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.
I know a lot of guys who worship golf, does that count?
Say three Hail Arnies and an Our Hogan.
Not news worthy but thanks CNN for cleaning out the bottom of your barrel !!!!
apparently you see to be thinking that what matters most to you is what should matter most to others, get over your undue self importance
God has lost the hearts of America. We will all be judged accordingly. Just watch.
you seem to be worshipping an insecure god...
Your god is a vindictive little pr1ck. Thanks for playing
AH the standard threat.
Tell Jeebus if I see his Palestinian rear end anywhere near here, I will personaly nail him up again.
Four nails this time, so the zombie stays down.
You missed the point. It isn't God who's lost the heart of America, it's the jerks, charlatans, and self-aggrandizing thieves who claim to speak for him. The intelligent believers have realized that God isn't in the churches; he's in their own hearts.
Who is driving people away from religion? The extremists. A Christian extremist says the word "love" a lot, but their actions demonstrate hate, judgement and self-righteousness – they are the exact opposite of Christ (Sara Palin is the perfect example – ultra-religious, but one of the worst human beings on earth). Unless moderate Christians take back Christianity from the right-wingers, you will continue to see Christianity decline. You can disagree, but the numbers don't lie.
OK Republicans, do you see the writing on the walls? We need fiscally conservative candidates that leave religion behind closed doors when campaigning. Everytime one of you brings up some social issue in regards to religion I cringe and then I won't vote for you. Toss the fairy tales and focus on reality. I know you will think you will be missing out on all the evangelical sheeple votes but they said they wouldn't vote for a mormon either and they are. These people are easily presuaded, look they give a huge percentage of their income to millionaire pastors, they are low lying fruit...focus on the ones that think.
One in 5 in not a majority.
If you Texans stop beating your kids you may find they don't believe either.
Where did I write 'majority' anywhere? I was saying the religious white people are going to vote right no matter what and stop focusing on them, focus on the fiscal issues and not social ones.
Nice William, what a wonderfully hateful thing to say! Have a nice day!
Not any less hateful than your comment about "yanks" Rob.
" With religion you have no growth.These is no where to go and we lose hope"
From a Santorini Island Greece front desk clerk last week we asking me about why religion is relevant in our politics.
I am one of the 20% so I really did not ahve a good answer.
Life without purpose or meaning. Life without hope. That's great news CNN, really great news.
On the other hand, life without the fear of damnation.
On the contrary, the viewpoint that death is the end actually gives much more meaning to my life than having the view that the afterlife is infinitely better than the one I live on earth. Each day becomes precious and should be lived to the full. As an atheist, my purpose and meaning comes from how I choose to live my life and not from some invisible father figure in the sky.
On par for GNN.
It's life without false hope and living in the now. Being a good person for the sake of being a good person and not wasting precious time trying to get others to conform. Accepting people as they are knowing that, in the end, we all end up the same.
You need laws, you need to follow the laws, otherwise how can you live if all people could do whatever they wanted. You need to have fear, fear of consequences of your bad choices and deeds
Why do you need a deity to give meaning to your life? My child, my friends, my work, my caring about fellow humans, these are some of the things that give meaning to my life.
Speak for yourself.
My life is full of purpose and meaning....just not cosmically purposeful or meaningful. Your ego is unbelievable.
No hope of what? Spending an eternity with a vengeful, spiteful god? Oooh boy.
Life is infinitely more precious and meaningful when you realize there is no afterlife and the life you have is your only one.
Believers derive their meaning and purpose from God. Atheists derive their meaning and purpose from themselves and how ever they want to define it. So you see, Atheists believe in god too. They believe in themselves. They worship and follow themselves. They are their own gods.
malibu – do you have to trot out that tired old fallacy? a meaningful life does not require gods.
When you come to the realization that this may be the only life that everyone on this planet will ever have it makes it more meaningful. Not just for myself but for all other people. It makes me want to treat others better because their life is extremely valuable. They don't get a second chance, therefore this life is precious. With the belief in an afterlife you can act more cavalierly towards life.
If the only purpose you derive from life is courtesy of your imaginary friend that is truly sad. I can assure you I find plenty of meaning in life. As a matter of fact when I faced facts and admitted that I am an atheist I never felt more meaning in life.
You need to believe in fairy tales for your life to have purpose? How sad...
Apparently your purpose in life is simply to pass the test. The test to gain everlasting life. You render this life therefore meaningless since it isn't the end goal.
And also we don't worship anything...not God...not ourselves. Worship is for the weak. We also don't think we're God. God is a supernatural force...which we don't believe exists.
Without religious extremists there might be a chance for peace on earth for mankind.
Thank God that 1 in 5 Americans really don't buy into adult Santa CLaus. OOps, Thank Goodness!
Without all extremists. Being an extemists is not limited to religion.
EXACTLY ! ! . I can cope with unemployed snake-oil salemen/women !
We would simply find something else to fight about. It is in our human nature!
You can’t possibly be that silly can you? Mankind has a LONG history of being destructive to each other. No religion is need for a human desire to control or conquer. Mankind must be taught to behave kindly, and considerate to other humans, but needs no teaching on how to be deceitful and self-centered. It is not religion that scares me- it is human nature, and human desire that scares the crap out of me. At least at the heart of all religions it teaches humans to rid themselves of those traits, without religion though mankind tends to embrace those traits as there is nothing to tell him otherwise. Funny how atheists think themselves’ s “good” people, but all their idea’s of good and bad come from previous idea’s founded by religion.
There are Jewish Atheist, Jewish Christans, Jewish Muslims, and Jewish followers of Judisum. So your comment is ridiculous.
Rob, your ignorance is showing........... please explain what is a Jewish atheist?
Here come the godless....
Get back in the closet ..
no thats being christ like
how self defeating was that?
Here come the godly. Get back on your knees
These are not atheists and agnostics, they are Christians that just aren't going to church much. Just because they are luke-warm doesn't mean they follow the atheist religion (yes, it IS a religion). Most believe in God, and even pray.
this article is inaccurate.
hey Ricky...... Atheist = lack of belief in god. Explain how that's a religion?
Now Rick you are either lying or seriously uninformed. How can atheism be a religion – look up the definition in a proper dictionary.
The religious nuts in this world, especially the U.S., are getting crazier by the day. We need to rid society of this dangerous vermin.
Sounds good, Hitler.
hitler worshipped the christian god...
No, Hitler was a member of the Golden Dawn and practiced the occult! He just didn't tell you which God he believed in.
People who don't believe in God = don't care about this subject because they have more important things to worry about
People who believe there is no god = on a crusade to erase religion from existence.
There IS a difference
feeling a little uneasy?
I don't care. I just want less wingnuts from both sides
no one is trying to erase religion
keep it to yourself
stop using it to deny others's their civil rights
I don't believe in religion but read some of the comments here and then say that no one is trying to erase it again
I assure you, I'm not on a crusade to convert anyone. I don't care what other believe. There probably isn't a god. Deal with it.
Extremist atheists are just a stone's throw away from Crusaders and the Taliban
People's hate of religion or organzied religion is just a catch phrase. It's cool to hate on religion. I don't understand why people can't just not be religious and live and that's it. Why do they have to judge others? Yea religious people do that too but i've heard that was a main reason for many non-religious that they dont like religion. "its forced down our throats". So you partake in the actual activity that you are judging? That doesn't seem very "englightened". Humans are humans, whether religious or not, they'll always be corrupt, they'll always fight, always have wars, always be stupid.
As long as there is $$, all the problems of the world will still exist, religion or not
I disagree. Religious people make "claims". Non-believers either say "how could you know that?, where's your supporting evidence", or "here's evidence that refutes your claim". The problem in my anecdotal experience occurs when religious folks refuse to accept evidence simply because it either doesn't support what they want to believe; or completely debunks what they've chosen to believe. There's a difference between judging, and challenging claims.
The religious right is not content practicing their religion privately. They feel the need to try to get laws passed forcing it upon everyone else. They try to subtly impose it on others whenever possible (for example, they are not happy if their child prays before going to school; they want the school to sanction prayer so that it is imposed on EVERYONE, even the heathens.
Nonreligious, Atheists, Agnostic don't care if anyone else does or doesn't practice a religion and have no interest or desire to legally force their "nonreligious" views on them.
In other words, the difference is that the religious extremists are bullies.
A person who is not affiliated with a religion, or doesn't believe in god, doesn't necessarily "hate religion".
However, when those who do affiliate with a religion attempt to pass law and hold judgment based on their religion, those who do not believe had every right to stand up and say no.
I love God. I just hate all these old white dudes that pretend to speak for God.
I'm non Organized Religion, not Non-religious.
nothing more funny than a millionaire asking for donations to give to the poor... while he's speaking from a solid gold pulpit and wearing fine clothes.
you left out while touching 8 year old boys in their spare time....
Don't forget about the millions of dollars spent on audio and video equipment. Most of these churches make TV studios jealous.
Excellent view. I agree with y you.
Cut through the smoke people. This is about making the big choice. Are you WITH God or AGAINST God? The time is come to get off of the fence and stop procrastinating – or rather "being lazy" about it. Those who claim to be one demonination or another and yet never or rarely participate – are liars. If you believe – you live the teachings, study the scriptures, attend the meetings. If you don't believe – you DON'T live the teachings, DON'T study the scriptures and DON'T attend the meetings. This is not one of those safe "noncommital" places cowards can hide in. We must take a stand – valiantly – one way or another. Because "someone" has to be right when the stakes are this high.
Yeah, and I think more and more people are finally realizing what is "right"
You completely miss the point. We atheists are neither FOR nor AGAINST god, the statement is irrelevant since there is *no* god.
You are limiting God and His mercy to a degree here. Be careful. Faith is a journey not a destination.
You are either WITH Unicorns or you are Against Unicorns!
@Only two options.
If I'm WITH the Unicorns, does there have to be glitter? I'm so not a glitter girl. If we can do it without the glitter, count me on the Unicorn side. Definitely.
But what about the Centaurs?
I love it when bible-thumpers talk about sitting on the fence and acting high and mighty because they study the "scriptures". I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your scriptures are incomplete! Your religion has been corrupted by those in power. Many of the spiritual truths have been lost.
Sorry, the herpes of the arts and crafts world is the cross you must bear in order to be a true believer.
Its amazing how little people understand about their own religion if it is really that important. If everyone really took it seriously and practiced what is preached, it would be a very different place. a scary place.
Good to see people going back to the original. The original God. Not Jesus's God or Muhammad's God, just God without all the man-made rules that deliver false power to those charismatic enough to use religious followers for their own designs.
Cut out the middleman and go direct.
Not too familiar with the New Testament I see.....
It is reassuring that more and more Americans are finally throwing off the yoke of organized religion and it's many detrimental impacts in our secular American society. The crazy push for the very religious has caused more people to spurn what they increasingly see as hate and intolerance for others as opposed to only living life with a good moral code. It turns out that good people can live life morally and righteously without any need for an invented deity. Thank you, Bill Maher, Christopher Hutchins, and so many other avowed atheists for bringing atheism out of the closet in American life.
Halleluiah and pass the biscuits!! This is some good news. Keep it up and we will finally be through the blight of religion.
There's a big surprise waiting for you someday.
malibu: your empty proxy warnings are laughable, and reveal that you are not a worshipper as much as you are a slave. get back on your knees, b1tch
Malibu, you realize that non religious people have been laughing at Pascal's Wager for hundreds of years, right?
withoutgod, I think he was referring to the party he's planning for my birthday... he kind of ruined it by telling me though. It's alright man, it's the thought that counts.
I consider myself to be an agnostic deist. I have no proof that their is a god but believe there must be some sort of supreme being. I believe the Bible to be nothing more than the written version of oral traditions passed down from generation to generation, it has no basis in reality. Even if God did speak to ancient man how would he have explained how the universe works? The universe is 13 billion years old, would someone living 6000 years ago have been able to understand the concept of 13 billion years? How about the formation of the galaxies, the number of galaxies and there fore the number of stars and plants? How could they understand the massive distances between galaxies, or the speed at which they are traveling?
I do not believe that Jesus was the son of God. I do have to say that Jesus had a very good message. Love, tolerance, forgiveness, service, the lowest umong us are just as important as the highest umong us. Why is it that many Christians forget his message. Instead they choose to be hateful and mean spirited, worshiping money and ignoring the poor. They want to control others lives, forgetting that their book says that each man has free will.
Organized religion is a creation of man, the rules and doctrines of which are designed to control the followers. Curches are organized to exert control or to raise money. I choose to reject the yoke of any religious organization. Reason and common sense rule me.
I am a liberal because I believe that Christ had a valid message, we need to lift up each other, in this modern world the government is best suited to handle this process. Churches used to fulfill this need when there was a single centralized church. With the fragmentation of religions no single church can deal with the national issues of poverty. The local church serving it's congregation which has been devestated by an economic downturn or a natural disaster is also effected by the same forces. The donations given to that local church shrink at the same rate that people are effected, thus the church is unable to meet the needs of their local population. A nation where every person earning a wage above the poverty line pays their fair share of taxes can, and should, provide for those who are in need, just as Christ said. Again, I am not a Christian, but I sure do like the values that Christ taught.
Like most disbelievers, your logic is faithless. For one, the earth was made only 5000 years ago. God sat upon his heavenly chair for probably 50 billion years thinking about it and then did it in 7 days as measured by the Roman Calendar in days of yore. His supremacy is undeniable as demonstrated by his grand ability to do things like flood the earth and kill all of mankind, and still not have to go to jail. LOLOLOL Made you look!
Well thought out discussion. I am an atheist, but also see merit in Jesus's teaching, and see Christians as the least likely to be living by his ideas. Why are the haters usually religious? I hold with John Lennon – "Imagine no religion........" It is very encouraging that religion may be dying out, perhaps to be replaced by acceptance and tolerance.
What exactly makes you feels so much more enlightened than someone living 6000 years ago? The Mayans made a calander that is more acurate that an atomic clock? We are so foolish and self absorbed today. Your Iphone does not make you a genious.
Rob-Texas, if I were to take my iPhone back 6000 years ago it would be treated as magic. I would either be worshiped as a god or a demon because of that technology. Trying to explain the atom, quantum physics, and most other forms of modern day science would likely be treated as blasphemy. You can't really expect to take a primitive society and dump 6000 years of scientific advancement on them. Yes, the Mayans understood the change of seasons, but your assertion that their calendar was more accurate than atomic clock can be quickly debunked by a simple search of the internet. There is a difference between being "enlightened" and being educated in modern science.
You don't need a creed, dogma, or list of commandments any longer than this:
"Try not to act like a dick."
(You needn't succeed every time, so long as you made an honest effort)
If everyone lived by this one simple bit of advice, there would be an end to war, fear, and hunger.
Most excellent dougnuts. I will pass that creed along.
haha, nice, i like that.
Wil Wheaton's law, "Don't be a dick"
More should aspire to this.
I find it interesting that both the religious fundamentalist and atheist base their beliefs on the literal interpretation of the Bible. One declares it literal truth while the other dismisses it as a fairy tale. Is an atheist an Apophatic theologist?
There is nothing in a hydrogen atom that exhibits consciousness or the need for consciousness. Yet, through the evolution of the universe consciousness has risen. When some speak of God they are speaking of the universal consciousness which gives substance and experience to the universe.
I close with the following "There is a place in the heart of each of us where the entire universe resides, with in that place we are one." "I am one with the father", Jesus. "Neti,neti." Namaste.
I suspect thats just a bad burger, maybe some TUMS?
^This is possibly the dumbest comment I've read so far
No, atheists do not base their beliefs on the literal interpretation of the bible. How could they? They don't believe in any god! And why would the atheist be a person rejecting the bible in particular? a very Christian-centric view. This is something that some believers simply cannot understand. In atheism, nothing is replacing religion in the mind of the individual. Of course a person would reject a religionand its books if they don't believe in its god(s).
Any interpretation of the bible, literal or otherwise, should allow any rational, thinking human being to see that this is not the word of some higher being....but by MEN (The gender, not human beings in general) pretending to be that being. Any person today, following the bible literally, would be considered an extremist and a terrorist. Modern religions cherry-pick what they want out of the bible, and ignore anything that might be offensive to others. "Oh, no, that doesn't mean you should LITERALLY stone so-and-so to death, it just means don't do that thing that they stoned that person for". A modern twist on ancient cultural values, so to speak.
One would think that a divine, all knowing being would have a pretty solid moral foundation, one immune to societal shifts...one that is impervious to time. But we don't see that, in the bible. Sure, there are some good ideas there...but those ideas came from MEN, not the infinite intelligence of some divine creator.
So now we have Modern Man, living with a corrupt version of Ancient Morals. This is not a situation that can continue. From what these polls show, though...It's a situation that may not even last to the end of the century. :D
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.