Americans who claim Jewish identity is stable, even as those who call themselves “religiously Jewish” has declined by 13 percent — meaning more are (like the congregation I addressed this past weekend) nontheistic but “culturally Jewish”;
  • The percentage of respondents who, when asked about their religious identity, say “none of your damn business,” has increased in 49 states.
  • I don’t wanna take over the culture — it’s too much work. But I do want to live in a country where the self-identified nonreligious have a place at the cultural table and religious disbelief is No Big Deal.

    And according to our best data, we’re well on our way.

    Conservatively project ARIS forward to 2024 — the year my youngest graduates from college — and the US should be about two-thirds Christian and one-third something else. That’s a much healthier mix than the 90-10 split of 1990. And if we follow European trends, it’ll go a helluva lot faster than that. A Harris poll in 2006 put theistic belief in Germany, the United Kingdom, and France at 41, 35, and 27 percent respectively.

    All of which means our kids are likely to be living in a culture that’s ever so much more balanced and diverse than we did. Fancy that.

    (Click here for an almost unbearably cool interactive map at USAToday. Be sure to click on alllll the tabs: “View by change” and “View by year,” as well as all of the worldviews. Now tell me that’s not fun.)

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    Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.