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.
James Madison (Deist) (He became our 4th President, and was the chief architect of the U.S. Const!tution):
During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superst!tion, bigotry, and persecution.
–A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the Virginia General Assembly, 1785
Always good to see -mama kindless here on the belief blog.
Love me that mama kindless !
There is nothing like a dose of 'mama kindless' rationality in the morning to wake you up and prepare you for a day of dealing with a bunch of unprincipled hypocrites.
Not only am I an atheist, I don't think most "believers" really believe, either. I think, secretly, inside their own head and heart, they know religion is hogwash. But they play along with it because (A) they think the other people around them actually believe it and they worry that something's "wrong with them" if they don't, and (B) religion's a social support system for them, and it they play along and pretend to believe, they get to keep their church friends.
And, both of those things are okay. In most cases, I don't care if anyone's religious - whatever gets you through the day is fine. I'm only concerned when they try to infringe on my freedom and try to insist that I live according to their "god." And that happens all too often. Too many are so fragile in their "faith" that anyone who doesn't share it becomes threatening to them, and they insist that we "respect their beliefs."
There is no way I will "respect your belief" when the belief is childish, ridiculous, and based upon nothing but the belief itself. I'll respect your right to HAVE the belief, but that's all any reasonable person can ask. I shouldn't be expected to give reverence to your diety, though, when it's absurd to me. But your right to believe it if you wish? Absolutely, I have no problem with that. It's only when you insist on including me into the game you're playing to make you feel more comfortable about playing it that a problem starts.
I like the philosophy of many religions. As a philosopher, Jesus was great. It's just when someone actually start believing there's an all-powerful being whose will they are doing that they start wars and atrocities.
Most modern Christians are so entangled with right-wing politics that they couldn't be farther from Jesus's teaching anyway. It's impossible to embrace both Jesus and Ayn Rand without disgracing one or the other.
Very well said.
Several decades ago when I was asked what religion/faith I followed and told the recruiter none, he just ticked off the protestant box, there wasn't a none of the above. That didn't bother me at the time, I wonder if they still do that, it would bother me now.
I am a Christian. I agree with you 100%; and I also respect your beliefs in the Atheistic religion. In my opinion, the problem with religion today is exactly as you say, many members really don't believe what they are professing. People who are not being truthful to their own beliefs dilute the church; and I would prefer they just stay away.
Bill Maher posed the question best. If you are a Christian and believed you heard God say to you to kill your child and you didn't do it. Then you are no Christian. And if you did, at your trial your defense of that act was that God told you to do it, and no one on the jury believed you, well then, they aren't true believers.
Great post. I think the civility in this discussion is lacking. I can understand that, christians have failed in many ways. However, so have all humans on all levels. Christians need to understand they can't put creationism in school and athiest need to understand that Hitchens approach of antagonism wasn't helpful either. It's going to come to a boiling point at some time and cooler heads than Hitchens and the Florida Koran pastor need to drive the conversation.
@Onegod :: Atheism is not a religion. The magic man in the sky makes no sense to me. Non-belief doesn't work that way.
Very well stated. I have no religion. But i do have God. He does not disown me if i drink a beer or do not go to a church or even smoke marijuana every blue moon! I believe in feeding the hungry and helping the poor, being kind to strangers, visiting the sick and lonely. What people fail to realize is this is MY walk! They do not have to agree with it or even respect it.This is who he is to me. It is not my job to push my beliefs on anyone. Nor their job to judge me or what i believe. If they see the way i live my life and ask i will tell them. At the end of the day the way you live your life and what you believe( or do not believe) is yours and yours alone. He who has no sin cast the first stone. :)
Absolutely agree, and, ditto, very well said.
George Carlin had a comedy sketch bit where he spoke of religion as a pair of shoes. If you like wearing them, great! Don't insist that I wear your shoes though! When you "discover" a new territory that is already peopled with indigenous beings you shouldn’t be 'nailing' those shoes to their feet either! Oh what Glory and hope the Conquistadors and their reverent Roman Catholic priests brought to the New World.
BTW: I like the new term of "Humanist" instead of Athiest. You should be known for what you believe, not what you don't.
I am a Christian and find this post very refreshing. I have been confused by the anger of many of the atheists on here. You dont believe, I do, let's get along with our lives. I do think that the overall perception of Christians is wrong. Most of us do not wander around judging others. We try and look after believers and non believers alike, help the homeless, feed the hungry, love the orphans. Atheists do these same things. We are not as different as some people try to say.
Go with Buddhism. You can be a Buddhist and an atheist.
Bangarang, three cheers for "the religion of no religion!"
Tried to leave a response but just wanted to say yes! Atheism and Buddhism work for me.
Atheism is NOT a religion, but Rational Materialism is.
Rational Materialism is a philosphical perspective, its not a religion.
Wanna know how I know that?
Because in Rational Materialism: No imaginary friends are involved, there is no promise of a theme park when you die, and you don't have to kill anyone you don't want to...
Tanker, rational materialists are just as blindly dogmatic as the worst of the religious, as you clearly demonstrate.
Judaism doesn't have the theme park and Buddhism doesn't have imaginary friends. Are they not religions, or are you just poorly educated?
I guess this all depends on how you define the word "religion".
In the way most people use it which is to define a set of practices and beliefs created around the concept of a central deity, then no, Buddhism is indeed not a religion but a philosophy.
Semantics argument? Sure seems that way.
I did notice that you didn't refute the "you don't have to kill anyone you don't want to" argument in your reply?
I never understood the idea behind atheists organizing. I'm not religious, but I avoid calling myself atheist for a couple reasons. First and foremost is that I find it odd that atheists put so much effort into getting together and opposing any mildly religious references in public. It's like they don't want religion, but want to keep the destructive power structure and political lobbying. They seem to want to turn around and repress religion to the degree that religion once repressed non-believers. Second, I'll never say there is no God. The concept of the beginning is so mind-bendingly complex that just about any explanation is plausible. We have a long way to go before we can start definitively ruling out anything. I'm happy with not knowing. As Richard Feynman once said, "I think it's much more interesting not knowing. I'd rather not know than have answers that might be wrong." So, I'll remain happily agnostic until someone presents compelling evidence of what the truth of our origins really is. Unfortunately, I doubt that will be something answered in my lifetime.
I respect your perspective, but I think that without organized resistance, people like Rep. Paul Broun would be dictating what our children learn in science classes.
Also, very well said.
You're confusing atheist with anti-theist.
A theist is someone who believes in a higher power and justifies that position with religious doctrine and dogma.
An atheist is simply "not" that. The theist is making a proposition and the atheist isn't buying it.
Just as a court decision is rendered guilty or not guilty. A defendant is not rendered a decision of innocent. For the same reason an atheist isn't absolutely denying the possibility of a god or gods, just that the claim hasn't been sufficiently convincing and therefore belief is withheld. Show us definitive evidence and we would believe.
That you would never say there is no God, explains why you dont understand atheists, or their wishes to push-back on the ridiculous way Xtianity and peoples faith is abused ad used as a vote getting tool in this nations Political world.
You need to stop judging before you contemplate on such things. The pre-judgment prevents you from thinking too deep on any subject.
@AthiestSteve @Tom li
Whether or not atheism deserve it or not, their are groups flying the banner that go far beyond simple non-belief to near fanatical opposition to belief. That is just baggage I wouldn't voluntarily associate with. Agnosticism doesn't seem to have as many negative perceptions attached to it. Personally, I'd rather not label myself with any of them, but, if I do have to, I'm just explaining why I don't choose to call myself atheist.
If you find the actions of atheist groups distasteful then that's your prerogative. I tend to think their voice is important if only for those like-minded individuals who suppress their beliefs in fear of reprisal from theist dominance(family, coworkers, neighbors, etc.)
But the simple fact remains...if you believe in God you are a theist...if you don't...you're an atheist. Neither position is making a statement of knowledge...just belief. I don't know there isn't a god...I simply don't believe it.
GREATEST SONG OF ALL TIME; MADE BY THE GREATEST BAND OF ALL TIME.
"Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us"
This wasn't the Beatles, but close.
I agree... great song. However, I guess I learned something new today, as I always thought that this was a "John Lennon" gig ?
Yeah, and that song makes the 100% wrong assumption that people are naturally good. People blame religion for all that is bad in the world. Yet the same people say people created religion. So, why is it safe to assume that if people created religion that people would suddenly be good people if religion went away? People will always find a reason to be what they are now. For example, you do not have to teach your child to lie. You have to teach your child to tell the truth.
John Lenon was a briliiant man.
Good people will do good things....bad people will do bad things.....but it absolutely requires religion to make good people do bad things.
1. There are countries and always will be
2. People are being killed south of border daily for a plant called marijuana. Not sure how religion is to blame for that.
While the lyrics are great for a day dream, they simply don't live in reality. Any person who thinks there would be no war without religion simply doesn't pay attention to the non-religious countries in our world who have aggressive policies towards other countries.
Don't get me wrong, it makes sense as a lyrical hope when you smoke a big fatty. but when you come down and grow up, it's simply a silly song with a silly premise.
I prefer the words of Dr. Greg Graffin.
"When all soldiers lay their weapons down
Or when all kings and all queens relinquish their crowns
Or when the only true messiah rescues us from ourselves
It's easy to imagine
There will be sorrow no more."
Sorry but the GREATEST BAND ON EARTH...is the TIME.
I've been watching you. I think I wanna know ya. Know ya. Know ya.
The song "Imagine" was not written by The Beatles. It was written by John Lennon as a solo artist.
“spiritual” but not “religious”? Really? What spirit is that? It's really just another way of saying 'worship thy self'.
Frankly, there is no 'proof' for GOD. The is no 'proof' for no GOD. The atheist movement has no bearing on whether GOD exists and should have no impact on what you believe. Invest in yourself. Take time to read your Bible. Start with the book of John in the New Testament. GOD will transform your life.
It seems to me that religious people see worshiping yourself as the only alternative to believing in God, because they intuitively see the universe as a hierarchy where man is second only to God. Therefore, if God doesn't exist, man must worship himself. That's wrong for two reasons – 1. non-believers typically don't see themselves as more important than other life forms, 2. one doesn't have to worship anything at all.
That's pure fiction
Silly Rabbit tricks are for kids.
3000 Gods have come and gone, and each one of their followers used that logic.
If something dosen't exist it isn't nescesary to prove it dosen't because time does.
Christianity is dying the slow painful death that all the earlier dead Gods faced at the end.
The Emperor has no clothes, Jesus is a con!!
Shouldn't you also recommend "The God Delusion" or "God is Not Great" as reading material?
You know... Just to present both sides of the argument...
In any case, I find it interesting that you are sending folks to read John first. John is nice reading indeed and if it transforms your life, great. You should thank "John" indeed. But let's not forget about the old testament and all of its doctrine.
Or would you fear that anyone starting their Bible reading there may not wish to continue further?
The New Testament has some very nice teachings within the stories of the life of the Christ. The "problem" with the bible is in doctrine which mostly comes from the Old Testament (which ironically Jesus came to abolish and yet many of its rules are still touted today) and the words of Paul in the second letter to Corinthians.
And neither of those is as full of the love that Jesus professed as one would like.
In Spirit the Golden Rule is "ALL R EQUAL" whereas in religion the dogma is: none are equal.
research the bible and its history and you will realize why it needs to be taken with several grain of salt.
I've often made the analogy of religion with cigarettes. In moderation you can still live a healthy life being a smoker but any Dr. any where in the world will certainly tell you that kicking the habit altogther is best for optimal health. Same goes with religion. The massive amount of pain and suffering religion has caused over thousands of years to millions of people should negate any need/attraction to endorse it any further. This reveleation go's under the radar just as cigarettes disease causing effects did for decades. Both big tobacco and religion make huge financial efforts to keep such info supressed but the truth in the end will come out. Eating meat and dairy products will be on its way out soon as well.
It has been said that religion is the opiate of the masses.
Now that the Fundies have found Meth, it seems they have a new drug.
Hopefully, they shall also embrace birth control as well!
That was said by Karl Marx. Father of the Communist Revolution, the movement that lead to millions upon millions of deaths. The philosophy that outlines Obamao's whole agenda...
There are none so blind as those who refuse to see. A vote for Obamao is a vote for the destruction of our way of life.
So now YOU define what America is?
You decry Marx and reject democracy?
You are correct in that Marx would have had Romney shot for treason when he found out Romney had money in foreign banks to avoid paying taxes.
You know, we could learn alot from Marx.
@William Demuth I read the Communist Manifesto. It was nothing but an ad hominem rant, with no real philosophy. Just angry rant against rich people. It was worse than any religious book out there. Anyone following the works of Marx should be shot for treason.
Great news. I am very happy to know that my kids will not be growing up with all this jesus nonsense as I did.
I am not an Atheist.
I am a Hitchinsite.
That is an Atheist with a whiskey, neat...
Not a good comment, Tanker.
A freakin' great, awesome comment. Actually made scrolling down worth it.
I think where a lot of people seem to err in religion is they accept, when things are good, the divine intervention on their behalf; their personal "rewards" for being awesome individuals. However, when events turn south, it is chalked up as a "test" or simply "His will". No good. What horrible, self-loathing masochist dreams up the ultimate father-big brother-mother figure who loves everyone unconditionally and then simply excuses horrible acts committed in that deity's name? Who could believe that it is "His will" to watch children starve and die in their mother's arms if he loves us so much? Only someone desperate to mindlessly, glibly excuse the inadequacies of the theology to allow the paradigm to perpetuate.
Also, too many here seem confused about the distinction between an agnostic and an atheist. Atheists reject the very premise of a higher being in the spiritual, divine sense. Agnostics simply admit they don't know, and don't want to reject either Theism or Atheism, so they simply live on the fence awaiting eveidence to prompt them one way or the other. Atheism is not a religion. It is rejection of the existence and the very idea of an all-powerful creator being. Atheists aren't on the fence; they are at the party on the other side of it.
Yes, because it's such a progressive move towards social awareness to be unable to control such vices as smokes and drinks. With all of his intellect, Hitchens was overcome by such simple pleasures as tobacco and alcohol. Selfish and petty to say the least.
I don't mind religion and grew up batist. My only problem is that ppl in religion only believe what they been fed and everything is wrong. Man is known to be corrupt and lie so why can't the bible after all it's versions? Ppl only answer is because its God's word and only believe what they want. If someone is saved from an accident it's god work but if someone goes on a massacre spree it was the work of the devil. If he is so powerful then why do good die but ppl will say it's his will and plan. Which brings me up to why preach if he already plans who die and what not?
Every point you make is accurate. Why question GOD? Why not read your Bible and understand Him better? It's so much easier for me to think GOD is in control so I don't have to be. When I get to heaven, then I can ask Him why things are the way they are. For now, if I turn away from GOD, He will turn away from me and I'll spend eternity burning and suffering without end. If I accept Him, He takes me and promises me an eternity of peace. Seems like an easy choice to me.
Keep following that reasoning and you will understand how and why atheists exist. In order for humanity to progress, we have to put aside the stone age idea of explaining away everything by attributing it to some higher power. In religion lies division, bigotry, war and murder. While these things would still exist w/o religion, it is unnecessary to perpetuate a system which breeds these things as a natural by-product of its very existence. "We are right" and "They are wrong" is all religion can offer you in the end.
I am sure the number is higher. People still dont' want to say what they don't believe in because of the harrassment and bullying of "Christians". We all know the truth. You can spin it any way you want to. I believe Jesus was a man who existed, but had to die stupidly from mental illness in a time when no one understood what it was. Thousands of years later, when we know how the earth and people came to be, and we know that we all didn't come from one bloodline, people still hold on to what they were brainwashed with as a child. I understand some people need this guidance in their life, but to legislate it and change the way people want to live their lives because of it is the biggest heresy of them all!
Genesis 19 - total insanity..
total ownage. total destruction.
I doubt that Atheism is "growing" so much as people are feeling less pressure to feign religious beliefs.
While I agree that many ‘religious people’ are closet atheists, it doesn’t mean that true believers are not discovering the truth that religion is all a farce and ditching it in greater numbers than ever before.
CNN has reported that atheism is growing in all 50 states.
@Truth is light:
"It funnt that most athiest know nothing about religion. They hear a few things from others and shut religion out before they even know anything about it."
Wrong! Atheists score better than believers on tests of religious knowledge. How do you think many atheists BECOME atheists? By STUDYING Religion, and realizing what utter BS it all is!
See: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/sep/28/nation/la-na-religion-survey-20100928 – if the link doesn't work, just google "atheists know more about religion".
This is absolutely true. I was raised in church and never missed a Sunday. I know the Bible well which is exactly why I view it the same way I viewed Greek mythology that was taught in World Civilizations in 7th grade...as absolutely preposterous. While in college when I finally figured out that my religion had been lying to me about who I was when I finally came out, I began to question what else was phony. Turns out, pretty much all of it was.
32 pages of posted comments and counting....thats why i stay away from religion...too much negativity as well from people who think i should think what they think.....bla bla bla, bla bla
Yes, and 3/4 of the postings are atheists blathering about their beliefs and insulting those who disagree.
The only logically supportable position is agnosticism. To believe that there is or is not a God is to believe in something for which there is no proof. The anthropic principle of cosmology shows that there one of two things is almost certainly true. Either there are an infinite number of universes or there is a design behind our own.
Since there is zero evidence for either position, any belief either way is simply your own personal biases and preferences clouding your faculty for reason.
But to be confident that Spiderman is not real is not arrogance but rather common sense.
The same logic applies to Christ. The story as told is more than implausible, it is absurd.
William, I would agree that specific religions tend to be fairly silly. I tend to think if there is a God, he is more like the watch maker posited by the Deists. Creator, not micro-manager.
William, this shouldn't have to be explained to you. The difference between spiderman and christ is the historical record of his existence as real person. Whether he was who he says he was or not, is obviously debatable. However, your argument doesn't really make sense.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
What does World of Warcraft have to do with religon. Hmmm maybe god can adopt?
How does this add to the discussion? Is this a magic chant?
I dunno, the Religion of Warcraft does have some of the most devout adherents out there, at prayer for hours at a time. I know, I used to be one.
It is one thing to have imaginary friends, but when those imaginary friends start having kids, its time to get professional help.
If you're going to quote from Gullible's Travels, at least say where it's from.
IMO, a lot of people who call themselves "Christian" or go to church every Sunday don't really believe. They just go along with it as the path of least resistance. Therefore, the % of Americans who are not believers is significantly underestimated.
Now, we are FINALLY seeing the loss of influence and power the religious establishment has on American culture.
LOL, You know what "a lot of people" believe or don't believe? You must be a mystic mind reader... LOL... You failed.
Exactly how did one one fail WOW? You don’t have to be a mind reader to know that fear of retribution from friends, family and work will make people play along with silly fairy tales. If you don’t see that then I you’re an idiot. LOL… You failed.
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