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.
If the skies should ever open up, the seas shrink, and a booming voice issue forth from beyond the clouds exhorting me to consider my sins, repent to save my soul, and prepare to meet my maker, I will stand there and wonder... exactly which dumb SOB doped my diet soda, and resolve to kick his sorry asz.
Repent not to have hindu soul, filthy desire or you your spirit truth, existence will have problem.
@hINDUISM RACISM OF hINDU'S, CRIMINALS BY FAITH EXPOSED: Your google translator is a bit wonky today.
i had a spiritual experience after injesting a handful of magic mushrooms.
Forever people have been told you have to believe in a god to be good, some did not like the choices given among the various sects and decided to make up one. Some of us today refuse to pick one of many many different sects and reject them all.
If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.
Points to the first person to get the reference.
Freewill, by RUSH.
Nicely done and fast too!
Apparently I saw it right after you posted it....
Our cult is better than your cult – just ask us!
So long religion. Can't say it's been a productive arrangement.
Seriously. We would be putting a colony on the moon and working on deep space FTL travel if it weren't for religion's constant drag on our intelligence. We are ranked 17th in Science and 25th in Math. That's sad. 'Murica: #1 importer of intelligence... cause we can't seem to grow any here...
FTL travel – feh. I'll bet some book told you that it's true and you've had people teaching you it's true. 🙂
When you see right wing pundits and politicos use god as a pummel on the skulls of the left, thats abusing religion. I think that's turned off a lot of people lately.
I just don't see the point in going to church. I have never read one page of the bible. I did let the Johova's Wittness people in the house once because it was 100 degrees outside. So I fixed them some Iced Tea. That's about the extent of my religious experience. I believe that if you treat other people nice and generally act like you have some sense you are a good person. If you lie, cheat, steal, kill or hurt people then you are a bad person not worth my time. I don't know that there isn't a god and I don't know that there is. No one does. I just find it silly and also a scam for "religious" to make money from the masses. Put your dollar(by that I mean 10% to 20% of your household income) in the collection plate and all your sins will be forgiven doesn't sit right with me.
You can't prove it either way. So I'll sit on the fence smug in my logic and then at the moment of my death (if I get the chance) I'll slide off and yell: "Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" What have you got to lose? If He exists, I think He already knows this... and I'll probably get a good ass-kicking. But it's better than the alternative.
Pretty sure an omnipotent god can tell feigned faith from real faith
What if the Vikings were right? Are you going to try and die gloriously in battle so you can get to Valhalla?
@Doc Vestibule: That made me smile
If he existed.
The proof burden is on the believer. You sound like standard sniveling believer...I'm SOOO SCARED in case he's real. So I spend my entire life on my knees. Standard yellow livered theocratic coward. Free thinkers prefer to live our lives bravely in reality. U R welcome to join us.
Dan- Like I said, what have you got to lose?
Doc- You can't argue with a winning team...
Reason- I am happy for you.
Lamb- Good point, now , go do your homework.
Sally- So you're telling me to go bravely to hell, when I have a 50/50 chance of doing something about?
This is tremendously heartening news. It has been incredibly disturbing to watch the steady infiltration of religion into our political discourse in recent years. Religion also seems to be the major driving force behind the mjor contradictions in the republican party, namely give us less government but let us tell you who to love, who to marry, and what your reproductive rights will be. Now if we can just get people to realize that is not only possible, it is preferable to have a moral compass driven by basic human compassion, logic, and reason rather than misplaced belief in myth.
I agree. Great news. Would be better news if it were 20% of the Islamic world are now free thinkers.
Omg you liberal idiots need understand being against forms of birth control being PAID FOR BY TAX DOLLARS is NOT THE SAME as being against it.
eat it, christians! hahaha!
Two more generations,then we will be having museums of different religions where kids will be taken to show how stupid previous generations were, in general.
We essentially already do this when we teach kids about ancient Egypt of the Mayans. I just wonder how long before Jesus joins the legion of dead gods
Technically, isn't Jesus already a dead god?
The man is dead but the god is still alive
It's a bit deceptive to post as a nonpracticing Muzlim when seeking paltry legitimacy for one's views while otherwise enjoying some good new fashion religion bashing.
Amniculi----One dependent on truth absolute can never be truth absolute, a subordinate by nature can never be the master, your claim in nothing more than hinduism, denial of truth absolute and you are nothing more than a hindu, denier of truth absolute GOD, and a lair.
OOh! What kind of lair? Is it a wolf lair? An evil villain or mad scientist's lair? A dragon lair would be cool...
Can you go take an english course or two and then come back? Reading your posts is like trying to read drunk, upside down, and in a swerving car. Will you do it if I say I hate hindus?
A hindu, denier of his own existence.
Although I consider myself an atheist, I remain hopeful that I will be proven wrong some day. I also have tremendous respect for religions around the world, and I have seen how – in spite of its many problems – religion has been of such tremendous social value. Religions have saved far more lives than its taken. It has given billions hope where there was none. It has inspired millions of people to help others in need; to make peace with one another; and has prevented far more wars than has ignited. It is not possible for something to be so terribly "evil", as some say of religion, and yet do so much good in the world. It is not one or the other; all evil or all good. Religion is simply a reflection of mankind's moral duality.
Anyway, to recap: I am an atheist, and although I do not myself believe in a god, I am in favor of religion and all the good it does for mankind.
Cite sources of how many people religion has saved compared to helped.
I will cite a variety of crusades, pogroms against religious minorities, the Holocaust, abortion clinic bombers, Shia for Sunni Muslim violence, the Tamil Tigers, September 11th, etc and so forth.
it's been the biggest agent of social pain in the world. even today, who fights against g.ays to have the right to marry? the religious. in fact, the bible says to kill g.ays. wouldn't exactly call that an agent of good...
Well said. The vast majority of religious people are not evil. Unfortunately, those who are, in particular the TV evangalists who scam money from the elderly, and those who try to tell others how to live their lives (telling people who to marry etc.) make it difficult from the many "mother Teresa's" out there.
To the first two responders: I think you miss the point. Religion itself is not "evil" or "good"; it is mankind that acts out "evil" or "good". I don't think you realize how the absence of hope is far more dangerous than any religion. I do not need to cite someone else's research on this topic to evidence this point. It is fundamental sociology.
What's to respect about religion myth? Your comment hints that you respect the good deeds. I'm with you there. Millions of non-believers do the same, like your good self. Next time you do a good deed, mark one up for respect for atheism.
I really don't believe you have even come close to considering how much wrong religion does to society. Faith healers, teaching people they are evil and can only be salva.ged through admiting how bad they are to something that has never been shown to exist. The child abuse of making children believe there is a devil and they will go to he.ll for crimes of thought. I could go on and on..
Hope for what? An afterlife of torture for not thinking the correct way? I can hope I have a million dollars buried in my back yard but what good does that do me? I don't have any idea why you think false hope is so wonderful.
The issue is not religion, but the people who do horrible things in the name of religion.
The issue IS religion. We have been brainwashed into thinking religion and specifically the christian religion is a moral philosophy. It is not. Teaching we all deserve punishment for something someone did 6 thousand years ago is not moral. That is just one example of the RELIGION being an immoral proposition, one of many.
@Blessed are the Cheesemakers,
Regarding your remark about false hope... Who's to say the hope is false (i.e., a benevolent God, creator, etc. does not exist)? What matters is that one has hope in life. That's the point. When we die, if it turns out there is no God, no afterlife, no universal justice after all, then the point is moot and it doesn't matter anyway.
In my opinion, Religion should have been revised the day we invented the telescope.
Well, Hubble anyway. The first shots of all those galaxies should have made folks go, "Hmmm – I wonder which gods those folks worship? Oh wait..."
We have a ways to go yet. It took religion 400 years to admit they made a mistake with Galileo. Darwin's got about 250 years to go at that pace.
In the early days, religion gave people a foundation to build upon when there were so many unknowns in the world. Now that we have "outgrown" our training wheels that foundation will eventually lead to our downfall as a shaky foundation never lead to anything good. We as a people must start the transition from interpreting religious belifs as fact to fables and guidlines..
There may or may not be a God, I don't know nor does anyone else but whether you believe or not, you should not blindly bash regelion as a bad thing. Yes, like all organizations there is bad and good points and bad and good people but overall Religion has had net positive result on humanity. Most want to have people live the golden rule "do unto others..." or something close but without relegion this probably would not happen even as much as it does now. Religion has been the cause of many a war but w/o there would be more war. People would be nothing more then animals, survaival of the fittest. There would be no moral code which was based on the major religious faiths. say what you want but the overall benefit of religion has been positive over the course of mankind
Secular morality has existed for as long as man has been around.
"People would be nothing more then animals, survaival of the fittest." this is absolutely false.. do some research on what is sometimes called the moral molecule–oxytocin
So religion makes us less animalistic? Tell that to people who are rioting over a lame video on you tube. Religion is an opiate – nothing more. You don't need some book, mullah or pope to tell you to be a good human, be good to others and be at peace with the world.
((Religion has had net positive result on humanity))) U R kidding, right?
Go to YouTube and enter "Stoning" then watch a women buried in the ground to her necks then stoned to death in the name of God/Allah. Have a puke bucket ready.
God is real. Whether you believe in God or not does not change the truth of his existence. He sent His son Jesus Christ to earth to teach us how to live. Religion is not outdated. Society is moving further and further away from God. God does not change, but the morals and values of society are degrading.
Where is your proof? If God is real, there must be tangible proof, right?
Why doesn't god do something about it then?
Which god? Yaweh, Kolob, Ganesh? Please tell us which one you prefer...
Of course in your mind God is real. I don't doubt it. And if he makes a physical appearance sometime, give me a call – I'll prepare dinner.
oh can I play? Santa is real. Whether you believe in him or not, he's real. He sends presents to the houses of good christian children every year. What would you call an adult who believed such complete abject nonsense? Look in the mirror and say it.
proof of that statement please.
God doesn't give the world proof because he requires faith. I have faith that God lives. He doesn't force people to make correct choices. That is why there is so much evil in the world. Everyone will meet stand before God at the judgement seat to be judged justly.
If your god does not change, how can he desire things (such as wanting to create humans). Also, isn't desire something that imperfect beings have (such as humans)?
Your god is a contradiction, that's all.
What religion are you talking about? There's too many to keep track. Not to mention all the religions and Gods that disappeared along with the societies in which they were practiced.
Eric, how do you know he requires faith, and why would he not want to provide proof? Why is it that we need proof for just about anything else we come to understand as knowledge, but when it comes to your god, we don't have a problem making an exception?
If your god created everything, he also created evil. But that isn't enough. He created man KNOWING FULL WELL that he'd be a "sinner"; he knew he'd send a "son" (eventually) who was going to have himself killed so that he could show his father (god) that he was wrong and that he should forgive humans because he created them stupid (what a great god this is); and then, he can now tell everyone that all one has to do to end up in his divine prison camp is to ask for forgiveness. Even though he screwed you over, you can't blame him because he is the source of good and he's perfect etc.
Your god blows.
God requires faith so he leaves no evidence of his existence? .How convenient. Remind me to be far away from you when you form the circular firing squad please..
Thank You rational posters. But Eric is a lost cause.
Like Carl Sagan's Dragon, god is deliberately engineered to be beyond scientific scrutiny. It's called fiction.
I've said it before, I'll say it again: Be a good human, be good to others, be at peace with yourself and you don't need someone's made-up gods to tell you how to do it.
When God grabbed you, did he shake you, or touch you inappropriately... because that's against the law in most states. He could be arrested.
With the element of some religious groups being aggressively pretentious, exhibiting the "holier than thou" mentality and egotistically striving to judge others, it would seem to lend to the exiting of many from religious affiliation and then the allienating of many more who feel having faith shouldn't exclude having true compassion. I think many have found the Evangelistic activities of some as being more egotistic than rightiously compassionate and of course, who would ever deny that religiously aggressive groups like the Talliban, but not limited to only them, don't really over step their faith. Spiritual / faith without religion doesn't seem like a bad thing; hopefully politicians won't focus on it and bring it a bad reputation like they have with "conservative" Christian.
The sad reason that most folks don't embrace the church establishment is two fold. First, unfortunately the church establishment in many cases is corrupt. Secondly, we as humans put too much faith in man. Folks, Man made religion. Mankind is sinful and so we will always be let down when we put our faith in church leaders to be perfect. However, there is one that was perfect and his ministry changed the course of mankind and that is Jesus Christ, the son of man. If we all focused on the Word of God and stop being cynical and poo pooing everything we may just find ourselves more at peace and closer to our Lord. Christ never forced anyone to do or listen to anything, ever. "To those with ears let him hear" he would always say. God simply wants you to appreciate the fact that he sacrificed his son for us. Would you not want people to show their appreciation if you had to sacrifice your child to save the human race? Jesus was the embodiment of love, and the Bible a road map for our lives. It truly is a shame that we are so lazy that we don't even give God a chance because religious establishments aren't perfect. That's more of an indictment of us than it is the establishments. Further, it is an indictment of us being lazy in everything we do, including our lack of effort in learning about Jesus Christ, his ministry, reading the Word of God. Once you do that, THEN you can comment on it. You know why I don't comment on the semi-conductor industry? Because I don't know anything about it! If I wanted to comment on it, I would educate myself and give myself and the industry a fair shot at my own perception of it. God Bless.
"God bless." – Which god? Does this question help illustrate why religions are silly?
How can we worship god when we are so busy worshiping money and slighting one another for it. I remember hearing a radio program that talked about a group of missionaries bringing tribes men to their educated world. they went up in the big ferris wheel in england(not sure of the name). So they are up in the wheel and see a huge building the tallest i the skyline and ask what is that and the missionary said that is the bank building. The tribes man thought for a second and said something to the effect that the tallest building in their village was for worship.
really kind of sad. the other side of that coin is people only half trying to join religion and showing a bad face and even worse those who claim to be completely religious not walking the path.
I'm not religious myself, but you have some good points. The fact that man created religion is one reason why it is flawed. Maybe some people shun organized ceremonies because the organization and clerics are corrupt, as you stated. Thankfully in this country they have the freedom to worship on their own as they see fit. If I were religious, I would probably just worship God in the privacy of my home and shun the establishment.
What if you are wrong and Jesus Christ was made up by some dude just to force his beliefs on others and rob them of their money? How do you know it isn't the world's most elaborate hoax? Have you seen heaven or hell? Can you be sure it's not bull crap?
This is part of our natural evolution. We started our development allowing fear to dominant our intellect. Now as we have moved forward, we are realizing that our fate is not something to be decided by unseen forces but a little closer to home. We are responsible for our own lives. That means there is no devil to blame when things go poorly or god to thank when things go well. But you are not alone. You are surrounded by 7 billion of your brothers and sisters, who also face life too. The bible offers no answers, the koran offers no answers, the jewish bible offers no answers. It offers ideology. And rhetoric to allow the few to control the many in the name of the lord that doesn't exist. At least not in the way we have been taught to fear. It takes courage to break away from the pack, to face your fear of the unknown. If god disagrees, come down here and talk to us. His beloved creation that he has hidden himself from for 1000s of years. If the lie comforts you, then be comforted. But do not stand in the way of those who are growing and evolving because you choose not to. Fear is your only god. not jehova, not yahweh, not allah. FEAR.
A man should not believe in isms – he should believe in himself.