home
RSS
October 9th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Survey: One in five Americans has no religion

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.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

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.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

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.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Politics • Polls

soundoff (7,763 Responses)
  1. Paul "Barry" Karn

    My religion is drinking beer but I limit it to days that end with a Y.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • ME II

      All things in carbonation.

      RAmen

      October 9, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • OOPS!

      24 hrs/day, 24 beers/case. It's Biblical!

      October 9, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • sam stone

      I have the same experience with my god, ganja

      October 9, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • ME II

      @OOPS,
      The Case for Beer. by Hops Strobel.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • OOPS!

      ME ll, St. Hops of Strobel. Thy cup runneth over, chug-a-lug!

      October 9, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  2. David

    As a child, I looked at the conflicting views of religion and science and concluded that there was a contradiction. Also, science had the dinosaurs. Who was I to argue with dinosaurs?

    October 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  3. ZedLok

    "Losing religion"? Or perhaps just finding enlightenment through reason..

    October 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • FormerChristian

      > "Losing religion"? Or perhaps just finding enlightenment through reason..

      It would not be the first time...
      The transition from the dark ages to enlightenment coincided with the transition of religious oppression to early science.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  4. Erin

    I was born & raised catholic – and spent my education in a Catholic School. I am very proud to call myself Agnostic now. I continue to be amazed at the hypocricy that my Catholic friends & family members show on a day-to-day basis. They go to mass every Sunday, talk about "doing the lords work".. and then shun anyone who doesn't believe in the same thing they do. Most of them think welfare should be ended (didn't Jesus say a whole bunch of stuff about taking care of the poor & those less fortunate)?

    Organized Religion is about being able to control people & money. I like to control myself, my own thoughts & my own money – so being "agnostic" seems to be the best path for that.

    Be any Religion that you want to be – just don't impose on my ability not to have one at all.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • lamb of dog

      Nice

      October 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      @Erin

      Good for you, I have a question though. Do you consider yourself "agnostic" because you don't want to be affiliated with the people in catholocism, catholicism itself or you are truely unsure if god exists? Disliking the people in catholicism means you can still be a catholic. Disliking the religion itself and its doctrines makes you an atheists (unless you decide to follow a different religion in lieu of catholicism) and question the very existance of god makes you an agnostic.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • NoTheism

      @Concerned Citizen, "Disliking the religion itself and its doctrines makes you an atheists"
      non-belief makes you an atheist, that's all that is required.
      In fact, you're an atheist too, I am sure, as you don't believe in many gods

      October 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Disliking the religion itself and its doctrines makes you an atheists"

      No, disbelief in a god makes you an atheist. It has nothing to do with religion.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      Sorry people, I meant to type disbelief, stupid typos. NoTheism and Sam you are both right,it's the disbelief in the religion itself that makes you an atheist unless they don't believe in catholocism but choose to believe in something else, like Judaism or something.

      @NoTheism, I am an atheist, I don't believe there are really any gods or a god out there though there might be. However, even if some sort of super sentient being exists and cognizantly created the entire universe from a singularity, the very idea that this same god would care even a little about a human which compared to the size of the universe is like an atom of an atom of an atom is pretty ridiculous in my mind.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
    • Erin

      I consider myself Agnostic, because I really don't think that there is a God. More importantly – I don't really care.. I choose to live my life and treat others in a positive way because that's the "right" thing to do in my mind.. not because a God or a Religion tells me to do so. I only think Catholicism is somewhat worse then other Christian religions because of their wealth & power. I don't belive in the "god/gods" or views of any religion. But, I do think that anyone should have a right to believe in anything that want without harm (as long as that believe doesn't harm anyone else). If that's God, Alla, Budda, Santa Clause, or someone you made up – that's fine. Just don't harm anyone who doesn't believe in it as well, and we're good.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      @Sam

      I don't know where my head is at today. I just reread your post. You're wrong, atheism refers to rejection of religion. It's still entirely possible to be an atheist and still believe in god in some way, shape or form. Agnosticism is what refers to your beliefs in a single god or gods.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      @Erin

      I can certaintly get on board with that. Bravo!

      October 9, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  5. Bilby

    Jesus wants you to donate money to my pastor.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      You first!

      October 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Siara Delyn

      Jesus wants you to vote far right. Care about the poor but kick that 47% into the gutter.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • sam stone

      "Preacherman talking on the TV, puttting down Rock and Roll. He wants me to send a donation, 'cause he's worried about my soul. Drunkard wants another drink of wine and a politician wants a vote. I don't want much of nothing at all, but I will take another toke" – Charlie Daniels

      October 9, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
  6. Siara Delyn

    I believe in God, but looking at the disgusting mess that religion causes in the world I don't want to be associated with one publicly.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  7. Milky Pirate

    As the Baby Boomers die off we will watch that number rise. I would not be surprised if in 20 years the number rises to 40-50%. I hope it goes higher than that. I honestly don't believe that we will move forward as a country until religion is no longer a consideration when making a decisions.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • lamb of dog

      I'm tired of religion trying to hold us back.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • Franco

      You are so wrong. The United States moved forward very rapidly while it had a strong belief in the one and true God and now is declining while belief is also declining.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Siara Delyn

      Baby boomers didn't used to believe in religion this much (I'm a baby boomer myself). I think it was the nonstop GOP propaganda that made many people adopt this to prove they were "good people".

      October 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • NoTheism

      @Franco, let us ASSUME that what you are saying is true; correlation does not imply causation.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Milky Pirate

      Franco, when was that? The U.S. has had many eras of prosperity and eras of disparity. You can't claim that we are wealthier or poorer in direct correlation with our religious beliefs. What I mean in terms of moving forward is ascending to a more evolved thought process. Sure we have technology and money and that good stuff, but a majority of Americans have an antiquated way of thinking.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  8. Illumin8ted

    I am not convinced that the trend of people describing themselves as unaffiliated reflects an abandoning of religious beliefs as much as it reflects a more honest representation of their beliefs.

    As a Christian I feel it is a good thing that people are comfortable expressing what they truly believe instead of feeling socially compelled to identify themselves as something they are not.

    In the end this means that churchs are filled with less people going through the motions and more people who genuinely desire to be there.

    Christians, Muslims, Jews, Agnostics and Atheists can all agree that dishonesty is wrong. So whether your answer to the Question of God is Yes, No, or Don't Know – just be honest.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Sam

      Amen to that. If more Christians thought like you, I think there would be far fewer "angry" atheists.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  9. jasoncdanforth

    I believe in the Good of humanity. Religion taught us to look to god for our moral grounding, but through introspection and analysis, all evidence suggested we had created god in our own image only a few thousand years earlier. Therefore, we knew and understood Good without having to rely on god to give it to us.

    Now that we have this understanding, we don't need religion any more. It performed a useful function in the grand scheme of things, but now, religion has no where to take us but backwards, to focus on the dogma and the esoterica, the trappings of a mystical system of divine punishment and eternal reward.

    We have developed a global communication network where we can connect to one another and discuss Good on a global scale, a connection that will only widen and deepen. We are the keepers of Good now. We should worship not the idea of Good, but the ability to arbitrate, argue, and decide on Good. Worship the space that god used to occupy and what now occupies it.

    We have arrived at that point in the history of humanity that we can finally say, "We are human and the human condition is more important than what we think god wants from us. God has led us to do things we identify as bad, and whatever he is, god has deviated from good. It is now humanity's job to curate the idea of Good."

    October 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  10. ruth

    I would rather believe in God in life , meeting my maker at the end of my life, then not believing in God at all....no one ,nothing could have created this worldand all that is beautiful,look around you, than God,and humans are destroying it

    October 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • MDAT

      God didn't create the land around you.erosion,plant growth and tectonics did.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Paul "Barry" Karn

      Put down the bible & read a science book!

      October 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  11. FloydZepp

    The truth of this is that one can neither prove nor disprove the existence of "God". Yet the Atheists and the Evangelicals battle to the figurative death with eqch other because neither group can get people to believe – or not – their way or no way.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Guest

      Technically, it's really just no one can "prove" God's existence, not prove God's non-existence. Just simply a law of arguments.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ Guest – actually, you are only half-correct. You cannot prove a negative, especially a negative that could exist anywhere in the universe. Prove that fairies do not exist – can't be done. However, you CAN prove a positive. The onus is, and remains, on the person claiming that God exists to prove it.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  12. Atheist Hunter

    Forget religion and Get Jesus!

    October 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • OOPS!

      Jesus Saves............at Community Saving Bank, we have FREE checking!

      October 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  13. Jim

    Yea, I'm finally part of a fast growing group!! haha I started questioning religion when I was 6. At 55, I have come to believe that Religions are created by man, I am a man, therefore what I beleive is as important to me as what other men think. At least what I beleive isn't killing anyone, rooted in some primitive belief system, you ca't insult my religion cause I don't have one, I don't care what you beleive...keep it to yourself. Over the past say 10 years, various religions have so discredited themselves, why follow that crap. Is there a God, heck if I know, and there is no way for you to know either. One thing for sure we all die and then we will know, until then, live love, and try not to harm others..

    October 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  14. Franco

    The United States became a great nation because God made it happen through God believing people and that would be the God of Abraham. The United States losing all of it greatness if it falls away from the thing that made her great in the first place.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • MDAT

      God is one thing that is giving us a problem now concerning freedom.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • derp

      Are you retarded?

      October 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • FloydZepp

      Prove it.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • lamb of dog

      Fighting wars in foreign countries made us rich. All the gold we received helping to rebuild Europe made us rich. Belief in god is destroying this country by keeping us in the dark ages.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • David

      Maybe it's because people, whether they believe in a higher force or not, are seeing the fallacy of the organized religions that rule over them.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      What made America great? Let's see – stealing all of the land from the natives – there's a start. Then, kidnapping millions of people from Africa to work as slaves. That is the basis for the level of wealth in America. it's based on theft, murder, slavery, and abuse. If you want to call that God, go ahead

      October 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Mark

      Sorry Franco, there is no god.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • yeahalright

      So god was ok with slavery and with african-american people counting as 60% of a human then, right?

      October 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
  15. Cheeseburger

    God is the glue that holds our Republic together. Always has been. As it dissolves, so does the Republic.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • NoTheism

      Which god are you talking about?

      October 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • OOO

      As the truth is learned, all republics must die! Not sure I believe this theory.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Franco

      I agree with you.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • Franco

      I hate when people in The U.S. ask which God? There is only one God that matters to the U.S. and that is the God of Abraham.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • ME II

      All hail Elmer!

      October 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • FormerChristian

      > God is the glue that holds our Republic together.

      Please look up the religious beliefs of Thomas Jefferson.

      It is the separation of government from religion that allows our republic survive. Take a look a current muslim theocracies, or past christian theocracies (at time of inquisition) for examples of unstable governments.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
    • NoTheism

      @Franco, I am part of the US and your god certainly isn't important to me; as a matter of fact, I don't even believe he exists...

      October 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ ME II – which Elmer? Elmer Fudd? Elmer the Safety elephant? Elmer's Glue? Almost as many Elmers as there are gods

      October 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • ME II

      @Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear,
      Which of those you mentioned relates to the OP?

      October 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
  16. derp

    This is a huge step in the right direction, and will ultimately lead to a far more moral, decent, and well behaved country.

    Christianity at it's core is based on a complete lack of morals. If christians were moral, there would be no need for a saviour.

    The only reason jesus was sent here to die for your sins is because christians can't even follow their own rules.

    Atheists want people to be held accountable for their transgressions.

    Christians want people to be forgiven for their transgressions.

    Christianity has no morality at all.

    Sin all you want, you are forgiven.

    It is the entire basis of the faith.

    That is why the crime, divorce, teen pregnancy, and drug use rates are higher in christians than they are in atheists.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  17. MDAT

    We are just unhappy with religion.Look at religion now.We don't want people shoving religion down our throats.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • The Truth

      "We don't want people shoving religion down our throats." You can get AIDS from doing that...

      October 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • MDAT

      Yeah.Mass indoctrination is one reason religion is successful.From a young age you are coerced into religion.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • ME II

      @The Truth
      "'We don't want people shoving religion down our throats.' You can get AIDS from doing that..."

      LOL
      Funny, and true.... at least if you buy into the religions that prohibit co.ndoms.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  18. Milky Pirate

    I am really enjoying this blog today.

    I like how many of the pro-religion people on here use threats to try and convince people to believe. There is nothing more Christian than threatening someone else in order to coerce them to believe.

    Keep up the good work!

    October 9, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • derp

      "Believe like I do, or my all loving god will punish you for a fiery eternity"

      And they wonder why the numbers are dwindling.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • gt4play

      Nothing like hitting the nail RIGHT on the head! Well stated sir, well stated.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  19. JCMars

    "You know, I am really nothing" says it all. Atheism, the religion of the unimaginative and egocentric.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • MDAT

      Look in the mirror.And your bible says otherwise.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      JC, I would suggest that it is the absolute height of egocentrism to believe, as so many religious folks do, that the supposed creator of an infinite universe takes an active, 24 hour a day interest in their lives. THAT is ego.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Chris Ramsden

      Actually, Atheism is the key to imagining. A place with no god is a place without some ruler limiting everything. One day there religion won't mean anything... Science will prove everything wrong. A thousand years ago, we were in the dark ages. Now we are in an age of enlightening. In a hundred years, we will need to forget about religion in order to unite as a world. How can we unite when your religion contradicts mine? No, the answer is obvious and it is happening right now.

      October 9, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Germcicle

      Unimaginative because I don't have an imaginary friend and egocentric because I don't believe I am so important that something better will happen to me when I die?

      October 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • VNov5

      I thought the term "Egoism" refered to the philosophy of Ayn Rand – who was it that worshiped her? Oh yeah, the same crowd who claim to be Christian, but who look on the poor with disgust and contempt, and who fill their lives with war, money and hatred. For the cherry on that crap-cake, don't forget to add disdain of intelligence and science. What was it about the fruit of their tree that Jesus warned us about?

      October 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
    • ME II

      @JCMars,
      You might want to revisit your logic:

      "'I am really nothing' ... egocentric."

      October 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  20. Marla

    Good news. It may take a while, but there may be hope for this country yet.

    October 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Advertisement
About this blog

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.