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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. mama kindless

    James Madison (a Deist who sometimes attended Episcopal church) (He was the 4th U.S. 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 6:46 pm |
  2. rocko

    Really this is sad, because really there is many things you look at and know there god is there. I believe in Only .
    First off why would god need son, and if god needed son then he can had any one other then what you believe in. he created Adam first why didn't he pick him first. The truth is god is one and Only one, the most powerful and he do not need any one to help him!!!!!. god did send many prophet, but the ones that god told us about were 25 prophet in holy book and there story with people like us now. Were people did not believe in god till the day were god banded them of this life. I bealive
    that Jesus is prophet and his story is in quran holy book. check

    YOUTUBE – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOZSrPF5GNo&feature=related

    October 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • lamb of dog

      What?

      October 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Patrick

      That book of violence is anything but holy. You might want to check on your wives, I saw one of them trolling down at the mall without her headscarf/female suppression device! O.O

      October 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • atheist84

      This post gave me cancer..

      October 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • MikeinMN

      Mans interpretation of the physical world via organized religion is a means to enslave his fellow human beings.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  3. Watch the clip... No Religion ≠ Not believe in God !

    Atheism = SCAM

    October 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      Well done my good and faithful servant. Matthew 11:25

      October 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Patrick

      Yeah, because atheists are the ones who ask you for to put money in a pot every week for no good reason...derp

      October 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • NoTheism

      I guess non-belief in unicorns, fairies, Santa, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and so forth is a scam too?
      You're unbelievable.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • David Stone

      Not believing in imaginary spirits is a scam? What an intellectually void thing to say.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • End Religion

      yes, watch the clip. See how religious folks view "arrogant" doctors and such who deny them their fantasy of life everlasting. The old lady in this video has been tricked into believing in a life after death and kills herself thinking she'll see them again. All under the cozy, wonderful, easy-going cutesy style of animation!

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JATr3vNOIYA&w=640&h=390]

      October 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      When was the last time an atheist asked to put money the envelope?

      October 9, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • His cur jests

      The world so loved Dog that it believed his forgotten only son and gave him life without parole.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      YOU=IDIOT

      October 9, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  4. Joe

    Science and engineering developed and built commercial airliners
    Religion flew them into buildings.....

    October 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  5. Watch the clip... No Religion ≠ Not believe in God !

    I N G O D W E T R U S T

    F&CK OFF ATHEISTS !!!!

    October 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • Patrick

      How christ-like you are!

      October 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • a slozomby

      you might try re-reading the sermon on the mount. specifically "And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell."

      October 9, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Joe

      shut up, PUNK

      October 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      What a lovely re-affirmation of what I have come to know about Christians. When faced with someone or something that they view as threatening or different, the ad hom attacks fly!

      October 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • David Stone

      The funny / ironic thing is that your "merciful" gawd will burn you in an eternal fire pit for talking to others like that.....gives me a laugh.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Why be so upset. Let G-od deal with us. You just continue to live with your head up your AZZ.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  6. Patrick

    It's fun to manipulate people, I mean, sims, with religion! Great motivation tool on the uneducated.

    October 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  7. Mike

    Truths are proved...not disproved. Prove there is a god believers. prove organized religion does not cause war and death. Prove organized religion does not cause strife and division. Just try to prove one of those statements!

    October 9, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Clinton

      Mike, that's simple. The worlds greatest murderers weren't religious... Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Killed more people than any religious inquisition or any religious based conflict in history... They were all Atheists... so why then is it that you believe it's religion that causes all these wars? People kill eachother with or without religion... there's racial warfare, tribal warfare, simple jealousy based on resources etc. that cause conflicts... yet morons like you try to pin it all on religion because you're too stupid to actually analyze a situation.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Jesus Christ

      Well, that's nothing compared to a god who tortures people for all eternity in a torture pit he built and sustains. God, the most evil character ever imagined by men.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • blaqb0x

      You say truths are proved but, then you make some claims and try to place the burden of proof onto someone else.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      "The worlds greatest murderers weren't religious... Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Killed more people than any religious inquisition or any religious based conflict in history... They were all Atheists... "

      This statement is only partially true. While those men WERE Atheists, they did not kill in the name of atheism. There intent was political, not religious motivated. Now, by most estimates, during the dark ages, and there will never be any way to get an accurate accounting, but many historians believe that the number of people killed by the Catholic Church, either directly or indirectly, may well be near one hundred million, and of course there have been around six million Jews killed during WWII, and let's not forget the untold millions still dying in Africa, due to ethnic cleansing over religious ideology, and finally how many Muslims have died because of religion. Of course we could talk about the number who died in Egypt due to their religious beliefs, and the Aztecs in Central and South America killed quite a few in religious ceremonies. The list is practically endless.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Wrod Psres

      One problem is that proof like beauty seems to be in the eye of the beholder. An insane person's reality may be as real as anything to them and seemingly impossible to convince them any differently. So how crazy are the rest of us? If one walks around on a dark night with no lights it can be difficult to see much of anything. Since you can't see anything does that mean nothing is there? What's the proof? Smacking your head on a tree is one proof, or falling off a ledge is another. There are other senses that can help us that we trust will keep us from having to experience harming ourselves as much as possible. Feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting, as well as thinking, instinct, and experience are nce tools at our disposal. So to understand the "God" view for ourselves we not only considered the religious and non-religious views but took into consideration the world around us, history, as well as personal experiences, thought process, and instince.

      October 9, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  8. Watch the clip... No Religion ≠ Not believe in God !

    *************************************************************************************************************************************************

    Do not believe what an atheistic satanic author on CNN is trying to tell us proud religious people about America turning into secular and nonreligious society. This poll was asked only by few thousands out of more than 312 million Americans.

    America is a Christian country and has always been the most religious developed nation in the world. We are proud of our faith and those against it are neither Americans nor patriots. This is one nation under God and our motto is 'In God We Trust'.

    > 80% of Americans are Christians and more than 90% believe in God :)
    Christianity is growing rapidly across the world, and in the U.S. we expect additional hundred million more Christians by next few decades. We have over 400,000 churches and every day new churches are opening and getting built.

    *** Only 1-3% of the U.S. consider themselves atheist/agnostic. Just because 15 – 20% of Americans saying 'No Religion' does NOT equal (≠) to being atheist/agnostic. Watch the video clip, the majority of the 1/5 voters still pray to God and continue to believe in one and only truly God ***

    CNN belief blog and other websites talking about religion is dominaned by closet atheists who have nothing else to do but being against religion and Christianity in general. One day they will realize their big mistake and I hope God does NOT forgive them. They are all evil and nasty people, just like how Stalin, Mao, Pot, Mussoulini, and Castro were!

    Stay away from nonbelievers.... yuck!
    **************************************************************************************************************************************************

    October 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Pool Side

      ... and look at the Emperor's new cloths!

      October 9, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • a slozomby

      For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. matthew 5:20.
      might as well give up now.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • Chad?

      October 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • NoTheism

      It seems to me like you have no reservations twisting the truth and outright lying to forward your agenda. It is possible that you're just ignorant and extremely biased (some might even say a bigot). Either way, your kind of rhetoric is dangerous to sanity.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Evangelical Christian,

      why do you persist in this. The data is clear.

      In the latest Pew survey, of the 19.6% "unaffiliated", 68% still believe in God.

      Atheists + agnostics now represent 5.5% (not the 1 – 3% you indicate).

      October 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Chad?

      No. This is @Evangelical Christian,

      the "Atheists are ..." troll.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Why would I watch a clip. It's just an opinion like your beliefs.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  9. MikeB

    For a civil society to flourish; what social principles will it follow?
    When it comes down to which principles are enduring we find that they are much like the Biblical Ten Commandments.
    History has show over and over that violations of any of those principles leads to the decay and demise of the society. Whether they be Deity centered or based upon sound principles the results are the same; especially when the citizens personalize them and don't impose them upon others.

    October 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  10. milo

    Less people believe in a ridiculous fantasy. This was only a matter of time. Duh.

    October 9, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • MikeB

      Instead they believe in their own fantasies.
      Fewer people on the same page anymore.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
  11. Watch the clip... No Religion ≠ Not believe in God !

    *************************************************************************************************************************************************

    Do not believe what an atheistic satanic author on CNN is trying to tell us proud religious people about America turning into secular and nonreligious society. This poll was asked only by few thousands out of more than 312 million Americans.

    America is a Christian country and has always been the most religious developed nation in the world. We are proud of our faith and those against it are neither Americans nor patriots. This is one nation under God and our motto is 'In God We Trust'.

    > 80% of Americans are Christians and more than 90% believe in God :)
    Christianity is growing rapidly across the world, and in the U.S. we expect additional hundred million more Christians by next few decades. We have over 400,000 churches and every day new churches are opening and getting built.

    *** Only 1-3% of the U.S. consider themselves atheist/agnostic. Just because 15 – 20% of Americans saying 'No Religion' does NOT equal to being atheist/agnostic. Watch the video clip, the majority of the 1/5 voters still pray to God and continue to believe in one and truly God ***

    CNN belief blog and other websites talking about religion is dominaned by closet atheists who have nothing else to do but being against religion and Christianity in general. One day they will realize their big mistake and I hope God does NOT forgive them. They are all evil and nasty people, just like how Stalin, Mao, Pot, Mussoulini, and Castro were!

    Stay away from nonbelievers.... yuck!
    **************************************************************************************************************************************************

    October 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • atheist84

      Hope they will not be forgiven? That doesn't sound very Christian...and where are you getting your facts from, you went out and surveyed more people than the poll did? Do you understand how polls work? Maybe you just have faith that your numbers are correct but this is the real world and we use actual facts to base statements on. I wish you knew how stupid you sound.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @atheist84,

      most of the data @Evangelical Christian presents here is more or less correct (except that atheists + agnostics are now 5.5%).

      Anyone who looks at the survey will realize that this statement: "Just because 15 – 20% of Americans saying 'No Religion' does NOT equal to being atheist/agnostic"

      Is essentially true. More precisely stated, 13.3% of Americans, who are unaffilliated with organized religion, still believe in God. This is data derived from the survey.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  12. David Stone

    Religion: (1) A tool to oppress the mindless masses, to garner power, wealth, and for evil men to deflower children and suppress women. (2) A convenient fall-back for ignorant / uneducated people for explaining that which they cannot understand. (3) A combination of definitions (1) and (2).

    October 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • Clinton

      Atheist – one who thinks they are smarter than those who believe in Religion despite putting faith in science that does not have any answers to the questions Religion answers.
      -Smug idiots who attack people for believing differently than they do. Zero intellgence but try to sound smart.
      -Morons.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • David Stone

      Science = presents plenty of REAL evidence of plenty of things....Religion? Zero, nothing, nada.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      the answers science provides are repeatable and testable and science is constantly trying to shoot holes in its own theories to make them better and stronger. Not so with god faithers.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  13. Margaret

    So if there are so many more of us why do the politicians pander to the extreme right?

    October 9, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      what are you smoking???

      October 9, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • David Stone

      Because sadly, a majority of people still believe in invisible sky fairies, and politicians pander accordingly. This article is simply a sign of the changes that are SLOWLY happening to mankind.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • MikeinMN

      Because that's where the money comes from

      October 9, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  14. was blind, but now I see

    @anon posted: @Sandra: 1 Timothy 2:12: [I] do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be silent.

    If you are going to quote scripture, perhaps you should understand the context. Paul was speaking to a male dominated society were women were treated as second class citizens. They were not taught about the scriptures. They stayed home while the men studied. This is why they were to remain silent in the church. Quite simply, because they were unlearned. This is why he went on to talk about Eve being decieved (not Adam). It was becuse she was stupid. It was because Adam had not done is job of teaching here that which he had been taught. By attempting to apply this verse to Sandra, you are showing your ignorance.

    October 9, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      ...it wasn't because she was stupid...

      October 9, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • a slozomby

      please explain "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." matthew 5:18 and how it relates to the massive numbers of bacon cheeseburgers sold every day.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
  15. Clinton

    Atheists are the biggest joke i've ever seen... they come at you with, "don't believe in your tall tales in that bible book of yours" Believe in our tales of science that are highly disputed and don't hold water... Do you know how many folks believe in the Big Bang without actually reading the theory, the current theory (and this is simplified so don't get all butt hurt about it) is that Particles always existed even before existance and they suddenly exploded into everything that exists now... All this energy came from stuff that always existed... Well so you're asking people to believe in Always existing Magical particles that provided enough energy to create the Universe instead of an Always existing Being that made it all happen... I'm sorry when you break it down it doesn't hold any more water than any organized religion. Go ahead and attack me now but it's the truth.

    October 9, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • David Stone

      Evidence of quantum physics....varies.....of invisible sky fairies? Zero.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Emmy

      I totally agree and in the words of one evolutionist, it takes greater faith to believe in evolution than to believe in God.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      "Invisible sky wizard did it with magic spellz" is not a better answer than, "Well, it looks like this sort of happened, but there's still so much we don't know, yet." Obviously.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • NoTheism

      Actually, the big bang theory does not say that such energy/particles always existed. In fact, the big bang theory explains what happened at the beginning of the universe, not how such energy/particles ever got there.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  16. Clausen

    I took a break from bottling pickles to show you a true story of my religion and why I love god so...

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGzghUQRVk8&w=640&h=390]

    October 9, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  17. sal

    Awesome news

    October 9, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  18. pat o'brien

    People do not have to belong to organized religion in order to believe in a supreme creator (god as you understand). Organized religion has failed on so many levels and unfortunately done more harm than good. Man has created a god in his imagine and called it divine. As time goes on I believe we will see more and more people understand the concept of the spiritual over dogma.

    October 9, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  19. Alicia

    If you think us Christians are a pain in the butt... do a little research on "bilderberg"... use YouTube in particular.

    We "aint'" nothing!...and no, it's definitely a "theory" & hasn't been since 1954.

    October 9, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  20. David Stone

    To be a Christian is to utterly deny science, to believe in invisible sky spirits, to allow fear of eternal torture to guide your every decision. It is to believe that the invisible sky daddy sent a human / zombie version of himself to live, then rise from the dead in order to save us from the invisible horned devil in the invisible fire pit below....all according to your invisible sky daddy guide book.

    October 9, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Alicia

      David... not true. I love science and I love what it's done to enhance our lives. Just try & not employ it to disprove God's existence because, it never will.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • NoTheism

      @Alicia, I think you missed the point. I think that what he was pointing to was that people typically appeal to evidence and logic to justify their beliefs. With faith, one needs no evidence or logic.

      October 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • was blind, but now I see

      How so, Mr Stone?

      October 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
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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.