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Survey sees a drift away from religion in America

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In a major surprise, the Northeast now surpasses the Pacific Northwest as the least religious part of the country. The "nones" represent 34 percent of the population of Vermont, 29 percent in New Hampshire, and 22 percent in Maine and Massachusetts.

Nevertheless, Catholics maintained their one-quarter share of the population, thanks mostly to immigration in the South and West, particularly in California and Texas.

The "no religion" group has gained 20 million adults since 1990 and is the only group to have grown in every state, though at a much slower pace in recent years than in the 1990s. Only 10 percent of that group explicitly identifies as atheist or agnostic.

Denominational drop

During this same 18-year period, the number of Christians rose by 22 million, but their proportion declined. The survey found that most of that growth occurred among those who call themselves either nondenominational Christian, born again or evangelical Christian, or simply "Christian," declining to add a more specific affiliation.

Nondenominational Christians, generally associated with the rise of megachurches, increased from less than 200,000 in 1990 to more than 8 million today. Those opting for generic "Christian" account for 14 percent of the population. "Denominationalism, or Christian brands, have eroded since 1990 – even Protestant doesn't mean anything anymore," says Dr. Kosmin.

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