We’ve had much discussion lately about the “decline and fall of Christian America, as the Newsweek cover story put it,” writes Steven Waldman at The Wall Street Journal. “But based on a new survey that came out from Pew Religion Forum, I’d like to pose a different theory: What we’re seeing is not a flight of the religious but rather the changing nature of the irreligious.”

Says Waldman:

The Pew study found that 79% of the currently unaffiliated — also known as “nones” in the survey — started off life connected with a religion. But get this: Only 30% of “nones” who used to be Catholic and only 18% of former Protestants said they’d had strong faith as a child. This is true even for those who attended church regularly.

In other words, perhaps it’s not that the devout have lost their way, it’s that the nominally religious have stopped pretending to be religious. Perhaps what we’re seeing is not an increase in the number of “nones” but an increase in the numbers willing to admit it.

Read the whole thing, including the polling data’s reproaches to we religious types (some of which are contradictory ...).