Editor's note: CNN recently won four first-place reporting awards from the Religion Newswriters Association. Read more about the awards here.
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – The fastest growing "religious" group in America is made up of people with no religion at all, according to a Pew survey showing that one in five Americans is not affiliated with any religion.
The number of these Americans has grown by 25% just in the past five years, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The survey found that the ranks of the unaffiliated are growing even faster among younger Americans.
Thirty-three million Americans now have no religious affiliation, with 13 million in that group identifying as either atheist or agnostic, according to the new survey.
Pew found that those who are religiously unaffiliated are strikingly less religious than the public at large. They attend church infrequently, if at all, are largely not seeking out religion and say that the lack of it in their lives is of little importance.
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And yet Pew found that 68% of the religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God, while 37% describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.” One in five said that they even pray every day.
John Green, a senior research adviser at Pew, breaks the religiously unaffiliated into three groups. First, he says, are those who were raised totally outside organized religion.
Survey: Protestants no longer majority in U.S.
Second are groups of people who were unhappy with their religions and left.
The third group, Green says, comprises Americans who were never really engaged with religion in the first place, even though they were raised in religious households.
“In the past, we would describe those people as nominally affiliated. They might say, 'I am Catholic; I am a Baptist,' but they never went" to services, Green says of this last group. “Now, they feel a lot more comfortable just saying, ‘You know, I am really nothing.’ ”
According to the poll, 88% of religiously unaffiliated people are not looking for religion.
“There is much less of a stigma attached" to not being religious, Green said. “Part of what is fueling this growth is that a lot of people who were never very religious now feel comfortable saying that they don't have an affiliation.”
Demographically, the growth among the religiously unaffiliated has been most notable among people who are 18 to 29 years old.
According to the poll, 34% of “younger millennials” - those born between 1990 and 1994 - are religiously unaffiliated. Among “older millennials,” born between 1981 and 1989, 30% are religiously unaffiliated: 4 percentage points higher than in 2007.
Poll respondents 18-29 were also more likely to identify as atheist or agnostic. Nearly 42% religious unaffiliated people from that age group identified as atheist or agnostic, a number far greater than the number who identified as Christian (18%) of Catholic (18%).
Green says that these numbers are “part of a broader change in American society.”
“The unaffiliated have become a more distinct group,” he said.
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Pew's numbers were met with elation among atheist and secular leaders. Jesse Galef, communications director for the Secular Student Alliance, said that the growth of the unaffiliated should translate into greater political representation for secular interests.
“We would love to see the political leaders lead on this issue, but we are perfectly content with them following these demographic trends, following the voters,” Galef said.
“As more of the voters are unaffiliated and identifying as atheist and agnostics, I think the politicians will follow that for votes.
“We won’t be dismissed or ignored anymore,” Galef said.
The Pew survey suggested that the Democratic Party would do well to recognize the growth of the unaffiliated, since 63% of them identify with or lean toward that political group. Only 26% of the unaffiliated do the same with the Republican Party.
"In the near future, if not this year, the unaffiliated voters will be as important as the traditionally religious are to the Republican Party collation,” Green predicted.
Green points to the 2008 exit polls as evidence for that prediction. That year, Republican presidential nominee John McCain beat President Barack Obama by 47 points among white evangelical voters, while Obama had a 52-point margin of victory over McCain among the religiously unaffiliated.
According to exit polls, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans who supported the Democratic presidential candidate grew 14 points from 2000 to 2008.
In announcing the survey’s findings at the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Bethesda, Maryland, Green said the growing political power of the unaffiliated within the Democratic Party could become similar to the power the Religious Right acquired in the GOP in the 1980s.
“Given the growing numbers of the unaffiliated, there is the potential that that could be harnessed,” he said.
You make it sound like a political decision. Unaffiliated? Anyone who believes in the unbelievable is delusional.
Only 14% of Estonians believe in God. Those numbers are more realistic for a sane and highly functioning secular society.
FYI, Estonia would be considered moral by Romney since it has a balanced budget and it has the lowest public debt in Europe. It stands at 8%`of GDP. Immoral and nearly bankrupt America has public debt at over 70% of GDP and the US is a trillion dollars in the hole.
Seems to me that America has its numbers reversed compared to Estonia. When 86% of Americans are atheists maybe we will be able to balance the budget and throw away our credit cards. Imagine that? Reasonable financial sobriety without a prayer.
I am Estonian atheist. One difference with American atheists is that we are not fighting Christmasat all. We are celebrating a secular Christmas of Santas, elves, raindeers and Christmas trees – no Jesus involved.
Don't believe in God? What a freakin copout!
yeah, man! gnarly! and i just saw the easter bunny shagging santa! hey, man – pass me that dube! what? don't believe me? copout!
Try to be good without the threat of dam nation and learn to accept that after life you will just rot into the earth. Your approach, Rachel, is a copout.
No, you have it all wrong. Believing in god is a cop out. It's failing to take personal responsibility for the one life we have on earth to roll the dice on some mythical second life. In other words, why care about what we do now when all that matters is the chance to walk "gold covered streets" and sing hallelujah for eternity. (Although the latter sounds rather boring). God is a cop out for things we don't yet understand, an explanation for so-called "miracles" (which are the result of either random chance or the hard work and training of skilled people); and the flip-side, the "devil" is the cop out for when bad things happen. Of course, the all-powerful god gets a pass on the bad stuff because he "works in mysterious ways," which is the greatest cop out of all time.
Apostasy is nothing new ppl...if you think it's bad now just wait...it's only going to get worse so best to get used to it. The Bible speaks of three types of men in the world...Natural-Carnal-Spritual and the Natural man has been the majority for a long time and will continue to proliferate until the end. The reason is simple...if I can't sense it w/any of my five senses then it doesn't exist. But let me be the one to tell all the atheists in the world this..So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:10-11
Rather than inculcating our children with the primary-color simple Sunday school legends and myths most people do, might I suggest the following ten comandments to enable them to think for themselves.
1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.
2. DO NOT think that claims about magic and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.
3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.
4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars get frightened when you want to "look under the hood".
5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and goblins and believing in any of them does not make one moral.
6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should I believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.
7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?
8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of god” or “god moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.
9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?
10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.
I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, any religion or other supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era. I hope we get there as a species.
Sorry, dose. You violated #8! Your whole post is an apologetic!
I'm sorry that you are so angry.
I will pray for you. That is no joke.
Actually, The Bible doesn't support all these different, man-made, religions. It is a history book of the Israelites, and a rule book on how to live life. These man-made "religions" are just money generating, populous controlling, creations. No? Then, if God's word, The Bible is perfect, why does anything have to be added or taken away from it? Why are there Catholics, Baptists, Protestants, Episcopalians, Adventists, white churches, black churches, etc? Most of the world don't even know who the real Jews, that The Bible speaks about, aren't the ones they see every day. We call ourselves a country founded on Judeo-Christian values, and most of the founding fathers were Masons. We're even considering voting for a Mormon for president, when the Mormons preach from a book that has nothing to do with The Bible. They even use masonic rituals when their couples get sealed in marriage. Can you blame the youth for saying, "You all are confusing us. We'll take a different route!"?
Science, fairness, rational thought, decency. These are laws to live by. The rest is just hope that this life is not the only one we live.
I wonder why CNN doesn't cover how the Federal Reserve is about to financially collapse our country on purpose... Oh right, they are owned by them.
A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
(c) Economics; or
You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
(c) NASA astronomer; or
I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
(a) A gifted psychologist
(b) A well respected geneticist
(c) A highly educated sociologist
(d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
If I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me, I am
(a) a delusional schizophrenic;
(b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
(c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
(d) your average Christian
Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
(a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
(b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
(c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
(d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don’t do anything “naughty”. I am
(a) A victim of child molestation
(b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
(c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
(d) A Christian
The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
(c) Archeology; or
What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
(a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
(b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
(c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
(d) All of the above.
If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
(a) a deep psychiatric issue;
(b) an irrational fear or phobia;
(c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
(d) my religious belief.
Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
(a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
(b) A mafia boss
(c) A drug pusher; or
(d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
You forgot to add the muslum wackos.
This should be printed and stapled to the door of every church, mosque and synagogue on Earth.
You failed your own test. Your questions are based on your ignorance and perception of reality. Sad that you would think that you have the kind of faith to believe that all things came from nothingness. No one has faith that powerful. If you would actually read and study the Bible, you would discover for yourself alot of interesting things, such as, Earth is billions of years old, not 7000 years as many who claim to know the Bible would say. That our understanding od God and of creation is limited because we ourselves have distanced oursleves from God believing we can do things on our own without his guidance. Take a look around you, see where that's taken us.
@Up for a thought-Dude "Deep thoughts by Jack Handy" Excellent rant. I liked it. Gives me hope for the rationalist amongst us.
you started with:
"... theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, ..."
Who said that?
Have you been listening to the god-salesmen again.
If you don't feed the squirrels, they won't bother you.
They rest is just more of the same.
Any religion is hope. Thats it! It is evil based. Don't worry about me as religious fanatics may need alot more cleaning up than us (non-organized) people do. History prove it. I feel that those attached to any form are the weakest in society and (these nuts) are trying to shove it down normal conscious- law abiding humans throats!
OBAMA = HOPE (and change)
OBAMA = Force his way of thinking on others
OBAMA = Force legislation through that the people do not want (shoving down throats)
OBAMA = Take advantage of weak-minded because they are easy prey while stroking the ego's of those who believe they are smarter than everyone else. (cult).
Hmm... Seems to me this make Obama God and his policy Religion, and those who follow/support him society's weakest.
There, I just used your "science" to make a coherent comparison between Politics and Religion based on fact and not belief in a supreme being who current sits in judgement over 300+ American's every day.
If he could do that, 7 million would be a walk in the park for a true deity.
Leave people alone. Like you said. If they want to believe in something, let them.
In fact, why don't you research all religions for yourself before you casually trample the beliefs of others with no regard to their intelligence or being. It is you who sounds unintelligent. It is you who sounds disagreeable and hateful.
The more of the 20% (atheists) there are, the worse things seem to be.
The more christians I meet the more Athiest I become.
is "GOD" or should I say "He" so concerned with us using capital letters with his name? seems a petty quirk for the omnipotent
The responses here show what's wrong with this country. If you don't believe what others believe, you're an idiot? Doomed for eternity or should die?? Gimmie a break.
Break yourself with your religion. You don't need any help.
Atheism is in fact a religion. If one is claiming to have the knowledge that there is no God (or god if you prefer) then one is claiming to know the unknowable (in this plain of existence) and is therefore claiming to have knowledge that only a god could have) If you think about it, it is actually a claim to prescient knowledge. Atheists have organized and there is quite an evangelist effort underway. It has all the hallmarks of any religion.
Most atheists do not claim to KNOW there is no god- they simply state there is no evidence presented to give them a reason to believe in a god.
Try again, you can do it little guy!
I'm a paramedic. bradypnea means "breathing slowly". tachypnea means "breathing fast" apnea "means no breathing"
"atheist" means "no religion" According to your "logic", "apnea" would then be a type of breathing....
No Mark it is just that none of the reasons (or arguments for the existence of a god) stand up under critical scrutiny. Unless it can be demonstrated that it is reasonable to believe in the existence of an imaginary friend with super powers, it is not reasonable to believe that such a thing exists.
I do not believe in trends I believe more people are so tired of religious this and that, that we are now coming out to combat how our society is formed now with hocus pocus inane nonsense about a plastic jesus on a dashboard.
You can’t just make stories up in the form of non-fiction and expect people fall for it anymore.
It is time for tolerance and acceptance not what religion teaches and now it is showing cracks in its flawed teaching that humans have decimated and misinterpreted from the beginning.
A comic book is more non-fiction that the crap people read in whichever, book they chose to follow and yet they will take this book and worship it to the point of killing anyone else who is a nonbeliever or an infidel if you chose the so called tolerance of a muslin.
No religion is tolerance because the very idea is to force you to think as their leaders want you to never mind the reality of what is written since what is written was by humans to suppress the culture they lived in.
When it comes to bulls-t, big-time, major league bull-it, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest bulls-t story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!
But He loves you.
This is excellent.
Conflating atheism (no God) with no religion is naive. Having a God, many Gods or no Gods is not a prerequisite for having a religion.
TORAH: Most modern biblical scholars believe that the written books were a product of the Babylonian exilic period (c. 600 BCE) and that it was completed by the Persian period (c. 400 BCE).
CATHOLIC/CHRISTIAN BIBLE: council of nicea 312 C.E. paid for by roman emperor constantine
QURAN:Muslims believe the Quran to be verbally revealed through angel Jibrīl (Gabriel) from God to Muhammad gradually over a period of approximately 23 years beginning on 22 December 609 CE,when Muhammad was 40, and concluding in 632 CE, the year of his death.
let's play follow the leader shall we? torah-–>catholicism---->quran
I believe in God... I just don't believe in organized religion.
Why? What God?
religion is probably what originally organized that belief in your mind....
what got yer magical underwear all in a twist, My2? MU? ...or just an ex-Mormon with an agenda?
Atheists who attach labels to their names and others, are no better than mislead politicians. You and others like you are truly lost...and no I am not speaking from a "religious" stand point. More of a humanistic viewpoint that says we accept other people for who they are- not what they profess to believe.
This world we live in has become so divisive, there's no sense of unity anywhere...seems we can only agree on certain issues. We must create a climate with an ethos of respect, understanding and appreciation of individual and group differences, for if we continue the path we are on now, we will fail miserably.
Sorry My2, I meant to respond to Magical ...you got in the way....
My opinion: Atheism is the denial of the exist of God or smething that is higher than ourselves. In not accepting God's existance, we tell oursleves that we are not accountable to anyone but ourselves. I believe that deep down inside, eveyone believes, but to acknowledge it is something else. It takes an incredible amount of faith to believe that all things came from nothing; that is faith is humanly impossible. Deep down everyone believes.
Foolish are those who say there is no God. Why do I say that? Because everyone knows there is something much higher than themselves which many try to understand but most don't. It's simply much easier ( a cop out) to say, there is no God. Again, this is my opinion, which is what the comment boards are for. Attack away.
It is easier to say there is, without a doubt, a god without any proof. Why not just admit that WE DONT KNOW. That is the truth.
We no longer worship the sun, the moon or Volcanos.
"To surrender to ignorance and call is "God" has always been premature and remains premature today" – Asimov
You have your OPINION 100% backwards.
Atheist community viewpoints revolve around humanism, and being a better person to better ourselves as human beings. We are social animals, we are held accountable by not only ourselves, but our peers. Your religion does not make you a good person, your behavior does.
Foolish are those who say there IS a God? Why do I say that? Because everyone knows that the belief in a god is just a quick way to say "I know what is in the unknown", without ACTUALLY looking and UNDERSTANDING. While it is not tied to atheism, most atheists turn to Science, Logic, Philosophy, and Understanding to see and describe the world around them. One of Sciences many sayings is "We can't explain this... yet.". It's been said many times, and most of those things has been explained with proper evaluation and theorizing.
No foolish are those that believe stories from 2000 years ago. Stories from before there were microscopes, telescopes, men on the moon. Attempts to explain the unexplained, from humans that did not understand the world around them.
It takes an incredible amount of faith that things came from the god of the armies, the 70th son of El Elyon, who the Hebrew assigned to themselves, so he would help in their battles, and whom they got from the Sumerian myth system, is actually the god humans in 2012 believe in. (Yahweh).
Quote from the article: Pew found that 68% of the religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God, while 37% describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious.”
This article is a bit misleading, these people are not atheists, they're just non-practicing Christians / theists.
It isn't misleading. They expect you to actually read the article.
CNN, nice picture. Do you not have any class? Oh wait. Nevermind. Sorry I forgot you are to the left.
And yet you think it's great to telegraph and celebrate your beliefs with a nativity or a cross anytime the law permits and sometimes when it doesn't. It may be his way of testifying. You opposed to testifying?
Other than they misspelled god(dammit), what's wrong with this picture there Jesus man?
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.