Is Paganism the Fastest Growing Religion in the United States?
Picture Source Fuck Yeah Paganism (Great site title too!)
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
Don’t bust out the mead yet! Pagans are still a very small minority in comparison to both U.S Religions and World Religions at large. If you read the 2008 “United States Census Bureau Abstract on Self Identified Religious Populations”, the number of Pagans and Wiccans combined still only results to 0.3% of the population (which means that 3 out of every 1,000 people you meet will be Pagan). However, that number doesn’t account for people who classify as spiritualists, Unitarian Universalists or non-classified.
I do often bump into people at Pagan meets or New Age shops who do not like to call themselves “Pagans,” but rather “Animists,” “Druids,” “Asatruar,” “Heathens,” “Shamans,” etc. The war over what gets lumped into the pagan category and what doesn’t wages on, but I bet many of these folk filled in the “non-classified” space rather than “pagan” on their Census Bureau survey. Personally I prefer to think of Paganism as a system that seeks to revive an ancient system of Earth Based Values – but not everyone shares my definition.
The statistical number of Pagans is probably much smaller than the real number. There are definitely more Pagans than what is represented on a survey. Pagans are still a persecuted minority in many ways, so a lot of us tend to be private about our beliefs to the point where we wouldn’t even write it down. Also, the 0.3% number is from 2008. There has obviously been growth in 5 years time, so the current number could be anything from .5 – 2%.
But don’t despair, there is good news! Even though the numbers are small, Paganism and Wicca are still growing at an incredibly fast rate.
Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Wiccans in the United States increased from 8,000 to 134,000 according to the United States Census Bureau. That’s an increase of 1600%! Between 2001 and 2008, the number of Pagans over all (Wiccans included) doubled, so that’s a growth rate of 200%. That’s an increase greater than almost anything seen among the other religions! The number of Christians overall, in comparison, only experienced an 8% growth rate between 2001 and 2008, which is actually a decrease when you account for population growth.
However, one must note that the number of Evangelicals doubled between 2001 and 2008. The number of conservative Christians such as Mormons and Baptists have also increased while the number of Liberal Christians such as Presbyterians and Lutherans have decreased. Therefore Christianity is shrinking, but it’s also radicalizing in the process.
BREAKING DOWN THE NUMBERS
Population of Non-Abrahamic Religious People in U.S. in 2008 (U.S. Census Bureau)
Native American Spirituality: 186,000
Non-Wiccan Pagans: 340,000
Non-Pagan Spiritualists: 426,000
WHY THE RAPID INCREASE?
There are a number of possible factors
- Increased Tolerance in society for diverse religious beliefs. As a result, more Pagans are coming out of the broom closet.
- The Internet: Possibly one of the greatest catalysts of social change to happen in the 90’s and 2000’s. Before the internet, many people chose their faith by the community they lived in. If you were a Pagan in a pre-internet world, it was probably very difficult to find others with similar beliefs unless you met them at a New Age shop or had an acquaintance who happened to be in the occult. In the same way that drugs and rock and roll music sparked a social revolution in the 1960’s, the internet is opening up new gateways for social thought and experimentation.
- A Growing Discontent with Christianity: Generation Y is much more comfortable with homosexuality and women’s rights than their parents were. As a result, a religious book that promotes the stoning of homosexuals – or the silence of women in a place of worship – is becoming increasingly antithetical to the morals of today’s more progressive youth. Many of these young people still thirst for a spiritual connection, but are no longer willing to attain it from the Church.
- The Desire to Reconnect With a Feminine Force of Power: For the last 2,000 years, Christian Patriarchy has robbed the world of Feminine Power. Is it any wonder that more slavery, wars, holocausts and environmental destruction have happened in this time period than any other? I’m not saying that the Pagan Past was a bed of flower power and hippies, it was definitely brutal and bloody, but that society has increasingly become unbalanced as the Goddess has been circumcised out of the religious equation. Even patriarchal empires like Ancient Rome and Greece understood the need for a Female Deity.
- A Desire to Reconnect With the Earth: In a world that is becoming more material and corporate, there is a yearning for something authentic and organic. This explains the growing popularity of Farmers Markets, green movements and the growth of vegetables on roof tops in Urban Centers. If we are to save the Earth, we must fall in love with the Earth. We must have a spiritual relationship with the Earth. The Earth cannot simply be an abstract ideal – it must be as an actual family member that we keep in our thoughts and wishes.
GROWING A COMMUNITY
The number of Pagans is indeed growing very fast, but we are still a very small and misunderstood minority. If you would like there to be more Pagans in the world or less misunderstandings, you should come out of the broom closet and be more open about who you are – and what you belief – unless you live in a town where you could get beat up or killed for your beliefs…then that might not be such a good idea. But I also encourage you to blog, make music, make art, write stories and spread your ideas so that the Pagan community may continue to grow and evolve.