Based on a sample of more than 30,000 adults and done with a methodological rigor that will make this survey a benchmark for future attempts to map the religious life of Americans, the Landscape Survey offered much to ponder. First, America remains stunningly Christian, at least in terms of religious self-identification. Of those polled, 78.4 percent identified themselves that way. After more than a century of modernity, secularism, higher education, enlightenment, and new religions, the vast majority still see themselves as in some way Christian.
That “in some way” is important. The survey documents the amazing variety of ways that Christians understand and practice their faith. And here is where the survey’s detailed analysis simultaneously confirms, sharpens, and challenges what many of us thought was going on. According to the surveyors, the biggest chunk of American Christianity is Protestantism, which makes up 51.3 percent of the adult population. So Protestants are still the religious majority in our society, but just barely so. The study goes on to note trends that suggest that any Protestant triumphalist celebrations better take place quickly. The Protestant majority has declined in relative size from the 60 to 65 percent level often noted by surveys taken during the 1970s and 1980s. Steady decline has been Protestantism’s overall trajectory from the 1990s on.