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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.

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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.

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. hahahahhaha

    Don't you love how Protestants are always fighting Mormons, Catholics fighting Protestants, or they all hate on baptists, or what have you.

    EXPLAIN TO ME THIS: why are there 30,000 different sects of religion if it is the TRUTH????

    And why do you clump all churches of all denominations when defending religion, but as soon as you go back to church you rant and rave about how your sect is THE RIGHT ONE!?!?!

    I never heard a Protestant speak well about a Mormon, because even within religion, there is segregation based on your thoughts and beliefs. How are we to trust a bible that has 30,000 different interpretations??????????????

    October 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      They can't all be right, but they can all be wrong.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Jim

      I'm pretty sure Baptists are Protestants. Mormons aren't Christians at all though, and Catholics have a bunch of new beliefs which aren't in the Bible.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  2. HAHA

    This survey was asked by only few hundred idiot atheists in pacific NW lol

    October 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Silly1

      Well, if they are idiots does it really matter where they are from?

      October 9, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Atheist Fools

      To HAHA

      Nice one lol

      October 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
    • Amniculi

      Wrong. Nationwide survey.

      http://www.pewforum.org/Unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx

      October 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  3. leantotheleft78

    I'm surprised how many people equate being non-religious with being an atheist. My family is non-religious, my friends are non-religious, they are raising their children without religion, and my children will be raised without religion. Out of all of those people, not one is an atheist. I guess we would fall into the "spiritual but not religious" crowd. We all have jobs, most as business owners or management, several have college degrees, we are upstanding citizens, none have been to jail, we pay our taxes, donate time and money, are contributing members of our communities, and help old ladies across the street.

    You don't have to be religious to believe in a higher power or have high morals and ethics. Religion doesn't have a hold on goodness.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • NoTheism

      Everything you just said (except the power puff god part) could very well be true about atheists.
      There is no contradiction there.
      Anyway, I would like to point out that it is people's bias and reading comprehension skills that drive them to mis-understand what the statistics are saying.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • OldSchool

      Do you believe in a god/gods? If not, you are an atheist...

      October 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  4. William Demuth

    Is "Atheist Fools" really Mirosal?

    Is she back out of the happy house again?

    I haven't seen this level of crazy since Jonestown

    October 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Atheist Fools

      No i'm not Mirosal.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Heaven Sent then?

      The crazy Asian?

      October 9, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Huh?

      Mirosal is a guy... and an atheist - do you mean someone else?

      October 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Crazy broad, been on and off for years.

      Many names, like a dozen or more.

      Paranoid, right on the edge. I think she is in and out of the looney bin.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Atheist Fools

      I think William is smoking Moth Balls.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Huh?

      William Demuth,

      Yeah, Adelina, Madelina, Justina, Carla, Agnes... and a bunch of other names. She hasn't been on for a long time. I guess that German landscape art site finally let her join (she always said that was the only reason that she came here!) Nutso to the max.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  5. Larry in CO

    Thomas Paine ( author of Common Sense and An Age of Reason) who said "God gave us reason, not religion" must be smilling now. After the last century of people trying to sell the lie that this is a "christian nation", the truth is starting to be more widespread. The lies of religion is starting to come unglued all over the world. Thank God!

    October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  6. False Research

    "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....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."

    – what about the 4th group you !d!ot? I'm sure there's a 4th group that consists of Muslims that are petrified to identify themselves as such because of the rampant racism against them in the US. Although I myself DO identify with a religion, I always reply "unaffiliated" when asked about my religion only because the multiple choice selection doesn't include "none of your d@mn business".

    October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • End Religion

      You reply "unaffiliated" because you are an atheist.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
  7. slaythedonkey

    I know you are speaking of organized religgion. But you need not belong to an organized church to believe or to be spiritual. So then, it is less than 1 in 5.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • Realist

      Ah, but you're apparently not a very thorough reader. Look at the trend, my friend. Of people 18-29 years old, 42% are aetheist or agnostic. So, you see, it's only a matter of time before this country goes the way of Europe and becomes non-religious, with a religious minority. That day can't come soon enough for me. I think religion is sheer stupidity in the age of science.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  8. Goose66

    How is 33 million 1 in 5 Americans? 1 in 5 Americans is about 62 million people. CNN touting there awards for stories on religion - this one does not deserve a reward.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      My invisible pink unicorn is praying for you overtime.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • hahahahhaha

      ADULTS. I'm sure they didn't go around asking children......

      October 9, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Chris

      It isn't 'growing'.. it's just that we're no longer scared of being burned at the stake for blasphemy/apostasy by the American Taliban.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  9. !

    1/5 will BURN IN F–U–C–K–I–N–G HELL it seems like

    October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • lamb of dog

      I'm shaking with fear. Keep your scare tactics to yourself.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      I doubt any Atheist is worried about that. When we dismissed your imaginary friend, we also dismissed your imaginary friends imaginary arch enemy. We will however reconsider both and this hell place you speak of when you are able to provide solid evidence for it without using your buybull. Until then we will enjoy living in a delusion free world.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • End Religion

      it seems the opposite. Believers are waking up to the lie, and non-believers will continue raising non-believing children. For religion, it's all over but the crying.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Realist

      You're life must really suck to pin your hopes on other peoples' suffering. Too bad what you believe is all a fairy tale. You're wasting your precious time on this planet living a lie.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  10. GOOD NEWS

    Jesus said: For this is the will of my Lord,
    that everyone who sees the Son (of Man) and believes in him
    may have eternal Life!
    And (my Lord said:) I shall raise him in the Last DAY (=MILLENNIUM)! (John 6/40)

    So that "Son of Man" has thus already come now to seek and save those who are lost,

    in the beginning of this most critical Third and Last DAY (=MILLENNIUM)! (Luke 19/10 = John 6/27, 40)

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com

    **UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES**

    October 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Steve

      You know you just sound schizophrenic talking like that right?

      October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • David Stone

      Please, stop referring to the "invisible sky daddy guide book" as a legitimate source....K?

      October 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • brad4nyc

      Who cares what Jesus or god says? They are both compleatly imaginary. God is imaginary and you know it is- and I can prove god is imaginary at http://godisimaginary.com

      October 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Jebus freak wants some money?

      You reek of cult.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Ed

      If I'm trying to convince you that Zeus is the deity you should worship and I pull out my copy of the Odyssy and quote from it as proof, would you be convinced? Assuming you would not, consider the reasons why not, and you will then understand why quoting the Bible will get you nowhere.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  11. GAW

    There is no doubt that this and many other stories on the CNN Belief Blog is Troll bait. It is entertaining to say the least.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  12. David Stone

    Christian: "Jesus is coming!" Atheist: "Considering how long jesus has been fu<kingg the people of earth, it's about time for him to "come" now."

    October 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
  13. Jewish

    To begin with, that Poll was a lot of nonsense–as are most polls. And how can you tell it's useless? Because they don't even tell you how many people were surveyed! Typically, that number is buried somewhere near the end of the article, but this one doesn't mention it at all!

    Of course, they throw percentages around like manhole covers.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • End Religion

      it clearly states they surveyed 11 guys in a University dorm in Minnesota

      October 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      There were 2,973 respondents to the survey.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  14. PRISM 1234

    "One in five Americans has no religion"
    Why is this news? We've had decades of secular humanism's brainwashing, so those are the results. And are we better for it? Just go in BestBuys or any music/video store. And see what the 'popular' entertainment is! Pictures are worth thousand words!

    October 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • End Religion

      not brain washing, brain-enlightening. it's called progress. And yes, religion will be lost in this progress. Join us or go the way of the dinosaur.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • sam

      'Secular brainwashing'

      LOL

      October 9, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • lamb of dog

      So you agree we are better off without believing in fairytales.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      "Join us or go the way of the dinosaur."
      Where you're going, may no one join you!
      YOU"LL WISH dinosaurus are the ones you have for company there!

      October 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  15. Atheist Fools

    The author of this Article Dan Merica is an Atheist.

    October 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • End Religion

      ...and?

      October 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • William Demuth

      And your point is?

      We are waiting

      October 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • David Stone

      Get the torches!

      October 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Steve

      Is that suppose to "dis-credit" the author?

      October 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • lamb of dog

      And you are a moron. So what....

      October 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • sam

      Pitchforks! Boiling oil!

      October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  16. rcflyer8410

    The cure for a bacterial infection is antibiotics.
    The cure for a headache or other general aches or pains is Advil or Tylenol.
    The cure for religion is a good shot of common sense and knowledge.

    A good place to start... read that book of atrocities you call a "holy book". I've seen polls where people can't even answer the most basic questions about their faith. All they know about are the cherry picked versus the pastor reads on Sunday to secure their donation (and make his Mercedes payment). I hear time and time "you can't take all of that literally"... of course, seems we "pick and choose" what to believe..the good stuff happened, and the horrible stuff didn't. But even if these events never happened, what are they supposed to be? Moral teachings? What kind of moral lesson can we learn from stoning children, committing genocide, and countless other jealous and horrific acts depicted by the "ogre" referred to as god?

    October 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Atheist Fools

      Atheism and its science are destroying this planet and its life on it.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Silly1

      Really? I thought antibiotics just kick started your immune system to fight off bacterial infections. Of course they don't always work, but...I guess I was wrong they are a "cure". Rinse and repeat for headaches. Rinse and repeat for religion.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • End Religion

      @af: "Atheism and its science are destroying this planet and its life on it."

      1) Science belongs to the world, not atheists. It's facts can be repeatedly tested and proved no matter what nation, language or religion (or lack of it).
      2) Science has brought you modern day medicine and surgery. It has done the opposite of your claim. It is saving life on this planet every day. The population continues to expand exponentially.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  17. Steve

    All I have to say is good riddance! Religion has been slowing human progress for centuries now. Its time to pick up the pace humanity!

    October 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Steve is forgetting that the printing press was invented so common people could read the Bible for themselves, making way for the age of Enlightenment. In other words: you owe the fact that you can read to religion.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      And only religion.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  18. sybaris

    Religion and the worship of god(s) is a filthy perverted disease of the mind

    October 9, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • Atheist Fools

      Atheism is a Satanic Cult.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • David Stone

      And it is a way for evil people to take advantage of the weak minded / infected fools.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • sybaris

      You don't know much about atheism

      October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      Atheists don't believe in satan for the same reason they don't believe in god, which is the same reason my invisible pink unicorn is praying for you.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • TheSchmaltz

      I don't believe in Satan either.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  19. Christian

    1 out of 5.... how come nobody asked me or my family?

    This article is bs

    October 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
    • lamb of dog

      Because no one cares what you and your silly family think.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • midwest rail

      It's a conspiracy.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      Why, that would be because god didn't tell them to.
      Why else?
      God controls everything, right?
      Oh, wait, he's only in control when good stuff happens; everything else - that's either the devil or humans.
      Jeez, how stupid, right?
      (I mean me, not this whole god control stuff, that of course is so smart)

      October 9, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • Ed

      It's called sampling. I've never been part of a political poll, but that doesn't mean all the numbers are fake.

      October 9, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  20. mama kindless

    James Madison (a Deist who sometimes attended Episcopal church) (He became our 4th President, and he 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

    October 9, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
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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.