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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.

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Pew's numbers were met with elation among atheist and secular leaders. Jesse Galef, communications director for the Secular Student Alliance, said that the growth of the unaffiliated should translate into greater political representation for secular interests.

“We would love to see the political leaders lead on this issue, but we are perfectly content with them following these demographic trends, following the voters,” Galef said.

“As more of the voters are unaffiliated and identifying as atheist and agnostics, I think the politicians will follow that for votes.

“We won’t be dismissed or ignored anymore,” Galef said.

The Pew survey suggested that the Democratic Party would do well to recognize the growth of the unaffiliated, since 63% of them identify with or lean toward that political group. Only 26% of the unaffiliated do the same with the Republican Party.

"In the near future, if not this year, the unaffiliated voters will be as important as the traditionally religious are to the Republican Party collation,” Green predicted.

Green points to the 2008 exit polls as evidence for that prediction. That year, Republican presidential nominee John McCain beat President Barack Obama by 47 points among white evangelical voters, while Obama had a 52-point margin of victory over McCain among the religiously unaffiliated.

According to exit polls, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans who supported the Democratic presidential candidate grew 14 points from 2000 to 2008.

In announcing the survey’s findings at the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Bethesda, Maryland, Green said the growing political power of the unaffiliated within the Democratic Party could become similar to the power the Religious Right acquired in the GOP in the 1980s.

“Given the growing numbers of the unaffiliated, there is the potential that that could be harnessed,” he said.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Politics • Polls

soundoff (7,763 Responses)
  1. Kate

    I'm one of them. I was raised Lutheran and my husband and I raised our older children as non-denominational. Eventually, we realized we didn't want to be part of the hypocrasy. We're raising our yougest child without religion.....she can choose to be religious when she's older and more resistant to brain washing. Our oldest two kids are no longer religious. They went into professions where they will never make a lot of money, but they help people and get a lot of satisfaction from doing so. We try to be ethical, moral, generous and kind. That's more than I can say for many people who profess to be Christian.

    October 21, 2012 at 10:07 am |
  2. Jesus Christ

    SURVEY: Only 1 in 5 Americans has a brain.

    October 21, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Aden Medina

      Only one in five doesn't know how to use his brain completely..

      October 21, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  3. aurelius

    Am one of them and so darn proud of it!

    October 21, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  4. shawbrooke

    Data show that the young have been less religiously affiliated for some decades now. Then as they take on responsibilities, some return to faith attendance and some pray at home. Those who believe in God and pray will register as religious in some studies. Compare only similar measurements and the difference is not so great. Factor in the tendency for more people to wait until later to have families, and the difference is less still. Sure it's a trend. But how strong a trend is not yet known.

    October 21, 2012 at 1:45 am |
  5. Joe

    We sure could use a spiritual revival in this country and in much of the world. But eventually, it could be in our day, rebellious man will drift further and further from God and give himself more and more over to lawlessness. Such behavior does not bode well for a country, or for the world. The book of revelation warns us about His wrath that He will pour out on the earth in the last days. While the wrath of God on earth is not a pleasant thought, it would be worse for someone to have to experience His eternal wrath, which is eternal death and damnation. There is only one way to avoid eternal death. We must receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. If you have yet to do this, you really shouldn't wait. Receive Him, and ask God's forgiveness for your sins, then you will know His peace and be saved from eternal death, and have the blessed hope of eternal life. God bless

    October 20, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Translation: Blah, blah, blah, blah y blah some more, nonsensical Biblical babble and spew. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, I'm a clueless boob for sure and my name is fundamentalist dope.Blah, blah, blah, blah y blah some more, nonsensical Biblical babble and spew. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, I'm a clueless boob for sure and my name is fundamentalist dope.Blah, blah, blah, blah y blah some more, nonsensical Biblical babble and spew. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, I'm a clueless boob for sure and my name is fundamentalist dope.Blah, blah, blah, blah y blah some more, nonsensical Biblical babble and spew. Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, I'm a clueless boob for sure and my name is fundamentalist dope.

      October 20, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • george washingto hayduke

      joe: your god is a vindictive, petty pr1ck. get back on your knees and beg, b1tch

      October 21, 2012 at 4:47 am |
  6. Lorraine

    I would be excited that I have a lot of admires, but I know that they need attention, and are making a distraction from the truth, so, I'll just overlook them all. Yes the truth can really hurt, obviously enough to cause sarcasm, especially from the proud, and haughty, drenched with vexation, and who are just plain narcissist on misleading people. So desperate not to be out shined from the absolute truth . ha! But seriously, YHWH Bless.

    October 19, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  7. Mike - WA

    I doubt that 4/5 actually have religion. My guess is that 50% of them are in it for business or social reasons. God for profit is the modern way. There is no other sane reason to believe in gods, goddesses or fairies.

    October 19, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  8. happyfrenchman

    I think christianity in the new world is going to be evolving more in the direction of mormonism... after all if Jesus came to the new world, and the promised land is actually in Missourri, we can get away from all those filthy brown people clogging up the old holy land.... it is a no brainer... watch and see.

    October 19, 2012 at 7:17 pm |
    • End Religion

      you could be on to something there...

      October 19, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  9. 4 of 5 are Religious, 80%

    80%, well past the majority!!!

    October 19, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Damocles

      So if 4 out of 5 people want to kill you, you are ok with that?

      October 19, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • End Religion

      There's a sucker born every minute. It's hard for atheist non-suckers to keep up with that birth rate.

      October 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  10. brian

    if you need an ancient work of literature (with no evidence to support anything it says) to teach you how to be a good person then you're not a good person to begin with, nor are you very intelligent. Be a good person based on common sense, logic, and rationale, not what some book of fairy tales and hatred teaches you. People are products of their environment and nothing more. Religion is only tradition within a location in the world and within a family or community, town , country, etc. faith does not equal fact. there's no more credibility with one religion than there is with any other. the possibility of one god existing is just as implausible as the possibility of any other god existing. The notion of people never questioning what they have been taught and assuming what they've been taught must be true gets under my skin. the inability and refusal to think outside the box is what allows people to be religious in the first place. Well, that and desperation, hopelessness, and despair. Take your pick. science flies us to the moon. religion flies us into buildings.

    October 19, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Lorraine

      If one has the guts call YHWH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, prophesied in Jeremiah 23:1-8, at 1-773-874-0325, and challenge that evidence, if you will, the host has all the evidence of history to substantiate the truth of the book of remembrance, the so called OT, go on call them, if you dare. ha, ha, and YHWH Bless.

      October 19, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  11. Pastor Jason Whitaker

    Reblogged this on new creation now ministry and commented:
    What are your opinions on this article?

    October 19, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • Lorraine

      You of all people should read Jeremiah 23:1-8, where YHWH, tells us of the anger that He has of all the pastors who mislead the flocks of His truth, or maybe you already know this, but as usual continue to draw a blind eye to it. As of this day none of the elders, priests, or pastors have told the truth of the law of righteousness of YHWH, nor His true name you've all profaned, as He says in Ezekiel 36:22,23. But His day of vengeance is near, Isaiah 51:5. Praise goes only to YHWH the Holy One, Isaiah 40-43.

      October 22, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Lorraine

      In Ezekiel 36:22,23, Isaiah 48:10-22, of the polluting of YHWHs name, Isaiah chapters 40-45, Deut.32:39,40, and Deut.32:1-12, all tells us that there is no one with YHWH. He is the 'Holy One', and in Isaiah 42:8,9, He says He does not share His glory, nor His praise never had, and never will. YHWH is alone, and does it all by Himself, confirmed in Isaiah 44:24, and Isaiah 45:5-7.

      October 22, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Loopy, you're answering yourself answering a post that appeared on the 19th. That's 3 days ago, dear. Nobody is going to bother checking back to see if you responded, least of all anyone who knows what kind of tripe you write.

      October 22, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Lorraine

      And this nor YHWHs law of righteousness has never changed as taught in Malachi 3:6, YHWH changes not, none of His word. There is no other god, or anyone, with Him Deut.32:39,40, and no man can be delivered from out of His hands in Isaiah 43:15. YHWH Bless.

      October 22, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Lorraine

      tomtom stay off the pipe, you read it, so what you think you are the only one who reads on this site, think before you speak sometimes. get off my butt

      tomtom get off the pipe, Doofus, since name calling is your frivolous suite of armor; you read it, what do you think you are the only one here who can read at this site? and tell the other dope yeahright, that those gays, and lesbians did not have their children with the same gender i betcha.

      October 23, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Innerspace is God's Place while outerspace is for the human race.

      Cherish the thoughts,,,,,Well ain't we special?

      October 23, 2012 at 1:00 am |
  12. GOOD NEWS

    The Son of Man has thus already come

    to seek and save those WHO ARE LOST

    in the beginning of this Third and Last DAY (=MILLENNIUM) now!

    John 6/27, 40 = Luke 19/10

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

    ****UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES!

    October 18, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  13. Socal Reggae

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8zGrAq-Wvw&w=640&h=390]

    October 18, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  14. sleiii

    Reviewing the comments dismissive of all connection to a spiritual dimension that appear as adamant as they do obtuse in their limited, over-literal grasps of Judeo-Christian tradition, when set against the voices of the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, Saints Paul, Augustine, Francis and the long line of enduring poetic and philosophic visions that tower above the millions of shabby parallel constructions that have withered on the ash heap of history, one has the palpable sense of having entered into an especially dim section of Plato's Cave.

    October 18, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • biobraine

      You use big words. You must be smart.

      October 18, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • Lorraine

      sleiii, This is because many including yourself have not been taught properly, or I should say mislead. The book of remembrance was sealed until 1896, prophesied in Daniel 12, and confirmed in Isaiah 29. Many, not even scholars could understand it, but much has been revealed now, many are awakening to the truth. Playing a song is fine, but the chosen servant of YHWH will not yell in the street, or preach, nor will he disparage anyone else, never, its all about learning, and growing, YHWH Bless.

      October 18, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Translation of Lorraine's post: Lorraine doesn't have the first clue what sleiii said and couldn't tell you what the "cave" was if she were facing a firing squad.

      October 18, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • End Religion

      unlike biobraine, we aren't all looking forward to the looming idiocracy

      October 18, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
    • biobraine

      ER use clever words like sleiii. ER also feel smart.

      October 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
    • Lorraine

      tomtom the piper, you're not only a bully, you stupid. Lol, get a life, and get out of my butt, lol again. Plato's cave is not of YHWH. Who do you people think Plato got any of his knowledge from?, although it is to be scrutinized as well as anything should, especially since he did not do it through the King YHWH, he thought it was all his own doing like most of us do, duh!!wake up to the truth, in Genesis-Malachi. Never put anything before YHWH. The true name of this book is the 'book of remembrance', named by YHWH in Malachi 3:16, and not the so called OT. Praise YHWH.

      October 19, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Orderlies, get the net and the nice jacket with the really long sleeves, STAT. Report to Loopy's room immediately with the thorazine drip! She's gonna blow!

      October 19, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • End Religion

      Bartender, please cut off the drinks to Lorraine. She's had enough...

      October 19, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • reader

      Your passive voice is longwinded and hurts my brain.

      October 19, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
  15. biobraine

    I don't know. I don't care. Until God calls me up to meet for coffee, I'll just go on living my life the best way I know how and be very happy doing it.

    October 18, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
    • allenwoll

      bb - EXCELLENT comment ! ! ! . Very, VERY good !

      Now, I COULD believe that there is a "God" who indeed cares about large groups of people - but to believe - in the face of all events - that this Godly concern - in reward OR punishment - extends in microdimension down to the individual is an exercise in collosal & unbounded self-deception by someone who has an infinite ego and an extreme & laughable sense of self-importance - Self-importance, I believe, needs to be listed as one of the worst of the Cardinal Sins for ALL beliefs ! ! .

      There is more yet to this : HOW can we possibly explain the misery of the innocent CREATURES in the wild - Higher animals lying in wait or chasing down the weak of other higher animals in order to KILL and to EAT them. . Forget that gross old saw, "The Survival of the Fittest" - THAT weak, ridiculous & thoughless concept explains only the actions (or IN-actions) of a LAZY and SLOTHFUL God ! ! ! . IF that God exists, then I think BACK to the drawing board with Him ! ! ! . The SotF idea is nothing but pseudo-science !

      October 19, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  16. El Flaco

    Mormonism is not Christianity.

    They are two different religions with different histories and different theologies.

    Some Mormon gods and Christian gods have the same names, but that is like knowing two men named Bill. They are not the same man.

    October 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • DWN

      Amen to that.

      October 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • allenwoll

      CORRECT !

      The Mormon concept was founded by a very, VERY talented and clever propagandist with a wondrous insight to the functioning of the human psyche ! ! !

      October 19, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • zach

      As were all religions.

      October 21, 2012 at 3:41 am |
  17. Lorraine

    sam stone, well its obvious that you have not looked very hard at this world, its a mess of in difference, and greed, and the good of it can cost an arm, or leg, so its only for some. Or you wear those heavy blinders. No YHWH is the universal law of righteousness, and peace, and equality, but I know that is hard for most to get. Praise YHWH.

    October 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Lorriane, get overyourself. Yhwh, xyz and other abreviations, are not universal law nor universal anything. It is merely bronze age bullshyte.

      October 18, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
    • sam stone

      Lorraine: Keep on believing as you wish. Enjoy your blinders.

      October 18, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I can't imagine what it must be like inside Loopy Lorraine's skull.

      October 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
    • End Religion

      Here's hoping Romney has to put up with Binders Full O' Lorraine his entire life.

      October 18, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Lorraine

      These are not my words to get over, they are words from the Creator, and King YHWH, all in black, and white written for us to remember Him by, in the 'book of remembrance, the so called OT. So what do you want from me, it is His word, from Genesis-Malachi, for He does nothing unless through His prophets, taught in Amos 3:7, the truth. I like sharing truth. YHWH Bless.

      October 19, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • P. J. O'Rouke

      Lorraine, that is my mom's name. That makes you hot! Let's meet and have s.e.x.!

      October 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • sam stone

      lorraine: those are the words of iron age sheep paramours

      October 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  18. Sly

    "Religion"? You mean thinking some bloody hippie can walk on water? We get 79 virgins when we die? All dinosaur bones were planted by humans as part of a huge conspiracy, since God Made Earth 9000 years ago?

    You would have to be really really stupid to believe there is a little red man with horns living deep in the earth.

    Unbelievably stupid people ... and the funniest part is they all lash out at each other: "Oh those Christians are the devil" "Oh those Muslims are the devil".

    Wow folks, seriously, this is 2012 .... grow some brains.

    October 18, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • End Religion

      Unfortunately for us all it is illegal for these people to grow brains, as Monsanto holds the patent.

      October 18, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  19. Lorraine

    vire70, three days are not 2000 years. This is why Yhwh Our Righteousness, prophesied in Jeremiah 23:1-8, teaches us to read Genesis-Malachi for the truth of the word of YHWH, there is no mention of any jesus anywhere in the OT, nor his story from any prophet of YHWH, according to Amos 3:7, YHWH God does nothing unless through His prophets. Again as taught in the book of Daniel 7:25, and Daniel 12:7, it is times, times, and a half is where we are today. Yes we are in the half of the third day of this appointed time. YHWH Bless.

    October 18, 2012 at 11:49 am |
    • El Flaco

      There is no old man in the sky watching us like we watch reality TV.

      October 18, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Lorraine, there is NO truth to yhwh. It is fiction, pure and simple., like your thought process. Don't quote the funny book to prove anything. It is not a source of credible information, unless you fall into the deluded catategory. Oh, wait. I see that you do fit that description. There is help for your disorder. It's called logic.

      October 18, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • David Johnston

      What in the wide world of sports are you talking about? Space aliens or bigfoot or what?

      October 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      The group home in which Loopy Lorraine is a "guest" is not terribly good about getting the thorazine drips to its "guests" in a timely manner...thus the craziness.

      October 18, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • === o ===

      Clear sign that Lorraine's piano is missing some keys. When "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things" thinks she's off base. lol.

      October 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Laughing at 'piano missing some keys.'

      I love it.

      October 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  20. DWN

    Its a free country for heaven's sake. At least they are not stuck in a religious group and pretending to believe something. God leaves us free to decide for ourselves.

    October 18, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Lorraine

      DWN, What about truth, would you agree that we are in a world of in difference, hate, imposed poverty, greed, selfishness, suffering, wars, perversion, sickness causing premature deaths, etc. etc., or don't you agree, is everything coming up roses for everyone in your world? YHWH has no RELIGION, they are all idolatry, wrong, and false, His is the universal law of 'righteousness', and we are all responsible for our own wrongs, and there are consequences. YHWH is the connection of all life, to do right by each one, not just some. That's no religion, that's just right, which i realize in this world is an abstraction for most, mainly the greedy, the wicked, and the selfish. YHWH Bless, all praise goes to YHWH the creator of it all 'life' Selah!

      October 18, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • sam stone

      YHWH is religion, Lorraine.

      October 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • biobraine

      It doesn't seem to me that the christian god leaves us free to decide for ourselves any more than someone putting a gun to our heads leaves us free to decide if we should give our wallet to him or not.

      October 18, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Athy

      Wow! This Lorraine thing is really nutso. Get her into a straight jacket before she hurts herself.

      October 19, 2012 at 12:48 am |
    • allenwoll

      The process that one must invoke to "decide" some issue requires VERIFIABLE OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE upon the details of the issue in order to allow a process to a conclusion.

      In THIS subject, there IS and CAN BE no verifiable objective evidence of any sort at all. . There just ain't any to be had ! ! !

      That is why I believe that the Agnostic View is the only meaningful or applicable view.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:19 am |
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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.