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.
I wonder how long religion would last, if indoctrinating children was outlawed, after all, if your religion is the true religion, shouldn't most of them reach that conclusion on their own?
If everyone allowed their children to decide for themselves what they believe once they came of the age of reason, then I believe religion would die in a couple generations.
But no I know that won't happen, the brain washes shall continue the vicious cycle of mental conditioning.
Makes me sad really.
Yep, it is not a religion. People have turned Atheisim into a full blown cult. No more freaky than Jimmy Jones.
Through historical research, artifacts, archeological findings, etc, an estimated 2670 deities or gods have been tossed around for thousands of years. If religious people will tell me why they don't believe in the 2669 other than their own, you will have the answer as to why I don't believe in yours.
I don't see the direct connection between agnostic/atheistic views and the Democrat Party. I see a undeniable statistical connection between the lack of religious affiliation and youth. And there will always be a strong connection between the Democrat Party and immaturity, inexperience, and youthful idealism. But people outgrow these latter things. I would suggest that the agnostic 'movement' has a welcome home in the Republican Party, which has long favored reason and logic. The religious right will just have to get used to that.
We are slowly taking over the Republican party from the inside. I think a lot of the nut job religious people left the Democrat party in the 70s and infiltrated the Republican party. But that was a little before my time.
President John Adams and the U.S. Senate on behalf of the U.S.
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;
–from Article 11 of the U.S. treaty ratified with Tripoli in 1797
In my experience I've noticed the more religious a person is the more a hypocrite he is.
Isnt that the truth! People will use religion as a mask of morality or a way to get 'forgiveness' for all the bad things they have done but in the end they still did these bad things. Some people just need to blame their mistakes on someone else and call it a plan.
I wrote almost the exact same statement earlier. They seem to see religion as their get out of jail free card (e.g., "what I did was terrible, but I know the Lord will forgive me.")
I hear ya TJ, your totally correct. "its not my fault, its gods 'plan". We if thats his plan, thanks but ill pass. Take responsibility for your own actions religious people.
Hello, I am an agnostic Republican.
Contrary to popular belief, I do exist.
But in truth if you removed all the religion from the repubs, they might be taken more seriously
i'm an atheist and don't affiliate with any party, but primarily vote republican.
i am generally disgusted by the republican pandering to the religious right, but i realize that it is only pragmatism.
As my wife always says, "any women who's a republican should be forced to wear a burqa."
@TJ That's because all Republicans were burkas...right? The stupidity is thick.
Atheist dispute the existence of God and they validate their belief in the category of evidence called "non -experience". No proof (experience) – no God. Why? Most have not turned their attention within to answer the question, who am I? Oh yes...many atheist formerly went to church, read the bible and such – just like Christians do, yet neither the Atheist or the Christians have a prayer of knowing whether there is a God or No God or what side they are on until they get to know themselves. How ludicrous it is to take a stance because of an experience you haven't had and as a "self" you don't understand. Like many Christians who feel they are "saved" through vicarious atonement – atheist find it easier to say, I don't believe in God because I've never experienced it. In most cases, its because they never really tried. I'm not talking about reading the bible and going to church. I'm talking about taking the time every day to meditate, observe ones mind and fully answer the questions, who am I? What experiences "I". This knowledge is crucial to making a claim...I am Christian...Atheist...etc. My point, is that you can't really call your "self" an Atheist or a Christian, or a anything...until you have gone within to understand what that "self" is. If one truly and fully answers this question, "who am I?", one realizes there is no need to claim any name or any position or any side. Keep playing the drama of mind out...I'm an atheist...I'm a christian....it in no way ever changes what is real about our nature. Love to all.
I love these posts because all you have to do is replace 'God' with 'magical bean faeries' or 'pink and purple striped unicorns' or 'elves from Rivendell' to see how stupid this argument is.
If you practice what you preached, you would know the other side of compassion is acceptance bypassing the need to "understand why."
If someone said to me they are a atheist. I would have said "oh, ok...." and moved on.
"How ludicrous it is to take a stance because of an experience you haven't had and as a "self" you don't understand."
Because you have met god and have expierenced it huh? Sorry, but your just full of crap. If I say ive never jumped into a meat grinder or jumped off a bridge doesnt mean we should just because weve never had the expierence or understand it. I understand that these two things will kill me but then again, religion has been killing more people that jumping off a bridge, or in a meat grinder or any other type of suicide combined. But hey.. you have religion? better you than me... This is the problem with "heaven" – it would be filled with people like this.
What a load of shit. Atheists lack a belief in a deity simply because of lack of evidence the same as lacking a belief in leprachuans. You can flower it all up as you are attempting but stop with the BS. Also...the opposite of an atheist is a theist, not Christian. You're so deluded you can't even grasp that your cult isn't the only one in town.
"How ludicrous it is to take a stance because of an experience you haven't had and as a "self" you don't understand. "
Yeah.. i mean how ludicrous is it to say taht you don't believe in bigfoot just becuase you haven't seen him... i mean really. Doubting something just becuase there is not one shred of evidence for it's existance is just dumb. You should spend your ENTIRE life out in the woods searching for bigfoot until you see him....
No thanks, not going to spend my life looking for a god that has zero evidence, hoping i have that "experience" until I want it so bad that i dream something about god and call it "evidence".
This is typical. many assume I am making a claim one way or the other. In fact, I am pointing out that making any claim is ludicrous without making the effort to know ones self first. But go ahead and say what you like.
Wow...so many people want to put in me in a "nut" category. Interesting, considering my point was not a claim validating either side – but rather, that in order to know whether God exist or not, one must first know themselves. So...if anyone here can explain to me what experiences "I", then I'll listen to what you have to say about God or No God. Until then, all that can be assumed is that you really don't know yet.
No sense in arguing with a fool who says there is no God. We have seen the price to pay from such foolishness in Genesis 19. You so-called "smart" atheists should look closer at the scientific evidence that still exists today of Sodom and Gomorrah. The fact is "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.(John Chapter 4)". "And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38). The door to salvation is still open for a time please take advantage of it while you still have a chance. Whether you choose to believe or not is not important because at the end of the day there is Heaven and there is a Hell...choose wisely.
LOL anything you quote from that book was written and edited by many men over many years and holds no weight. Quoting scripture is hardly scientific evidence.
Using the bible to prove the bible is circular referencing. Good try though.
Stjohn – you're not going to convince anyone by quoting scripture to people that don't hold it sacred. Show us the evidence!
You're quoting the whole idea from a book of fairy tales.
Sodom and Gomorrah are your "proof"? Please. What does it mean when a bus full of Christian tourists goes over a cliff or a church burns down trapping believers inside? The proof is there is no proof – its all made up by men in a meeting of the minds about 400 years after Jesus' death. If you read the history of how the Bible came to be, who put it together, what they put in and what they left out, and why, you will know the TRUTH behind at least this religion, Christianity and it ain't pretty.
oh shut up... I dont make fun of you for believing in hokus pokus
ok you have a fairy tale book and the word of those who won the wars and made the rules. What do we have? Carbon dating system, Hubble telescope, fossils, remnants of animals and life existing loooong before this "god", scientific proof of evolution, and the list goes on and on. The point is, there's a mountain of proof that these sceinrific facts exist. There's a book saying it doesn't. But what do I know? The earth is what? 6000 years old and dinosaurs were dragons weren't they? Stop touching little kids and look at facts!
The most reasonable explanation for the destruction of those cities was an earthquake. That region has always been geologically active. And in a time when humans understood nothing of plate tectonics, what force could be so powerful as to shake the very ground? God was the only answer they had. Thier perceptions must be analyzed in the face of their ignorance.
...says the guy calling the bible scientific. Sorry "Saint john" (and we know your no where near a saint) but to say the bible has a scrap of scientific proof is like saying saying green eggs and ham is a literary masterpiece.
Many who are unaffiliated are actually Libertarian. But, you won't ever see the media reporting on THAT political party...because in their eyes (and pocketbooks) there are only two.
Ellen, I think you hit the nail on the head. As these younger atheists mature and become conservative, they may be turned off by the Republican Party to the extent that the religious right remains a strong faction in the party. It makes sense that people who embrace logic and reason would be attracted to the Libertarian philosophy. I would too, if the Libertarian 'Party' could be assured of reaching critical mass and becoming a viable political force. But splitting the conservative vote is not in anyone's best interest. If, however, a true middle ground were established that could siphon support equally from both ends of the spectrum it could wield significant power while growing in size to eventually equal or surpass both existing parties. The platform would therefore have to be fiscally conservative and small government oriented, but would also have to be decidedly pro-choice. With that platform, the party could become viable.
Flat-Earthers, Witch Burners, Christians – All Proven Wrong, not overnight, but through the long process it takes to get the public to be honest with itself and stop living a lie just because those before you did.
I understand that some people need their "faith" in life and there are definitely benefits with it. However, I agree that religion has been so ill used over the millenniums and so much horror and also stagnation of critical thought, learning, & human development has resulted from it.
Religions, god(s), beliefs, traditions etc. are ALL INVENTED by our very ignorant and just smart enough to be dangerous human species. We need to evolve past our own insecurities, greed, anger, etc. if we want to have any hope for a future of humanity and our planet. Catering and kowtowing to those who would threaten violence as a result of questioning their beliefs is not the future that we should embrace....
Atheism: freedom from responsibilitdy, freedom from self-control, freedom from social obligations, freedom from everything that makes civilization work.
"Atheism: freedom from responsibilitdy, freedom from self-control, freedom from social obligations, freedom from everything that makes civilization work."
Wow, you are sooo right. You know so much about atheism....i think you must be god, d-bag
Freedom to think freely. Freedom from brainwashing. Freedom from blatant hypocrisy. Freedom from outright cruelty. Freedom to be a decent human being and not hide behind a book with hate and prejudice.
Religion? Gives us holocausts, suicide bombers, and boy buggering priests.
Get your mind out of the gutter and the dark ages
No that is a very ignorant statement to make. Atheism is about using critical thought and deduction of our existence and not blindly following a religion that someone like yourself invented. Hardly freedom from what you describe. In fact all atheists that I know have many responsibilities . I'm sorry if you feel the need to line the pockets of an organization that tells you what to believe and can't handle the thought that we are too dumb too understand our existence and the order of the universe/multiverse.
I have quite a few atheist friends, and while I believe in God, I would never, ever accuse them of being irresponsible and uncaring. All of them, every last one, has compassionate and caring beliefs toward their fellow man. And they don't pass judgment, as you do. You are not living what the Bible says; my atheist friends are much closer to that ideal. Peace.
Then why is it that the crime rate in Ja/pan, an overwhelmingly atheistic society, it lower than that of the United States by several orders of magnitude?
On the contrary, it is the ultimate in responsibility. Religion and belief in God is a persons way of relinquishing responsibility to some deity. "The Devil made me do it", "I'm but a child of God", "God made nobody perfect". These are all cop-outs, a passing of responsibility to a deity in order to cleanse oneself of responsibility.
I love all the people quoting scripture here as if it's going to have an impact on those who don't believe. When are they going to realize that if a book has absolutely no standing with a person, it's going to have absolutely no impact, no matter how many times it's quoted? It's like cigarettes. If you don't start smoking before 18, you most likely never will.
I have no doubt that part of the trend is due to the blatant hypocrisy shown by so many of the fundamentalist right wing, who profess their Christianity so loudly yet behave in a manner that is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ.
Christ is a fabrication, no more real than Barney the Purple Dinosaur
If you believe the Young Earth Creationists, kids played with Dinosaurs 6,000 years ago.
If snakes, donkeys and flaming foliage can talk, why not a dino?
'freethinkers'/atheists/humanist propose that we exist as a result of dumb probability and chance and that there is no consciousness or intent responsible for our very existence and sustenance.
and this is the fastest growing belief? they must have great PR.
"'freethinkers'/atheists/humanist propose that we exist as a result of dumb probability"
Emphasis on DUMB!
and theists think they know the mind of this creator. arrogance personified
Sam, we can only know of the Creator that which the Creator reveals to us. however without revelation our intellect should direct us to the conclusion that we were certainly not an accident of events.
Believing in dumb probability/chance as the source of our existence defies all sensibilities.
Everyone owes it to themselves for their own good to contemplate their existence and make every possible effort to seek out and know the truth.
An accident?Call it A fluctuation.
I love all the people quoting scripture here as if it's going to have an impact on those who don't believe. When are they going to realize that if a book has absolutely no standing with a person, it's going to have absolutely no impact, no matter how times you quote it.?
Yeah, as a PR move this has always struck me as a problem for Christians. Trying to persuade people without an understanding of, or attempt to appeal to, their fundamental premises makes you're group look not too bright, and therefore not a very desirable community.
TJ – they hide behind that book and can never see around it or past it.
How about rechristening this blog as the Unbelief blog. That's what it is anyway, a bunch of atheists attempting to liberalize or destroy Christianity. Wow, this country is in big trouble!
You probably don't even understand the religion you follow.
If your "religion" does not stand up to scrutiny ... maybe you're a Moron?
feeling a bit put upon, Luv U?
christianity needs no help in destroying itself
it's absurdity will be it's demise in a world if instant communication
Kip, I'll put my knowledge up against yours any day.You want to start with history, languages or theology?
Sam, atheists like you have been claiming God and religion are dead for thousand of years. Ain't happened yet, and it ain't gonna. Better learn to live with us rather than against us.
Ok, answer me this Luv U:
If you're looking at a globe, where about do you believe Cain and Abel are buried?
Better contact the Pope and start a new inquisition. Nothing like burning thousands and thousands of people at the stake to restore everyone's faith and belief in God.
Your cult has a hell of a lot to be held accountable for
luv u: and atheism has been around far longer than christianity. what is your point?
It's called freedom of speech and opinion. Something religion has tried to suppress for millenniums.
"Sam, atheists like you have been claiming God and religion are dead for thousand of years. Ain't happened yet, and it ain't gonna. "
And people like you have been claiming that Jesus will come back for thousands of years. Ain't happened yet, and it aint gonna.
When you're finished Googling, please don't forget to post your answer, Luv U.
Kip, here's a Greek word for you to define, and it describes your question: moros.
Kip, it's too bad you have no way to prove your knowledge, cause I think you know nothing.
You just proved my point. You're not even remotely familiar with your own religion.
Kip, you haven't shown you know anything at all. You merely asked a Moros question. Good luck with that arrogance of yours though. Someone will find out you're faking it before long.
"Imagine no religion". That my friends would be heaven!
Let it die, its not needed. Maybe for those weaker than others but not for those who take responsibility for their own actions and own up to their mistakes.
If I believe in GOD and not in religion why that would make me an unbeliever?
It doesn't, the article is just stating that you have no religious affiliation but that is not always a bad thing. As long as you still have faith in the Lord and know he is real and in your life just make it a good one.
It doesn't, the article is just confusing their point by using a picture from a nonbeliever event in the header. There are non-affiliated believers in the unseeable (religious folk), people who think it absolutely impossible that we can't know everything from observation (atheists), and those who believe it's impossible to know (agnostics, or if they insist on confusing everyone not in the club, "negative atheists").
Yes, but then why most religious affiliated groups equates having a religion with believing in God? If you have no religion then, you must be an Atheist .
I have an uncle who claims I must be baptized (AGAIN!) as an adult or I will not be saved. That was the last straw for me. Regardless of whether I believe in God or not, I will never bow down to organized religion.
Hopefully within the next 2 generations, religion will be ousted from America in full. Reality is finally setting in and it's long past due.
The end of religion has been predicted since the beginning of time. It ain't gonna happen in spite of some leftist atheist's rhetoric. Religion is permanent because atheism has a problem with morality, just ask the founding fathers.
"The end of religion has been predicted since the beginning of time. It ain't gonna happen in spite of some leftist atheist's rhetoric. Religion is permanent because atheism has a problem with morality, just ask the founding fathers."
Religion hasnt even been around "since the beginning of time"....unless you adhere to a 6,000 year old earth, then I guess.
"Religion is permanent because atheism has a problem with morality, just ask the founding fathers.""
The founding fathers were deist, not christian.....LEARN SOME HISTORY
Hey, rel, perhaps you need some reading comprehension. Where did I say they were Christian? Hint: I didn't. I know some, not all, we're Deist. In case you didn't know, that still means they were religious and believed in God. Read George Washington's farewell address and educate yourself. George would not have liked today's liberals and their attempts to destroy religion.
@Luv U: "ask the founding fathers" is hilarious because a number of them were Deists, not Christians. Look it up.
you imply that they were christian. Many people like you equate "morality" with "christianity".
Deism: "is a philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, WITHOUT THE NEED FOR ORGANIZED RELIGION, can determine that the universe is the product of a creator deity."
One can believe that a creator is possible without being religious. That is was deism is. They believed in A GOD, not God of the bible. Big difference. I believe there could be a god, or no god, or many gods. But I dont believe in the christian god. I am not religious. See the difference?
George Washington may have believed in Christianity. So what?
I leave you with this:
President John Adams and the U.S. Senate on behalf of the U.S.
"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion"
–from Article 11 of the U.S. treaty ratified with Tripoli in 1797
You atheists are absolute morons! LOL! Where did I say Christian?! They were God believes and despised non-theists. Would you prefer I show you George Washington's thoughts about you?
"You atheists are absolute morons! LOL! Where did I say Christian?! They were God believes and despised non-theists. Would you prefer I show you George Washington's thoughts about you?"
I refuse to copy and paste my post, but I can tell you fail at reading and comprehending what was written. Again, you IMPLY christian simply by saying the word "morality". You call me "atheist" yet cant read my post proving I am not atheist. I know George Washingtons thoughts as written in his farewell address, and I answered with "so what?". Who cares what he thought about religion. That is not what this country was built on.
Your post wasn't there when I was posting, duh, but what you stated is still moronic. How does my use of morality at all imply Christianity? It does, however imply religion. I guess I'm gonna have to post some George.
George had a lot more to say, but here ya go:
...reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
Why do you think so many of them were Deist and Masonic? George is calling you and atheistic Democrats out, Dude.
" George is calling you and atheistic Democrats out, Dude."
Again, hate to burst your bubble, but I am not atheist.