Growing Number of Americans Have No Religion: What's Your Take?

According to a new Pew survey, one in five Americans do not associate with a religious organization

According to a Pew survey released on Tuesday, the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the “nones” – is growing.  

The study found that 20 percent of Americans are not affiliated with any religion, which is a five percent increase from just five years ago. Nearly six percent of the U.S. public, or 13 million people, are self-described atheists or agnostics, according to the new survey.

Pew claims the rise of the “nones” is largely driven by generational replacement.  Thirty-three percent respondents under the age of 30 said they do not associate with a particular religion, compared to only 9 percent of respondents over the age of 65.    

The religious dissociation trend appears to be unique to caucasian Americans. Pew found the share of blacks and Hispanics who are religiously unaffiliated has not changed by a statistically significant margin in recent years.

Most of the unaffiliated say religious organizations are too concerned with money, power, politics and rules.

The religiously unaffiliated are liberal in their political ideology; six in ten described themselves as Democrats, compared with 48 percent of all registered voters.

Surprisingly, Pew found that 68 percent of this growing group say they believe in God, 37 percent describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” and 21 percent said that they even pray every day.

What's your take?  Why do you think the younger generation is disassociating from religion?  Do you think this trend will have an impact on communities?  Take our poll and share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Amy Buttiglieri October 15, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Just wondering: if religion is unimportant, why do people still get married in a church? Why do they have their children baptized? Why is a religious leader still present at wakes & funerals? And who do we cry out to when something tragic happens?
Phil McCutchen October 15, 2012 at 03:28 PM
GM: You make a valid point. People are leaving faith constructs we call "religion." (I give up trying to argue that our definition of religion needs expanding to include "religious humanism) The question that it not being asked is, "is the world a better place since people are leaving the church to find their spirituality elsewhere?
Dave Lenane October 15, 2012 at 03:55 PM
UglyHat October 15, 2012 at 04:37 PM
I believe you should practice what you preach – or don’t preach at all. For years I was raised to do the right thing, to treat others as you wish to be treated. I was taught that people are not perfect and when you sin, if you are truly sorry you apologize and ask forgiveness. Then I saw the Roman Catholic Church practice something that goes against all of these teachings. They hurt many people. For years they did not apologize and I’m not sure they’ve ever asked forgiveness. I was not physically abused by the church. But the actions of those in power caused me to question; Is this who I want to associate with? Is this who I want teaching my children? It didn’t take long to find the answer. Then I realized it was not the church that taught me to do the right thing. Not the church that taught me to treat others with respect and dignity. Not the church that taught me to apologize and ask forgiveness. It was family. I remain faithful to my family.
Dave Lenane October 15, 2012 at 04:47 PM
UglyHat, I agree with everythng you said. And the Roman Catholic church screwed up big time! And that is a horrendous understatement. You should always question the actions of others and hold them accountable. I do feel that the church has asked for forgiveness. If not from the Pope himself, from the local parish priests that have to deal with us directly. By no means does anyone have to go to a building to worship God. (No offense to Atheists, you are entitled to your beliefs as well) I do believe somewhere in the Bible Jesus says something like...."Wherever 2 or more are gathered in my name...I am there" However as a sinner I have called upon Jesus many times for help and comfort. And although I have never felt his physical presence, often times I am t peace. For instance Saturday when Stanford was on Notre Dame's goal line in the closing seconds....just kidding(but so not)...Fath in Family is a wonderful thing!
Dennis Wilson October 15, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Amy, a friend of mine who is a Justice of the Peace, has told me that he has seen a steady increase in the number of marriages he performs over the past 10 to 15 years, especially when one or both parties are marrying for the second time. He thinks that some of the increase is due to the cost of a church wedding but he has been told by a number of people he has married that neither of them are affiliated with any church. I don't know if funeral directors would tell you they have seen a change in the number of funerals with or without a member of the clergy being present. I would point that funeral arrangements are often made by surviving family members and not the person who has died; their choices might be different. So while it may be your belief or your opinion that church weddings, baptisms, etc. have remained at the same rate of, say 1960 or some other point in time, I think you may need some research to support your position.
Karen Salemi October 15, 2012 at 05:25 PM
I respectfully disagree that offering "eternal assistance," when there may be no afterlife, is not the ultimate expression of compassion. Helping someone now, here, to feel better about themselves is the most compassion I can imagine. I believe most religions have done a good job of trying to quantify how we can treat each other well, but one can follow those rules without necessarily believing either in God or the afterlife. I think that's why some people are pulling away from organized religion, because they don't see that it meets their needs now and they feel demands from it (to believe in God and the afterlife) that for them aren't meaningful.
Amy Buttiglieri October 15, 2012 at 05:43 PM
People make up the Church. People are faulty. If the Church is broken, we don't abandon Faith. Do I stop believing in Jesus and what he taught? All but 1 person in my parish are lay people. They do so many good things for our community. To me, they make up my faith family. If something horrific happens, we cry together and heal together. I won't give up on what I believe because some of the people in power didn't follow the teachings (horrible or otherwise) - Faith is stronger than that.
Chris Fisher October 15, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Dennis, Just curious as to what the cost of a Church wedding is..LOL! The Church was the cheapest part of my wedding! We asked the Pastor for a suggested donation and he said "Whatever you feel comfortable giving..." We were married at St. Charles Borromeo in Waltham.
jaymike October 15, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Karen, While it might seem good to help someone "feel better about themselves," many people need exactly the opposite. In such cases, the loving thing may well be a kick in the pants of some kind. Just as a grossly rough example, if a man is sitting on railroad tracks eyeballing in defiance the oncoming locomotive, would you sooth him by praising his courage or yell at him to get off those tracks. In a similar way, many people are sitting on some type of real life train tracks. The last thing a friend would do is make them feel comfortable about staying there. I understand there are also cases (most likely the majority of cases) when the loving thing for a person to do is offer encouragement to another, but the idea that there is universal virtue in helping someone feel good about themselves is just not right. Some, if not many, cases require a very different approach.
jaymike October 15, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Well GM, I would say yes and no. Sure enough, we do not have the type of hard physical evidence you would normally find in a trial. So, yes, faith is required. It is true, I cannot claim certainty of my beliefs beyond ANY doubt. But guess what, every other belief, especially atheism, also requires faith because none can be proven with hard evidence. On the other hand, circumstantial evidence is often quite important in court cases. If we were to hold a trial and present all of the available evidence and testimony, I believe twelve open-minded jurors would conclude Jesus did rise from the dead. In fact, most people who scoff at Jesus have never really considered the evidence.
UglyHat October 15, 2012 at 06:10 PM
I agree that people make up the church and people are faulty. But it is the institution that allowed it. It is the belief (of those in power) that the church is more important than the people which facilitated the cover-up. Rather than follow their own teachings, they abandoned their beliefs to protect the church. Similar to the problems at Penn State – they covered up the sins so that the football program would not be hurt. Blind faith no more. I do not follow those that lead simply because they lead. And I’m not suggesting you should stop believing anything. I’m happy that you have something you believe in. But you state “If the church is broken, we don’t abandon Faith”. Based on the statistics in this article, I respectfully disagree.
Dave Lenane October 15, 2012 at 06:42 PM
UglyHat, I respectfully submit to you that it is the people, and the people only, that can change those statistics!
UglyHat October 15, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Dave, I agree with that too. This article and many others reference a ‘growing number’ of religiously unaffiliated people. So in fact, the people are changing those statistics.
loudcris October 15, 2012 at 08:59 PM
I'm 23 years old and I used to be religious. I used to go to church, pray and have faith. First I lost the little trust in ‘the church’ I had. I saw many great patrons, even honest clergy members but it is an awful organization overall (feeling on all major religions). Then I had my own personal beliefs about an 'almighty' being, those slowly went away too (who made God, what was before, why, how). As I got older and went through High School then College I found it harder and harder to believe yet easier almost natural to live without. It wasn’t my youth or being unhappy with 'rules'. It was simply because of science. We use it every day and we believe and trust in it almost constantly and instantly. Our cell phones, computers, the internet and even what we now call necessities like electric power or running water were all created using many mathematical and scientific discoveries. Yet when this same set of people and their peers tell us the truth about where life comes from, many people can't handle it and start denying the vast and constantly tested proof. Realistically I feel the number of agnostic or atheist in my generation is actually even higher than reported as many college students were born into religion but don't practice. Just because the scientific explanation of life is long, complex and has a tragic ending for us (fade to black) doesn't mean it is wrong. We are just too scared to think 'this' life is all we get. I am scared too, but I am not in denial.
GM October 15, 2012 at 09:03 PM
Karen, I have already asked a question similar to this twice on this thread, but I haven't gotten any responses, so I'm going to try asking you. I can't tell the extent to which you are hedging when you say that "there may be no afterlife", but if we assume that there is nothing beyond this life, what causes you to want to "do good", recognizing that often doing good requires us to put ourselves in a disadvantaged position? Why not live your life as a hedonist and do whatever makes you feel good while you're alive? If your hedged point about whether or not there is an afterlife reflects a real uncertainty about the possibility, it seems to me that it would be hard to set a question as important as that aside. Can someone really see that as a not very important issue if they have any uncertainty about its possibility at all?
Tippy Doodle October 15, 2012 at 09:29 PM
Just my 2 pennies: I would rather live my life as if there is a God, and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't, and die to find out there is.
Stephen Georgeson October 15, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Very well said, Tippy! "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
jaymike October 15, 2012 at 10:06 PM
loudcris, Some comments and two questions ... First the comments, unless I missed something, when it comes to creation and the meaning of life, science offers you no more than a theory, partially reasoned theory at that. Also, what is your basis for "trusting" science? It is often proven false. Remember the flat Earth? How about the prediction of a pending Ice Age only a few decades prior to the current predictions of doom about global warming. Now two questions … You say you found it “harder and harder to believe.” Harder to believe what? And what exactly has made it harder?
Sheryl Pearson October 15, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Religion is a way to control the masses. And the "rules" of some, stop many younger ones from belonging to any church in the first place.
GM October 15, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Sheryl, that may be true if some religions, but not all. And that still leaves you with a question of what role faith plays in your life. Your point is like saying that because some schools are bad, education isn't worthwhile.
Tippy Doodle October 16, 2012 at 12:47 AM
@ Stephen Georgeson: Thank you. I am a smart gambler, I can't lose... ;o)
jaymike October 16, 2012 at 02:13 AM
So Jen, how do you explain the radical change of those men who say they saw Jesus alive after he died? They could have continued living as you live but made a sudden change in course, sacrificing that life to proclaim Jesus as Lord. And they did it for no gain other than the gain of eternal life with him, suffering persecution and a violent death they could easily have avoided. What sensible explanation do you have for that?
Phil McCutchen October 16, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Sheryl: The same could be said of government, families and public schools. Anytime people organize in a community structure there are necessarily rules of engagement otherwise you have anarchy. If done compassionately and wisely, controlling the masses is actually a very good thing.
Leslea Linebarger October 16, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Take religion out of the picture, that's man-made and inherently flawed. If you've ever been loved, you've experienced God. The love of God as I've experienced it is much more intimate than it was presented in the church I grew up in. The older I've gotten, and the more I've suffered, I've been drawn to a God who is love, and who is with me in all I face. Let's just say for a minute that this life is all there is. It's enough for me to know his love and try to love others as he loves me. With patience, grace, mercy and charity. I ask for his help to do that, and in the process, I get changed. What is impossible with men is possible with God. I'm so grateful.
Stephen Georgeson October 16, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Leslea - How refreshing it is to read your comment! You're right. Religion is man's way of reaching up to God (which will always fall short, and is subject to human failures). But love is His way of reaching down to us, and that was evidenced in Christ at the cross. Thanks for being a light in all the darkness!
GM October 16, 2012 at 02:20 PM
Just curious. Without churches or religion, where would have you learned about God and Christ in the first place? I'm not challenging your point about personal faith, but, for all of its human flaws, I have a hard time taking "religion out of the picture" as you suggested.
Sandro Paz October 16, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Good point GM. If there is no afterlife or some kind of God, what determines what is good or bad. If you can do something "bad" and no one will ever know, why not do it? Yet, normal people tend to know what is bad and believe they should not do "bad things."
Phil McCutchen October 16, 2012 at 06:26 PM
How can we say, "religion is man made" when God created the Jewish religion with it's rituals, leadership structure, rules of engagement and blessings. Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that "bad religion is man made." I believe there's lot of "bad religion" in the world, just like there is bad government, bad families and bad people. I think there's a real loss when we make spirituality solitary instead of communal. Good religion is simply healthy spirituality lived with a community of brothers and sisters who share that spirituality.
Stephen Georgeson October 16, 2012 at 06:41 PM
All depends upon one's definition of religion. There is a pure and undefiled religion, as James talks about. But I agree with you, Phil, that "bad religion" is man-made. But we ought to lessen our emphasis on 'religion' and focus on a 'right relationship' with Jesus.


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