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.
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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.
People are getting smarter when it comes to religion.
Slowly, but surely.....
True.. The mind is very carnal .. it is foolish.. It does not know the truth and can not understand..
I totally agree. Good to see science and logic take a standing.
The "God of the Gaps" grows smaller with each passing discovery about the cosmos.
The only morals man has comes from religion, more specifically Christian religion. End of religion(Christianity) means end of morals and subsequent end of mankind. Do we really want this for our children?
You really must have a low opinion of the intelligence of Christians. You insist they wouldn't have the smarts to have any morals without a 2,000 year old book to tell them.
If Christian morals set the standard then the World is in far worse shape than anyone has yet imagined.
The idea that humans can have no morals outside Christianity is ridiculous. The Christians were the ones behind the war in Iraq, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children. How moral is that??
"The only morals man has comes from religion..."
Here are some wonderful examples of your 'morals'...
I don't need to fear an imaginary demented old person in the sky to be a good person; I choose to be a good person because it actually makes me feel good (I do it out of a selfish desire to feel relevant in other lives). As a matter of fact I decided to go into health care because it was the only field I could think of where I could go to work with out putting my life on the line to help save people and bring them back to a level of living that has some quality of life. I emulate my self off of the characters that inspired me growing up namely Marvel Superhero's ( as Joseph Campbell would point out the mordern man's Mythos.) I find strength within my self not a god I have to have blind faith in like a fool or sucker.
Morality is hardly a religious invention. I, for one, find that a person who does kind and generous things for the sake of being kind and generous is far more "moral" than someone who does them because the Bible said to.
I have been agnostic my entire life. I was raised by agnostics. I volunteer my time, give to charity, and strive to be the best person I can be. And I do it because I want to. Not because I'm trying to buy my way into Heaven.
Whaaat? You talk as if Christianity is the ONLY religion. Therein lies the problem. Blinders on, zero tolerance, fanaticism. That is a dangerous mix. I'm not an atheist but I can understand their frustrations. We Pagans are still being called Satanists – yet the vast majority do not even believe in Satan. What I call Mother & Great Spirit are acknowledgments of parts of myself and nature – not a worshipping relationship. And my moral compass is spot on thank you very much. Stupidity & intolerance is what needs to be gotten rid of.
The vast majority of Saturday morning cartoons have more of a morality play than the entire "good book". Do you need weekly church meetings to remind you not to kill or cheat on your wife? The most peaceful people on the planet do not believe there are other worldly consequences to their actions, they simply believe that you should be respectful to your fellow man, no matter what they believe.
wow, you really think that people can't figure out that murdering someone is wrong?
What's really scary is that YOU needed that written down.
This person sounds like a troll.
So there was no moraility before Christians came along? I am sorry that your knowledge of history and civilization is so obviously lacking.
Sir you are swimming in dangerous waters here. I suggest you apologize and leave promptly
Well done. name: something republican, comment: generic ignorant and condescending statement about non-believers and democrats, result: Dance puppets dance!
Hey, if I didn't sin, Jesus died for nothin'.
Haha. Just kidding. I'm atheist.
Demonstrably false. Sorry.
Completely untrue, one does not need belief in God or a specific God in order to possess morals, I do not why I so frequently hear Christians make this claim. Why do these people feel only their faith has the right to claim ownership over morality?
That's awesome, it only means we are closer to the second coming, I don't get why more Christians are excited about this? It's in your bible, why fight the inevitable? It's like you are trying to fight Gods plan, he said all of this would come to pass. Christians need to celebrate this news, Atheists too, once the rapture comes we wont have anyone trying to push pseudoscience and fables on our children. Win, Win!!
Are you saying you are only a good person because the bible tells you to be? Or because you're afraid of going to hell? How much more morality is in the person who chooses to be a good person because they want to be.
The only morals man has comes from religion, more specifically Christian religion.
Religion has no corner on morality. You suggest that you and millions of Christians are moral because someone else is holding it over your head? That you might not get into heaven? I suggest I am moral because it is the right thing to do.
So the only thing preventing every Christian from becoming a mass murderer is their belief in God?
That's the most horrifying thought I've ever had.
Unfortunately, you and your ilk are some of the reasons people hate Christianity. Try and be a light and not a blowtorch my friend.
That's been proven to be false. Morals were developed long before religion as a means to keep order. In fact, morality can be seen in ape populations with no priesthood or holy book.
Yes, we do.
Scotchguard – "Christians were behind the war in Iraq" Are you serious?
That is demonstrably false.
In fact, christianity at it's core is based on a complete lack of morals. If christians were moral, there would be no need for a saviour.
The only reason jesus was sent here to die for your sins is because christians can't even follow their own rules.
Atheists want people to be held accountable for their transgressions.
Christians want people to be forgiven for their transgressions.
Christianity has no morality at all.
Sin all you want, you are forgiven.
It is the entire basis of the faith.
MJ Trip- That is true for some of the people I meet. Most I meet don't fall into that criteria.
False, as has been shown over and over again. When was the last time you saw an atheist promoting hate? bigotry? discrimination? And Christina gets it's idea of morals from the [people before it. It didn't make morals up. Why would you even think that? or, right, because you can't think for yourself,. Believe what you want, but stay out of the way.
Good news! This is the direct result of religious groups trying to shove their beliefs down peoples throats, that and the fact that all organized religions are completely ridiculous ...
I never did like the word 'atheist', even though I definitely am one. Atheist is describing yourself in a way that is a negation of another word – in this case, theist. Not believing in religion has been for me a wonderful way to live. It not negative. It's positive. There is no exact word yet for the non-religious. The word I like the most is 'freethinker'.
Try Humanism. While not mutually exclusive to atheists, it's a roundabout "ism".
Would you also be uncomfortable at being called any of these: abolitionist, teetotaler, non-smoker, pedestrian, vegetarian, undergraduate, illiterate, newbie, virgin, bachelor, non-swimmer, landlubber, snow bunny, apolitical, gentile, foreigner, stoic, dyslexic, amnesiac?
Mr. Russell... Yes.
Then why so much concern with the label athiest?
Try the word "Right".
Good work CNN trying to promote the atheists. But don't worry your candidate is losing big come November. The debate the other night was ample proof.
Romney admitted that just a week ago, he was COMPLETELY WRONG about not caring about the 47% and NOW cares about 100% of all Americans.
Go_Gop? Blind follower much?
This is incredibly sad. One needs to only look at the democratic convention to see the godless. They wanted the word taken out of the platform. I thank God every day for the life I have and I thank God I am a republican.
Don't fool yourself, there are plenty of conservative atheists out there. They're just not as loud as the religious nuts.
In the last 2 presidential campaigns:
The Democrats brought us "family values" John Edwards,
The Republicans brought us "family values" people like John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Herman Cain, and, of course, Newt Gingrich.
Are Republicans trying to monopolize on hypocrites?
People like JEFF are the reason I can't stand the self-proclaimed christians. Just ask them and they will tell you how christian they are, but their words are cheap and actions tell it all – they are only christian in their pathetic minds. Actions speak louder than words, and 99% of those who call themselves christian are anything but.
there was a bright fleeting moment of sanity at the democratic convention when they attempted to get rid of god. Unfortunately, they remembered they needed to pander to to the deluded majority. So Jeff, which person will get tortured more in hell, a godless person or a person like Mitt the Mormon who actually intends to become his own god? My guess is the atheist, because if Mitt becomes his own god then there will need to be a nasty god battle to decide which god is greater, your god or mitt. I would think your god would want to avoid that whole mess and just fry the atheist.
people just like you are the reason that non-believers are the fastest growing group - keep it up
The behavior of Christians in America - the intolerance, the arrogance, the hate, the assumption that everyone else is obligated to follow their mores - is the reason that atheism is the fastest growing segment of the population.
If you are so moral and into the GOP, then you must tell the wealthy and your corporations that they must take all that they have and give it unto the poor. Oh! I forgot. Religion goes out the window where money is concerned.
Observer- Clinton, JFK, at the pesidents level. We could go down the list of congress but we would both be here all day.
Christians – I seem to remember reading somewhere where Christians burned thousands of human beings at the stake for "witchcraft." All someone had to do was accuse someone of being a heretic or a witch and wallah, they'd be burned with little or no proof. Yeah, that Christian stuff was great back in the day (sarcasm).
The information age will be the death of organized religion.
People now have access to the absurdities, hypocrisies and atrocities in (all) religious texts.
When a book tells you how to sell your daughter, beat a slave, kill innocient babies and commit genocide under God's name it is fairly reasonable for you to question of a "moral law giver's" morality.
We can see it/they for what they are: myths, and the proselytizers for what they are: peddlers, and the preachers for what they are: con-men.These are generalizations, but they are also truisms.
Good people are frequently religious, mostly because they truly believe that there is no other path, hopefully they will see that they can lead a moral, fulfilling life and not have to do so under the pretense of rewards (i.e., the afterlife and immortality).
However there are history that do show a golden period. I believe if something bad happen to the internet, or school/education, will increase religion, maybe create new powerful religion.
this is why iran is "building its own internet" - gotta keep the sheep in the dark or they'll wise up.
Too bad Internet is not helping idiots like you to learn about Illuminati,Skulls and Bones and Satanism in entertainment industry.
keksi, why stop there? i'm sure there are other conspiracies you'd like to rant about? how about the bilderburgs, or maybe our reptilian overlords? masons secretly running the country? anything else? 9/11 was an inside job? more?
"When a book tells you how to sell your daughter, beat a slave, kill innocient babies and commit genocide under God's name it '
Which book are you talking about?
The internet has both pros and cons. It can help enlighten the smartest people of all beliefs with information. The cons, some people believe any information on the internet is fact, and it also shows humans bad side in a big way.
25% increase in Americans unaffiliated with religion...finally some good news.
Christians are so scared and dismissive of Atheists.They somehow do not seem to understand that the vast majority of the planet (5 billion strong) also does not believe in their god. This is comprised of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Etc. Do they honestly believe that their god is so inept or unable to communicate his message that he is damning 5 out of every 7 humans to hell for not following? If he exists why doesn't he just show himself and end the disagreement? I know why. Because he is imaginary. Also christians; please explain how your god plans to win during armageddon if his army is outnumbered so badly? Lastly I will point out that there are more muslims in the world than christians. If your god is real than why does he allow more people to believe in Allah than him? If he is so powerful,full of vengeance, and bent on people holding no other god before him than why does he not stop this from happening?
Brad, one day you'll remember those words when Yahweh shows Himself to you.
lol @ Yahweh
dude sounds like my mom.....i love my mom...but her god talk is so stupid and silly to me
it hurts her that im not christian anymore....and she still holds on to this idea that im "lost and god will bring me home"
but the truth is....im smarter than her...i study more...and grew up with more access to knowledge
her way of running this family is over....and now a knew legacy begins...thank you mom....but your god is not my god
Technical correction, Brad. Christians outnumber Muslims worldwide by about 2.1 billion to 1.5, with unbelievers coming in 3rd at 1.1: adherents(dot)com/Religions_By_Adherents.html
Still, your point that 5 out of 7 humans doesn't buy that PARTICULAR fairy tale is perfectly accurate.
68% of the religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God
68% percent believe in God and all we talk about are atheists. What a self-centered "non" religion.
God did show up. His name is Jesus. He is alive. He will return.
All the religions are bat sh!t crazy – except the one that YOU believe in.........
Everyone is going to be in trouble when Zeus returns. Prepare your backside, because everyone's getting a thunderbolt.
Christians, Agnostics, Atheists, and Zeus worshipers alike will all rue the day when Great Cthulu rises from the depths!
@Doug : No actually, Jesus show'd up. He was a charismatic guy, and did a bunch of good things no doubt. He's dead though, and will be for eternity.
At last, some good news!
Everybody's an atheist really, but some of us take it one god farther.
the article is about the number one fastest growing religion; no religion. How odd it doesn't mention the 2nd or 3rd fastest growing religions in the US.... might this be selective editing??? media bias, NO WAY! 2nd fastest growing – Mormonism. 3rd fastest growing – Islam. I rest my case.
what case are you resting? you have no point and then provided nothing supporting your statements. You aren't resting a case as much as you are resting an awkward haiku.
Ash, maybe mormonism and islam were not mentioned because this article isn't about them. Have you ever considered that?
Mormonism is only going to grow faster if Romney wins. All the Christians voting for Romney have no idea what they are going to do to their own religion. People will leave churches in droves to go hang out with the nice Mormons now that everybody has decided that they are no longer a cult. Christianity has jumped the shark with their support for Romney. It will come at a great cost. When I was a kid all churches taught that the Mormon church was a cult. They had to do this because so many Christians were heading over to the LDS because they were so nice and sounded like they were Christians when they came to their door. The Church had to make sure that people knew that Mormonism was a cult because people were leaving to go to Mormon churches.
CostofHealthCare, all religions are cults. It's high time we all recognized this.
I believe in god, but I don't trust any christians and muslims.
They are gullible, hateful, and violent.
Quick question, why, if you cannot trust the religion, what other source do you get your information about your god?
have you read the Jewish old testament.
I believe that that statistic includes all the various denominations of Christianity: Catholicism, Protestant groups (methodists, anglican, lutheran, baptist, pentecostal), Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Greek Orthodox, etc...
If you are religious, you are either a fool or a pedo.
Pastor Long said so.
I have been non-demoninational since the 1960's R.C.'s are crazy, but so are the Fundamentalists. None of which existed in 34 AD.
What's the significance of 34AD?
I could be wrong here, but I believe what Clyde is referencing here by using "34 A.D." would be the year after Christ "allegedly" died.
Follow-up... I'm thinking he meant by referencing that was... "the R.C.'s (Roman Catholics) and Fundamentalist's" *didn't exist* at the time of Jesus, and the year after his death.
Everyone has a religion. They just might not recognize it if it doesn't include a deity.
Religionists cannot imagine it, as they NEED it, so bad.
A-theism is the absence of theism.
If atheism is a religion, then sitting on the couch is an Olympic sport.
i think you misunderstand the definition of the word religion.
I didn't know 'sanity' was a religion.
Atheists for Social Darwinism!!!
Libertarians for false flags!!!
let's at least see a link:
The new Pew data: (2012)
Unaffilliated (total) ....... 19.6%
Atheist .......................... 2.4%
Agnostic ....................... 3.3%
Nothing in particular .... 13.9%
Of these 'nones' (the total unaffilliated)
Religious ............................. 18%
Spiritual but not religious .... 37%
Neither ................................ 42%
Of the whole US population
Religious unaffilliated ............................... 3.5%
Spiritual but not religious unaffiliated ........ 7.3%
Neither spiritual or religious unaffilliated ... 8.2%
I'll have to look at this report:
The 'nones' vote Dem/Rep 75% / 23%
and lean Obama/Romney 65% / 27%
But on CNN Faith Blog Atheists are running about 90 %
and proud of it!
atheists have no right to be proud. I mean, look at all the deaths that occurred under Hitler, Mao, Staling, and all the rest of those leaders that get named in this situation. We are naughty by association. Tsk, tsk.
Hitler was a christian who believe white guy with blue eye was the decending of Jesus and hate jew for religion purpose.
@etalan: you may not have my sarcasm.
....may not have noticed my sarcasm...
Hitler was a Catholic if I remember correctly.
Stalin and Pao may have been Atheists, but they didn't kill in the name of Atheism. They killed, spreading their governmental idealology (Communism). You do not have to be a Communist to be an Atheist.
reading comprehension level is pretty low around here....
"""reading comprehension level is pretty low around here.."""
Not in this thread. The problem here was a failure (yours) to communicate.
End Religion, I got the sarcasm, but who the hell was 'Staling'?
Etalan- Hitler believed it was because the Jews that Gernam lost WWI. It has nothing to do with religion or Christ. You might want to study some history before you start cliaming what Hitler did not do as something he did do.
Christianity ……………………..2.1 billion
Islam…………………………… 1.5 billion
Irreligious/agnostic/atheism…… 1.1 billion – here we come!!!
Hinduism 900 million
Chinese traditional religion 394 million
Buddhism 376 million
Animist religions 300 million
African traditional/diasporic religions 100 million
Sikhism 23 million
Juche 19 million
Spiritism 15 million
Judaism…………………………………….. 14 million
Baha'i 7 million
Jainism 4.2 million
Shinto 4 million
Cao Dai 4 million
Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
Tenrikyo 2 million
Neo-Paganism 1 million
Unitarian Universalism 800,000
Rastafari Movement 600,000
1.1 billion?! You should stop drinking the cool aid, man. Atheists make up no more than about 3%. Ever try Google?
when it say Christianity, does that count of all the branch, like christian, Mormon, catholic, satanism, etc, or one type of Christianity?
I believe that that statistic includes all the various denominations of Christianity: Catholicism, Protestant groups (methodists, anglican, lutheran, baptist, pentecostal), Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Greek Orthodox, etc...
@Vash .. You should stop drinking your own kool-aid and Google again. The 1.1 billion stated above is related to ALL non-religious people in the world. Not just atheists.
Take us to warp 5, Mr. Sulu
Word population at the end of 2001, 7 billion people worldwide. So your number don't really add up.
Listen to what I am saying, I know the truth 2 +4 =3.
Rob – the world population in 2001 wan't 7 billion, it was 6,159,242,510 (approx)
Sorry I meant to type 2011 and I rounded.
6,973,738,433 – 2011
Source: World Bank