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June 12th, 2012
04:49 PM ET

Pew survey: Doubt of God growing quickly among millennials

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – The percentage of Americans 30 and younger who harbor some doubts about God’s existence appears to be growing quickly, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. While most young Americans, 68%, told Pew they never doubt God’s existence, that’s a 15-point drop in just five years.

In 2007, 83% of American millennials said they never doubted God’s existence.

More young people are expressing doubts about God now than at any time since Pew started asking the question a decade ago. Thirty-one percent disagreed with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God,” double the number who disagreed with it in 2007.

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When asked about doubts of God, no other generation showed a change of more than 2% in the past five years.

The survey found that the percentage of millennials who identify with a religion is remaining constant, while most other generations have seen religious identification increase in the past 10 years.

The findings about millennials and religion were part of a 168-page report that Pew released June 4 but were largely overlooked.

“Notably, people younger than 30 are substantially less likely than older people to say prayer is an important part of their lives,” the report said.

“Research on generational patterns shows that this is not merely a lifecycle effect,” it continued. “The Millennial generation is far less religious than were other preceding generations when they were the same age years ago.”

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The findings are part of Pew’s 2012 American Values Survey, which touches on issues including political partisanship, gay marriage and abortion.

Despite the findings on millennials, the survey shows that the United States continues to be a highly religious nation, with most Americans identifying with a particular faith.

Seventy-six percent of all respondents said prayer is an important part of their lives and agreed that “we all will be called before god at the Judgment Day to answer for our sins.” About 80% said they have never doubted the existence of God.

The report points to a growing divide between the youngest and oldest Americans on belief, religion and social issues.

According to Jesse Galef, communications director for the Secular Student Alliance, the growth in “doubting” youths has led to a surge in secular student groups.

“For a lot of millennial atheists, they are expecting to find a group, they are coming to campus, and if they don’t find one, they are starting one,” Galef said. “This is completely different than what other generations grew up with.”

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The Secular Student Alliance has affiliates on 357 American campuses, Galef said, up from 81 such affiliates in 2007.

Galef says the Internet has created a place for young people to discuss religious doubts.

“It enables anybody to have open discussions without fearing if their parents would find out or what their communities would say,” he said. "The more safe places we create for young people to discuss their doubts, the more they can inspire questions in others."

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Polls

soundoff (4,013 Responses)
  1. Cheryl Jefferies

    Hate to tell them, God probably lost faith in THEM a long time ago. 'Course, I can't presume to speak for Him. And, he does have infinite patience and love. But, he also is a God of justice. Somehow, I just don't see Him letting us get away with our heathen ways too much longer. We'll see.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • sam stone

      ,"I can't presume to speak for Him. And, he does have infinite patience and love"

      Wow, you say you can't presume to speak for Him, then immediately you presume to speak for him.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Eric G

      You hate to speak for him? Could have fooled me.

      You know the first clue that your god is made up? Because he hates all the same stuff you do.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • FSM

      Getting away? Like the 1000s of children that starve to death daily! Not my idea of justice.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • WWJD

      Can't presume to speak for him? Well imaginary creatures can't speak for themselves.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      God seems to have allowed the Holocaust to happen. And the Inquisition. And the Crusades.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  2. Aerin

    There is no sky fairy. Grow up and Wake Up!

    June 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  3. blessedgeek

    DOUBT is the substance of things not been and the evidence of things duped for.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  4. blinky

    I think under 30 is a great time in life to scrutinize belief systems and harbor doubts. It's great to be fearless and look hard at presumptions, including those of theism as well as agnosticism and atheism. Each of those systems builds in some assumptions and it's worth taking a close look at each.

    In my 50s, I don't have any doubts in God, but that's a conclusion I arrived at through my own experiences and long line of questions. Arriving at such a personal reckoning is going to be a little different for everyone, and I don't insist that anyone hold my belief just because I do. Everyone takes their own path. It's ridiculous to try to talk anyone out of making their own way.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  5. John Galt

    Who cares what atheists think? They have their belief system and others have theirs. That is religious freedom which makes this country great.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Eric G

      Well said John. It is only when those who believe in a god try to infringe upon my rights through legislation that I become vocal. Whenever someone tries to hide behind their beliefs to infringe upon the liberties of others, we must all demand that they provide verifiable evidence that their beliefs are based in fact.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  6. Sunny D

    Tell people aliens are real, that will restore their faith in God. Because aliens are real. Once this becomes public knowledge we will reassess everything we have ever believed about the world. Including God. So don't worry God, faith will be restored.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • blinky

      Sunny D, Funny, I always thought from a Christian perespective it would have to be the opposite. Because then you have to say there is a Jesus on every planet with sentient life, and that sounds kind of complicated to me. But if you say that Earth is unique, then you keep this one-to-one relationship between Jesus and the world. Since I'm a believer but uninterested in organized religion, I have no stake in this predicament.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • WWJD

      Hmmm How does that affect the christian concept of original sin? Did it happen elsewhere? Did it happen in multiple gardens of eden? etc.

      June 12, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  7. pselkins

    The number 1 religion in the United States today is the Church of the Dollar. Even the secondary religions and religious organizations seem to worship at it's alter. It transcends all races, political affiliations, and social classes. When the Dollar comes into play, the teachings, morals, and ethics of secondary religions seem to vanish.

    So frankly to me, worrying about if someone has a secondary religion or not is kinda pointless..

    June 12, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • WWJD

      These pastors are raking it in. Hallelujah for the prosperity gospel.

      June 12, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  8. Evangelical

    This is just a momentary blip. It means nothing. Remember the the sixties? When it was chic to be liberal? Well, those same people gave us the great Ronald Reagan. These young people have yet to find God.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      Poor, poor Evangelical....can't deal with others believing different.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • sam stone

      Evangelical.....catch (the bumper of) a speeding bus to find Jesus

      June 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      And hopefully the young ones never will.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  9. Bazoing

    Do you think God is going away because you doubt?

    June 12, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • sam stone

      Do you think that belief in something makes it exist?

      June 12, 2012 at 8:52 pm |
    • Eric G

      Can you please provide any verifiable evidence that your god was ever here in the first place?

      June 12, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      God isn't going away–he was never here.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:51 am |
  10. Oznick

    It's called "faith" not "fact" for a reason.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
  11. Paula D.

    Wow...the level of disrespect I see here between atheists and theists is proof that there's a God and that he hates mankind. If there is no God, we're probably lucky. And if there is a God, he'd do well to smite the lot of us with another giant asteroid and begin again... perhaps this time with an evolutionary channel that results in a species that cares for each other, respects each other, and doesn't treat everyone else like a pile of d0g$h!T. You all make me ashamed to have chosen this planet. Next time I return to Source, I'll definitely make better choices. Hope not to see many of you again.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Physician, heal thyself.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      That stings, Paula. And I thought we were getting along so well.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:53 am |
  12. mcisaac

    It,s so sad that while et major religion of the world have the same basic values each claim to own God. He must have a tremendous head ache when he sees the intolerance and pain believers act out in his name. I like the Quakers belief that each of us have an inner light (whether created by God or some spiritual and human force) and our duty here on earth is to live so it shows.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • madonfan

      God said people in the last days would fall away from the faith. Not a surprise. One thing we all have to remember is the Christian is to live by faith, not by sight. Since a relationship is faith based, you will never see 100 percent concrete proof of God's existence. Only the believer by faith will have their proof. God will not be showing up in Walmart anytime soon. He may continue to leave clues here and there, and also give people over to their own dilusions after a while because of their hardness of heart, but you have to come to Him by faith. He won't reveal Himself any other way. There will be people that never believe. If we as Christians were not saved by "faith" through grace then Jesus wouldn't have had to die for our propitiation. If it was a sight based religion, then everyone would just drop to their knees and worship God. God wanted people to actually seek Him from their heart, and not their eyes. Because the eyes reveal greed, but the heart reveals the true man and what he is willing to sacrifice to know His creator. Jesus is Lord!

      June 12, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • sam stone

      No, man said people would fall away in what they called the last days. Did they not also say Jesus would be coming back before one generation had passed? It's been about 2,000 years. Did the savior get stuck in traffic?

      June 12, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @sam

      Maybe there's a 2,000 year old apostle hiding out somewhere, then technically the entire generation wouldn't have passed! LOL.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Madonfan, didn't I see you with the Village People? Anyway, where was Jesus when the Holocaust was going on? That would have been a nice time to return. That or maybe during the Inquisition.

      June 13, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  13. Peteyroo

    If souls are eternal, and one's soul goes to heaven (if you've followed the rules of course) after you die, where was this eternal soul before you were born? It had to be somewhere since it's eternal.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • junior

      I bet God knows because frankly I don't. It is not for me to know. Do you guys ask what does Lady Gaga's farts smell like? because if I can't prove it then by your logic, she is incapable of flatulence. Therefore, farts from Lady Gaga do not exist.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • WWJD

      @Junior
      That is pure nonsense

      June 12, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
  14. dick

    Good to see young people thinking for themselves.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  15. Portland tony

    I'd say atheism is just the absence of a belief in a knowable superior being. Those who preach the atheist "doctrine"are on a fool's errand, since they teach a philosophy of negativity or nothingness. There maybe a "reason" for the universe' existence and for life on earth, but I do not possess the intellect to understand it. I don't condemn those who believe in a knowable Creator for they have found what they call the answers of existence! I'll keep wondering.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Rosey Goodman

      I think, therefore I am. So where is the "nothingness" in that? Your absolutism is rather limiting.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Bob

      Guess you haven't read much about atheism, because you're way off base and there's plenty of literature and Youtube videos on the subject.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Tekpilot

      Atheism descends to foolishness. Everything was created out of nothing by nobody.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @Tek

      Atheism is merely the lack in the belief of a god. It isn't a worldview, or a philosophy. It has no tennants, doctrine, or rituals.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • WWJD

      OK, so who created the creator? If a god can just exist and come from nothing and create all that we see, why can't all that we see come from nothing? No middleperson.

      June 12, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Porkland Tacky, what doctrine?

      June 13, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  16. Atheist

    What will Republicans do when most of their base has died off from old age, and the younger members can't be controlled by fear of religious damnation?

    June 12, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Goodguy1

      They will simply join the Dems and look for a new way to control ignorant voters

      June 12, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • HollywoodPR

      What will Democrats do when most of their base has died off from AIDS and foundationless liberalism, and the younger members can't be controlled by fear of moral structure?

      June 12, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • Uniquitous

      Thats easy, there wont be any republicans. And everyone will be living off the state because there wont be any jobs because everyone just figures why should I do anything when someone else can do it for me. Oh what a wonderful world our forefathers envisioned. NOT!

      June 12, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Holywoody, you've got your head up your backside again.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:02 am |
  17. junior

    The beauty of faith is that when I go to mass, I do not have you hateful anti-theists interrupting holy service. Praise the Lord.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Sherron Teal

      NO YOU JUST HAVE PEDOPHILES to deal with!! Ignorance is bless!!

      June 12, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • junior

      no, Penn State has one, and you all condone his actions. Don't lock him up! He a good one. He makes us win games, turn a blind eye to a sports figure and have the audacity to prejudge clergy.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • WWJD

      Yes Penn State has one and the hierarchy didn't deal with it. The Catholic church was exponentially bigger – 100s of predators, 1000s of victims.

      June 12, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
    • Peteyroo

      Juniper, I see you're confused again.

      June 13, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  18. mountainmama82

    Thru the ages the only God has been money

    June 12, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  19. Pam

    Religious people are so self-rightious and so intolerant of other views. So if you don't believe in Jesus, you're going to hell? Really? So some nice person who has never done anything bad or mean, is going to hell because that person doesn't believe that Jesus is the answer. And yet the priests who were involved the Spanish Inquisition and murdered people who didn't believe in Jesus, they're going to heaven? Ok, then. When my dad (who was Jewish) was in WW2 and my mother (who was Christian) moved to the south to be close to his army base, she saw churches everywhere and signs on the lawn that said "No Jews or Dogs Allowed". Keep your churches. Keep your religion. I prefer to be a decent human being.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • madonfan

      Pam,

      Don't judge all people and their religions. There are many Christians who just love people and want them to be saved. The Holy Bible tells Christians that Jesus is the only way, and that we are TO TELL EVERYONE before it's too late. According to God, nobody is good, so why wouldn't an evangelical Christian be passionate about telling an unbeliever what could save them from eternal damnation? Christians that truly know Jesus and that aren't hung up on religion, know how good God really is. As a Christian, I know that I have been saved by grace through faith. I didn't do anything special to get my ticket to heaven. None of us are good enough for that. Christ took the eternal penalty for us so we didn't have to go to hell. As Christians, we have no right telling other people they are going to hell. However, we are not wrong to tell people "what" will get them there. I invite you to go to a non-denominational church that just preaches the bible and no silly doctrines that go along with it. God established the church and not denominations. Alot of man-made rules keep people from experiencing the wonderful creator. Blessings Pam....:) P.S. God said that people would fall away from the faith in the end times so the bible is right on track like it always has been.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Madtown

      because that person doesn't believe that Jesus is the answer.
      -----
      You're right. And, to take it a step further, many many people in this world will never even hear the name Jesus, because they were born into a portion of the world where christianity isn't prevalent. To me, that's the main reason to think there is no "1 right way", because there will always be a great number of souls in this world that will never have access to that way.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • Uniquitous

      Deny Jesus and he could deny you. Yes, it is that simple. But go ahead and see how your plan works out. I bet there will be some leniency for good deeds. The Bible doesnt say that but our social justice morality will make it easy for you to believe and therefore be able to sleep at night. Enjoy.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
    • jd

      Please don,t confuse these people with true Christians. These are zealots that wish to turn the message into hate for their own selfish prejudices. There are others who follow the Christian doctrine with an open heart. We are just less known because the vile in this world somehow gets the most attention. There are many who offer you our kindness no matter what your faith or unfaith might be. Their way of thinking is not what Christianity is about.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Tekpilot

      Abuse is everywhere. we live in the kingdom of the cross with the inability to stop sinning because even without action our thoughts betray us. Thats why Christ had to come. The disease of sin is in all people, everywhere. The Earth itself was cursed because of sin. It was not always this way though and it cannot be fixed by us. It begins by belief and hope in the one that can retore creation.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:53 pm |
    • JSAD

      You yourself are being hateful and intolerant in your assumption of Christians by condemning them based on your 'limited' experiences and 'limited' understanding of the bible..the bible does not claim that non-christians will go to hell..read things in context..and stop hating while preaching about other people hating

      June 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @Tekpilot

      That's a lovely way to devalue human life.

      June 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Yes, it is that simple"

      Wow, thanks for the insightful comment

      June 12, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
    • madonfan

      Actually Madtown, there is a piece of scripture that covers that subject. God says because of His creation, people have no excuse to not seek Him. All they have to do is look around them and they know there is a higher power that created what was around them. Look at this scripture "Romans 1:20: For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse. Now, does this answer your question fully? No it doesn't. But, it does imply that a higher being is obviously at work. I believe this was mentioned in the bible to answer your question. Also, Jesus will make sure that whomever is His, will be saved. He knew us before the foundation of the world. The thing is, people are trying to totally understand an infinite God when He is clear in His word that not only is the Godhead a mystery, but His ways are above ours. That is pretty cut and dry to me. I love Jesus!

      June 12, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • madonfan

      JD, you can be kind and tell someone the truth. I am glad that I have people I can be accountable to and will let me know if I am slipping. Satan is much smarter than we are. I am never on a mission to point out people's faults because we fall in many ways as the bible says. You don't know me and I would appreciate if you don't pair me in your idiot group. People have different spiritual gifts too. I have the gift of evangelism so I love talking about Jesus all day long. Some people will not have the same zeal as others. However, we are all called to speak His truth in love.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • madonfan

      Actually JSAD the bible says that hell is reserved for the wicked. Wicked are considered the people who don't have a relationship with Christ. Not "bad" people. ANY people who don't have a relationship with Christ. If you read what God considers evil, most every person is committing the acts today. You can save 10 people from death, but if you don't know Christ, you aren't going to Heaven. As hard as that sounds, it is true. Read this scripture "Matthew 7:21-23:

      21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

      22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

      23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      @madonfan

      Then I submit that the god you worship is not worthy of worship at all. I would also submit that I am morally superior to that god, and that he is a vain, unjust pri.ck.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Madtown

      madonfan
      Actually Madtown, there is a piece of scripture that covers that subject. God says because of His creation, people have no excuse to not seek Him. All they have to do is look around them and they know there is a higher power that created what was around them.
      ------
      Who cares if there's biblical scripture you believe covers this? That's the point, there are a great many souls in this world that will NEVER have access to your bible, through no fault of their own. And, the bible is the word of man anyway, not the "infallible" word of God. If they "seek God", which I believe we all can do, then they will arrive at an understanding of God which will likely be different than yours, again because they don't have the same information available to them that you do. Isn't that just how different religions have come to be in the first place? Different groupings of human beings, trying to seek God, and being influenced by different cultural forces, and developing ideas of God that are not surprisingly different.

      Also, the concept of the "Godhead", the trinity, is a creation of the human mind. You don't need it to believe in God.

      June 12, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  20. Larry of Nazerath

    The only good thing about RepubliKlans and religious zealots "(the two often go hand in hand)" is they are biodegradable.

    June 12, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.