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.
Oh, Gaunt is ok. I just want to make sure he knows, God is willing to give mercy to those who believe and trust in his son. And that means EVERYBODY!
Whatever would God do without you? He must be really relieved to have you helping him out.
Your version of your interpretation of your silly sky santa doesnt give a crap about goodor evil. he allows the most evil of people into heaven, and condemns the best, nicest kindest people to hell. Good and evil mean nothing to him, he cares only for one thing: that you squeal HIS name and nobody elses. That is arrogant, self-centred, sadistic and evil.
Thankfully, it doesnt matter as he doesnt exist.
Agree with Jeremy. But not sure if our LORD will ever pardon non believers like Gaunt. And yes gaunt could not reply to me when I pointed out the statistics about unnatural correlation between atheists and the prison population.
GoGOP actually you lying coward, I replied twice, both in response and in a new post, posting specific statistics showing you are a fuc king liar, and made those statistics up on the spot.
Why do you feel so comfortable lying little boy? How can you lie so easily AND claim to be a Christian?
No, god WILL pardon Gaunt. That's the beauty of Jesus Christ. He will forgive!
The Catholic Faith is True.
The Apostles' Creed 2012 (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)
Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????
I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)
Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,
He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.
(References used are available upon request.)
Prove it. Show me some evidence. This is the church that excommunicated Galileo for saying the Earth goes around the sun and ran the Spanish Inquisition.
"The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist."
Begging the question is a fallacy, Frank. It's and immediate debate-loser.
Why can't religious people debate honestly? Oh, I remember: they have no evidence, fact, or support of any knid, and must resort to fallacies. They have nothing else.
Wow, a quote....how impressive!
GAUNT: you please leave my country. My country does not have place for non christians like you.
You live in Jesustan?
Like all cowards, GOGOP has no answer to the facts and history I laid out proving him wrong, so he squirms away and flees, not answering and hoping nobody notices his shame. Instead he posts a one-liner insult in the vain hope this makes him look better.
How Christian of you.
The United States is a secular republic my loser friend. If you hate that, then get the fu ck out. there are plenty of theocracies around the world you can move to.
Gaunt: Good to see you have learnt some 4 letter words. You are growing up. So how do you explain the fact that atheists make up only 2% of the population of USA but around 39.8% of the prison population in the USA? Criminal much?
Well, GOP is another liar. The actual percentage of atheists in prison is .2% – they are severely underrepresented, because they are more moral.
Lie, lie lie. Religious people just love to lie.
Actually, this country DOES have a place for atheists "like them". That's the WHOLE point of being AMERICAN. and I thought that was one of the hallmarks of the GOP, FREEDOM OF CHOICE. Oh...I get it. Choice unless "they" won't choose what you want them to. This is why I can't be Republican. Democrats might sound dumb a lot of the time, but the GOP sound like bullies ALL of the time.
How do I explain the completely fabricated stats you just made up, you pathalogical liar?
Firstlym, the article you are commenting on explicitly states that atheists make up far more than 2% of the population of the US: 12% in fact. LIAR.
Secondly, you are too stupid to keep your own lies staright. On this very page you just claimed atheists were less than 1% of the US. Now you claim they are 2%. Pick a lie and stick to it, ok kid?
Lastly, according to the 2007 Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics (available online) the percentage of atheists in federal prisons is 0.21% of the prison population. One-quarter of one percent.
Stop LYING every time you post!
Typical religious hater.
So there may be hope for this country after all. It probably won't come in my lifetime, but in a couple of generations the religious nuts will be dwindling in number and rational thought will replace nonsense. Wars started over "invisible people in the sky" will be a thing of the past.
From what come to understand is that all wars (with the exception of the crusades) were all fought for resources. Religeon is just the excuse that the benificiaries give the average fighter to go fight. Your statement should be really religeon is the illusion for war, but war will keep on happening with or without religeon.
Drock, please stop misspelling the word "religion". It is hurtful enough to read the posts, much less read the scrawling of the uneducated.
Atheism is no more of a religion than non-belief in BigFoot among a group of strangers resembles a cult.
That's why the gospel of Jesus Christ is called "the good news".
Gaunt.....to answer your question, yes. If ANYONE comes in true repentance to God, to accept his mercy in what Jesus has done on our behalf, they will go to heaven.
Use the reply button, moron! You are spread all over the place.
oooh, heaven.....eternity around a bunch of kneeling, snivelling sycophants.....
C'mon: Dont expect him to have much intelligence, he does believe in fairy tales afterall.
Prayer changes things .
So tll us who is praying so effectively to increase the numbers of seculars? They are doing a great job!
Czechs are smarter still-85% are non believers.
Non religious does not define as atheist. Polls are notorious for their inaccuracy. All the polls showed Al Gore winning the Presidency for example.
Actually, based on virtually every scientific study done on the influence of prayer, it doesn't do anything for whomever is being prayed for.
Czechs lived under atheist communist oppression for generations and were shot for being Christian. Now that they are free to learn again they are rebuilding their Christian faith. Check those numbers in another decade. Not to mention you pulled 85% out of you know where.
Actually milton you're wrong.
Actually, Gore won 800,000 more votes that George Worst Bush. He only got office when the Supreme Court severely exceeded it's authority and decided he won the Florida fiasco.
Isn't it sad that facts never support your bizarre claims?
TBT, please stop LYING.
The Czech republic was nominally atheist, but nobody was 'shot for praying', the Communists didnt even close or restrict the three churches in the town square, to say nothing of hundreds of other churches around the country, open every day. I hate liars like you.
Oh, but now, in 2012, the czech reopublic is one of the most atheist nations in the world. Coincidentally, it is also the most economically sucessful of all the forme warsaw pact states. You fail.
You post this delusion in many discussions. It looks like you're trying to convince yourself more than us.
There is a large gap between non religious and atheist. The morally derelict and mentally incompetent atheist accounts for less than 1% of the American population. The atheist needs all agnostics and non believers previously mention to pad their vileness to larger numbers. Even so polls are not accurate or honest thus you can see why such a poll might favor idiots over patriots.
You seem angry
Oh look, another judgmental Christian hater, the best evidence that Christianity is a fraud.
Isn't it wonderful when someone claims to be truth but he is obviously inventing his own facts (otherwise known as lying – a violation of his own Ten Commandments)?
I just love religious hypocrisy! And it is never in short supply!
No, just commenting on reality. Truth may seem harsh but Truth is not anger.
Typical 'Christan'. Hates facts presented to him, so he lies about them, calls them all wrong without ANY basis whatsoever, and throws in a few juvinilie insults to top it all off.
YOU my sad repulsive friend are WHY more and more of the United States is turning to Atheism.
Truth is not hate.
Also interesting how haters always deny they hate, that wiishing eternal doom on people and calling them "mentally deficient" is actually love.
TBT is a troll cvnt
Please point out the reference to eternal doom.
Atheism is morally derelict? Really? If you ACTUALLY followed ALL of the moral directives in the Bible you would be considered a genocidal, misogynistic, sadistic sociopath and would be in prison for life because the Biblical God is a genocidal, misogynistic, sadistic sociopath by modern ethical standards. Just sayin'
You are correct in saying truth is not hate. But your delusions about atheists are rooted in hate and a need to feel better than other people.
Argumentum ad Populum fallacy. No proof. Where is the survey ? Where is the data.
YOu are no Christian. : "Judge not lest ye be judged".
religious tolerance must end. religion... all religion – impoverishes and stunts humanity.
people, while still free to worship imaginary men in the sky, should be ashamed to espouse their delusional beliefs publicly.
those who espouse any religious beliefs shouldn't be allowed to vote, purchase firearms, serve in any public office or teach public school.
The survey says that 1 in 5 are not affiliated with any religion. Despite the picture on the article, this does not mean they are atheists. Remember that churches are the business side of religion. You don't have to go to church to be a Christian.
perhaps not, but christianity (whether you go to church or not) is a religion
Religion is considered by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
Why should anyone believe in Christianity over a religion like Buddhism, which has been around for much longer? Why should one pick a newer "me too" religion over one with a longer history?
Also, did any of your parents teach you the history of all religions so you could decide for yourself, or were you brainwashed into believing the one they taught you as the only credible religion?
Without a god (not religion, which is a cult), people have no hope, no integrity, no morals, no standards, no manners, no love, no helping your neighbor. Where there is no vision the people perish. This explains New America.
Odd that secular nations and regios have higher levels of everything you claim cannot exist without a god.
No, dear. Our DNA and cellular development include the ability to empathize, in fact require that ability of us to function as human beings. So your fortune telling about the end of religion = the end of mankind is patently ridiculous.
your comment fails.
you don't need god to be moral
You, sir, have no right to judge people you've never met. To say I have no morals, or center is incorrect. No manners? Very funny. My moral compass is to treat others as I wish to be treated. A very reasonable concept. You should try it.
but it doesn't explain why there are disproportionately fewer atheists in prison. If atheism is so morally bankrupt, you would think prisons would be full of them.
Nonsense. Evolution favors those traits because they produce stronger, more successful social groups and societies.
Dont' really care about the atheists. This country was founded as a christian nation and will remain so. The atheists / non believers can leave the country for all I care. We are a christian nation, derive all our morals from Christianity and will remain so.
No so much, "What is it the Bible teaches us? - rapine, cruelty, and murder. What is it the Testament teaches us? - to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married, and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.”
"It is the fable of Jesus Christ, as told in the New Testament, and the wild and visionary doctrine raised thereon, against which I contend. The story, taking it as it is told, is blasphemously obscene.”
I derive my morals from common sense. With religion history of greed, war, hatred , pedophila and division , is religion really in a postion to push their so called moral system?
You are, of course, lying. This nation was founded EXPLICITLY to be a secular nation, The founding fathers came from Europe, where every state had its official religion, and realised what a catastrophe that was. They founded the first secular republic in modern history, stepping as far away from religion as was possible at the time. This is not and never was a 'Christian' country, no matter what the uneducated half-wits in your trailer park wish to believe.
Go_GOP, well, you certainly have taken your clothes off in public. Please don't do this.
Gaunt: Please leave my country. My country does not need non christians.
It was not founded to favor any religion.
your comment fails!
Like owning other people, Go_GOP?
CNN in it's continuing efforts tpo spread athiesm. One in five? Realy CNN what did you take your poll at a Berkley University campus? Communist News Network continues. Newsflash if Athiesm is the disbelief in religion the story does NOT belong in your religious / Belief section of your website..............that makes no sense at all fools.
You can always count on the right-wing religious dingbats to totally mangle their spelling and grammar.
Did you actually graduate from junior high writing like that?
And I know about people's guilt.....trust me
There are some here that just can't believe God would forgive murderers....But he will! Why? Jesus' death overcomes all of it! So, can you come to him with the things you have done??
Jeremy is trippin'
Does God forgive bigotry, hatred, genocide and mass murder? So is heaven filled with nazis, serial killers, rapists and torturers, as long as they repetented on their deathbeds?
What is this stupidity about forgiveness I fail to understand what it does and how it is important to the society? If I cannot see god how do I know I was forgiven and what do I get as a token of forgiveness? What is meant by forgiveness? That the murderers can commit more murders? And is it not just a feeling, however stupid it may sound? How a person so forgiven can be treated differently by the law? And what about the person he murdered or the persons dependent on him/her? The god could not save him/her. If there is a God he should have stopped the man from killing another person. what is the use of God to the murdered man or his forgiveness to the murderer?
A challenge for atheists: if God isn't real, where does natural law come from? Even a man in the wild knows that to kill another man is wrong. It is innate, it is within him, not taught from another human. This knowledge can only come from God. This is the knowledge of God within us all.
You idiot, most animals that are the same species dont kill each other because they want thier species to prevail. Nothing to do with god. And secondly, some people kill eat other all the time without remorse so your point is useless. Not to mention christians use to torture their religion into people during the dark ages. Which is the only reason you are one in the first place.
Which God would that be? Got his/her email address?
And that realization did not come because of God.. It came from thousands of years of misery and sufferings. please read the history of human beings before confirming that you lost your mind in a church and started blabbering ever since.
Seriously people who make argument like this John do nothing except betray a deep and depressing ignorance of the natural world, of human philosophy and of basic logic. Go away.
Typical bogus religious argument: If I can't explain it, God must be responsible. Sorry, but there are reasons evolution would favor people who didn't kill arbitrarily.
Hardly much of a challenge. Where does God come from?
But as it is indecent to answer a question with a question, I shall answer more substantially. Where do the laws of physics derive? I don't know, exactly. And that's the intellectually honest answer that I, and you, should take. However, you will find your questions about the human condition to be readily answered by neuroscience. Ignorance is not a sin, and asking questions not evil.
Perhaps what you misunderstand is that many of us are simply seeking truth, wherever that may take us. Perhaps you think the answers are so simple, but I ask you to turn your scrutiny towards your own beliefs and perhaps find that the answers you thought were so simple are actually complex and troublesome when critically examined.
I do suppose it's frightening not to know. I don't know what happens after I die, for certain (but I'm fairly sure I just decompose and that's that). I don't know exactly where the Universe came from, or how. And there's a lot of the world I don't know anything about. But this is no excuse to latch to the idea that you do know - that really it can all be explained with a three letter word. It's a shame doubting one's beliefs is often a sin in religion. Doubt is the mark of wisdom, not foolishness.
You cannot be serious.
1. The argument is the logical fallacy of an Argument from Ignorance. You don't know something, so you stick in something that gives you an answer, even though there is no positive evidence for it.
2. It's the "god of the gaps" fallacy, as it fills in the gap in you knowledge, with no positive evidence, AND runs the risk of making your god irrelevant when and if a better answer is found.
3. It proves that you have no personal relationship with your god, and use the concept to fill in your ignorance, and subject him/her to the risk of any "better" answer that comes along.
4. You devalue your god to a position of a fill-in explanation, in your larger worldview.
And last, but most important, it misses the perfectly obvious explanation, known to anyone who has thought about it for even a half a second : It confers an evolutionary advantage. One does not go around killing other humans, as one would not want them killing you. AND there is no ABSOLUTE innate "no-kill" rule. YOU, if you are a soldier, or an enemy of an opposing enemy group kill all the time, and have no problem with it, including taking the life of those from your own group, you consider serious criminals. People murder other people all the time. They have no problem with it at all. You loose, and so does your gods. Try harder. And BTW, take an Anthropology class.
It's instinctual. You do not wish to be murdered, therefore you do not murder unless you are in danger of being killed yourself...or you have a mental problem. There are many, many books written on morality from a secular point of view. It does not have to be explained with God. If you actually took the time to read about things from the other point of view that were not written with a Christian bias (such as, 'this is what Athiests believe!' on some religious site or blog) you would see that there secular side of things actually has much better explanations rather than some magical sky man who has his hands in every pot.
I could explain how it is a result of Evolution, but since you probably don't "believe" in that it would just be a waste of my time.