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. Kyle

    The masses may be losing their religion due to certain zio-influences, but make no mistake: the elite are not and are deadly serious about it.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  2. Striker

    You know it’s pretty darn sad that America is failing this way. How do you think America came to be? When Christopher Columbus landed here in the US as we are today, it wasn't just because he and the other pilgrims were getting away from a dictatorship; his mission was also to expand Christianity. Pilgrims in those days would even build churches before building their own homes. You know the Supreme Court ruled in 1892 that the US was a Christian nation after it did a 10 year study. Our Congress was born out of a prayer meeting and still to this day congress continues its sessions with a prayer.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • hINDUISM RACISM OF hINDU'S, CRIMINALS BY FAITH EXPOSED

      Pilgrim's, No, they were hungry like a hindu hungry dog.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Dude, read the Tripoli Treaty and educate yourself.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • CeltcFire

      Sigh. Another complete imbecile in life.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • sam

      A+ funniest post of the day, the rest of you can go home now.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @sam

      I'm thinking that this 'may' be our funny friend ?

      Peace...

      October 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • sam

      I hope so but I'm not entirely convinced. LOL

      October 9, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • The Man

      Yes, Striker, shucky-darn, it's pretty much a heck of a mess. Your "facts', I mean.

      "When Christopher Columbus landed here in the US as we are today..."

      "...he and the other pilgrims..."

      "Our Congress was born out of a prayer meeting..."

      This is what is known in the technical literature as "invincible ignorance".

      October 9, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  3. glorydays

    Keep your religion out of my government.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  4. Closet Atheist

    I can't wait until the day when CNN Belief blog has commenters with names like "closet christian" or "closet jew"..... doubt i see in my lifetime, but a boy can dream.

    It sure is awesome to see society slowly starting to come to grips with the fact that religion is a sham.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  5. Old and Angry

    You atheists are all just part of a religion of your own and Richard Dawkins is your pope.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • CeltcFire

      What a mo ron.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • JohnC

      Are you part of a religion that does not believe in unicorns? If suddenly many started believing in unicorns and you didn't might you strongly ask them for proof and hold off on believing until you had such proof?

      October 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • waitasec

      you seem old and angry

      October 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • Jackson

      So, it's not bad enough people want to speak for God, but now you want to speak for a religion that isn't even yours, and tell total strangers what their beliefs are and who they recognize as Pope?

      Wow, get off your high freakin' horse, babe, you don't speak for anyone but yourself.

      I have no religious beliefs of any kind, and I do not know who this Richard Dawkins is. So, it's a safe bet that, since I don't know who he is, I am not acknowledging him as my pope.

      Epic fail, on every level. You're a tool.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      LOL, yeah go bow to him and kiss his ring.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • ..

      Old and angry, and forgot why you walked into the other room? Old flake.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  6. mac101

    "...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."

    From your mouth to god's ears!

    October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • WordUpToo

      One can only hope.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  7. Greg

    Jesus did better magic tricks than any other religious founder. I think I'm going to stick with him.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Guru

      If get chance read book on SIKHISM...

      October 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • waitasec

      says who?

      no gospel writer was a witness to these unverifiable claims...

      October 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • Closet Atheist

      Cool...!! I can't wait for Criss Angel to start a religion!! I'm going out to get my bedazzled t-shirt and jeans right away...!!!

      October 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  8. Geximus

    Which is to say that 4 out of 5 Americans do have a Religion. I find it pathetic, that the idea of "Religion" needs to be destroyed by the media. I find it even more pathetic that they actually use a datapoint, which totally DISPROVES their point to make their argument.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Nat Q

      What point was disproved? The number of non-religiously affiliate people IS growing, and growing swiftly. There may still be more affiliated, but that doesn't change the fact of this article.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  9. jimbob

    If God can kill a quarter million in a tsunami,can't he afford his own cable network. He could set us all straight in one miniseries. He could perform live miracles,like move Manhattan to Somalia. We'd all be converted by Friday night.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • hINDUISM RACISM OF hINDU'S, CRIMINALS BY FAITH EXPOSED

      THEN YOU WOULD HAVE CRIED FOR CHOICE.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • arthURrrrr

      wow you are dumb!!

      October 9, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • waitasec

      i would believe there was a god if god just spoke to everyone from the sky
      but everyone seems to be doing the talking for him, it, or her...whatever

      October 9, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Planes Walker

      Irreverent, but funny.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
  10. Charlie

    So many are turned off by organized religion. Religion is less about love and understanding, and more about pushing agendas and involvement in government.

    To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in section 501(c)(3), and none of its earnings may inure to any private shareholder or individual. In addition, it may not be an action organization, i.e., it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  11. Atheist Hunter

    What is you atheists are wrong. WHAT IF?

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/10/07/proof-of-heaven-a-doctor-s-experience-with-the-afterlife.html

    October 9, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @AH

      I've had an NDE... what do you want to know ?

      Peace...

      October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Wrong?

      No way. God is a lie. PERIOD

      October 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • N and N

      Same comment as before when you posted this. STILL waiting for an answer.

      I'll make a deal with you. I'll go read that article if you can cite for me one single piece of EMPIRICAL evidence of it's validity. Not the person's supposition, anecdote, selective perception, wishful thinking, or personal incredulity, but EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE.

      I'll wait.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • waitasec

      then i'll ask him, 'whats wrong with skepticism...?'

      October 9, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Scott Jefferson

      Really? There are movies where people do this, woh says this person isn't lying to get attention?! Leave it alone.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • David Stone

      Then I will give the middle finger to any god who meets the description you guys put forth (sadistic, narcissistic, self-serving, vengeful, etc.) I will NOT bow to any such evil being.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • JohnC

      I trust that an all knowing God will know me well and know my heart and mind is open but I'm not all knowing. He'll know that as a child of this earth I'm limited and don't know what to believe outside what I can experience. Are you concerned about maybe believing the wrong thing? There is only one truth and your's is somewhat to very different to others that are equally sincere, prayerful and studied and yet only one of you can be completely correct so you have a good chance of being wrong.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • If...Then...

      I guess I'll be doing half-gainers into the Lake O'Fire with all those evolution-spoutin' professors.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Nat Q

      So, yet again, no empirical evidence of this man's anecdotal claims, huh?

      October 9, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  12. The Myth

    The CNN PREDATORS (idiots who TROLL every single response by the intelligent users of this web page) Everything from spelling, grammar check, dictionary references......unbelievable. No wonder this country has people voting for Obama to another term. They wouldn't know the truth if it crawled up their gay pride and impregnated them...LOL.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • ME II

      Should we pray for your point to be revealed to us?

      October 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • sam

      There's only maybe 3 intelligent users of this page, so...

      October 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
    • waitasec

      you bought in to the myth i see

      October 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • The Man

      Okay, but logically the intelligent users of this web page are the ones who don't need the spelling and grammar corrections, and the idiots are the ones who do.

      Why is that unbelievable? Do you even know the precise definition of the term?

      "They wouldn't know the truth if it crawled up their gay pride and impregnated them...LOL"

      Ah, the scintilating, Wildean wit of the knucklewalking snakehandlers.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Jackson

      Well, allow this Obama voter to lay some hard truths on you:

      1) When Romney ran for Senate in 1994, he demanded his opponent release his tax returns, saying "the public has a right to know". When Romney ran for Governor in 2002, not only did he demand that his opponent release her tax returns, but, since she and her husband filed separately, he demanded her husband release his tax returns as well. Romney keeps insisting that his opponents have to release tax information, but is unwilling to do so himself.

      2) Romney thinks cutting PBS funding will help balance the budget, when PBS funding is less than a drop in a very big bucket. And this, from the man who got a $77,000 tax write off for a horse. Which is the bigger funding problem? Hint, it isn't PBS.

      3) Ryan has protested the stimulus on multiple occasions, and swore up and down that he never requested any stimulus money. Funny thing, the truth came out that he did in fact request it, and once, that truth came out, he had to begrudgingly admit that he lied about it.

      Want more hard truths? There are plenty more where those came from.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  13. CNNuthin

    Jesus loves you, unless you look at another man. Jesus sounds more like a jealous Boyfriend than a person to be worshiped.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • sam

      Everyone sing along!

      He sees you when you're sleeping
      He knows when you're awake
      He knows if you've been bad or good....

      October 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  14. Alger Dave

    After reading the article, it appears to me that we've raised nearly a whole generation of people who are religiously ignorant. The public school system, in their undying efforts to cleanse religion from the classroom, have succeeded. This may be why employers have called the millennial generation the most selfish generation they've encountered (and many simply will not hire them). We've raised a generation who are only willing to engage with the world if they can do it on their iPhone. Personal interaction outside of electronic is becoming more and more rare. Their lack of religious affiliation is more an indictment of millennials and our education system than an indictment of the church.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • CeltcFire

      Essentially not a thing you said is true. Not even a little bit.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Alger

      We non believers know your faith better than you do!

      I have read more than my share. Half a century of study.

      It's a con dude. Pure and simple. Your God is at best a fable. plagerized from dead Gods.

      At its worst it is a ponzi scheme designed to defraud.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • WhatNow

      I do not see how you tie that all together. There is good reason for separation of church and state. There are too many religions and too many gods to include in education. If you want your kids educated in some type of religion, take them to your church. Religion is not the basis of responsibility. You might be amazed at just how many non believers are out here in the world. We are highly educated, productive and caring human beings. And many of us are older than you think.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • All Said

      I think Bible study courses should be mandated by the government. There is no more important message on earth than Christ, and Him Crucified!

      October 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • William Demuth

      All Said

      My son studies it with me every day.

      Yesterday we reviewed incest and the murder of infants

      He agrees you guys are deviants of the worst order.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • sam

      Better to be religiously ignorant than to be religious and ignorant. Check out 'Striker"s post up above. Apparently religious thinking is sure what this country needs more of, yuk yuk!

      October 9, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
    • JohnC

      many colleges and even high schools do have comparative religion classes. Otherwise the problem is which religion to teach. Should we include many eastern ones. Should be go into details of the Jewish and Muslim faiths or would those that ARE religions object to teaching the _wrong_ religions?

      October 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  15. David Stone

    Religion: A system of oppression created by those needing to control the masses, acquire wealth and / or young children to deflower. This system plays on the fears of ignorant humans who use god as a way to explain what they cannot grasp, and as away of avoiding personal responsibility at the same time as they are being subjugated by and for the benefit of others.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  16. dingle Barry

    Nobody has forgotten about the Dems booing God and Israel's name at your convention.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So now the Zionists want into the rumble?

      Last time Jews and Christians stirred up religious debate we got eight million dead Jews.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • ME II

      Good for you, keep the hate alive.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
  17. Striker

    You non believers just dont realize the ignorance state that you are in. I will truley pray for each and everyone of you to come to your sensus.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      Hmmm... ;)

      October 9, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Nat Q

      Nice try, but many of us were religious at one time. Many for a long time. I bore the label of Christian for near on 30 years. So don't act like we're all ignorant of faith, what it says, what we are talking about, or why we feel the way we do.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Shave your cult prayers dude.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • WordUpToo

      And I, dear Striker, will pray that your lord someday grants you the ability to spell.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Scott Jefferson

      COME TO YOUR "SENSUS" NON BELIEVERS!!

      jkjkjkjkjkjkjk

      really, dont force your religion on us

      October 9, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • The Man

      Ah, a neologism. Is "sensus" some esoteric combination of "census" and "senses"?

      What exactly does it mean? Perhaps a survey of taste, touch, hearing etc?

      I actually like it! Even a pig occasionally stumbles across a jewel purely by chance.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Jackson

      Flying Spaghetti Monster will punish you for that.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • sam

      But I already filled out the census.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  18. CNNuthin

    We "lost" our religion when we stopped knowing what the Holy Trinity is. How many out there can give a description of each of "The Father" "The Son" and the "Holy Spirit" without looking to a website for help? Most places of worship are about an agenda and the details don't matter. They stop teaching the Bible and only teach the "Cliff Notes" version.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • David Stone

      Oh let me let me! The invisible sky daddy has three simultaneous parts....the guy in the white robe in the cloud city who wears sandals, the completely invisible spirit who just drifts around everywhere all at once, and the human god creature who came to live here for a while a few thousand years ago, was killed, rose as a zombie, disappeared.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Jackson

      Gee, maybe we lost our religion when it took money meant to feed, clothe, shelter, and otherwise tend to the poor, and used it for political purposes (against their non-profit status regulations)

      Maybe we lost our religion when the molestation scandals shed light on a decades old practice that the church was allowing to happen.

      Or maybe, just maybe, we lost our religion when we finally started thinking for ourselves and didn't need hypocritical people telling us we were going to hell for things they themselves were doing as well, but are ok when they do.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  19. lol

    it doesn't mater. In the end all will believe. So GG.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  20. Peter

    Plenty of idiots on both sides of this one

    October 9, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • David Stone

      I'm sorry, but not believing in invisible sky fairies, invisible sky cities, invisible horned devils, and invisible fire pits, doesn't seem that crazy to me.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Silly1

      Also doesn't mean you aren't an idiot though.

      October 9, 2012 at 3:30 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
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.