“For a believer like Mohler—a starched, unflinchingly conservative Christian, steeped in the theology of his particular province of the faith, devoted to producing ministers who will preach the inerrancy of the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means to eternal life—the central news of the survey was troubling enough: the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent. Then came the point he could not get out of his mind: while the unaffiliated have historically been concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, the report said, ‘this pattern has now changed, and the Northeast emerged in 2008 as the new stronghold of the religiously unidentified.’ As Mohler saw it, the historic foundation of America’s religious culture was cracking.

‘That really hit me hard,’ he told me last week. ‘The Northwest was never as religious, never as congregationalized, as the Northeast, which was the foundation, the home base, of American religion. To lose New England struck me as momentous.’…

Still, in the new NEWSWEEK Poll, fewer people now think of the United States as a ‘Christian nation’ than did so when George W. Bush was president (62 percent in 2009 versus 69 percent in 2008). Two thirds of the public (68 percent) now say religion is ‘losing influence’ in American society, while just 19 percent say religion’s influence is on the rise. The proportion of Americans who think religion ‘can answer all or most of today’s problems’ is now at a historic low of 48 percent. During the Bush 43 and Clinton years, that figure never dropped below 58 percent.”