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.
America better watch out. The more people turn from God, the more his wrath is kindled against them. You will see wars, natural disasters, famine, disease, and pestilence like you could never imagine. Hurricane Katrina was only a small taste.
So god murders those who refuse to believe instead of giving them a full life to find possible redemption?
Sounds so loving and worthy of worship...
Then why is there drought in the midwest?
All of that already exists, always has.
What is GOD to you and what does this word mean?
Shut up fool. You know nothing about god. All you are doing is talking about what you believe. You might as well say, "Watch out, if you turn away from the Easter Bunny you will feel his wrath!" Shut the hell up and keep your belief driven babble to yourself. Religion is one of primary causes of death in history and most organized religion is full of two types of people, zealots and suckers.
Might want to reread the article. It did not say specifically, "turn from God", it said spiritual, not religious. Turning away from false prophets, hypocrites and money grubbers does not always mean turning away from God!
And I suppose you believe that the dinosaurs earned your god's wrath and that's why the big asteroid hit the planet.
Listen, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanoes existed for billions of years before the human race came along and invented the idea of gods and religion. That's just a fact you need to embrace and think deeply about.
Turning from religion is not turning from God. James 1:27
You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout, I'm telling you why. Jeebus is DEAD. (So is his 'father').
War has gone down in recent times as atheist and agnostic beliefs have gone up. So?
always the fearmongering from the religious. their god is incredibly insecure.
It's always darkest before dawn. I believe atheists will need to fear for their lives before Christianity breathes its last in this country.
Fear for their lives? Are you claiming Christians will be violent?
Sounds so loving and compassionate...
So it's your hope that those who don't believe in the correct religion, as defined by you, will be hunted down and killed at some point.
And you wonder why fewer and fewer people want anything to do with your hocus pocus.
That's exactly what I'm saying. Christianity has a history steeped in violence. I think that ultimately they will try to force their "End of Days".
Hello? I'm an atheist!
SHUT UP FOOL. Keep your belief's to yourself. If you have something factual to say then fine, otherwise no one cares what you personally believe. So shut up.
So you think this is a good sign? The America that rapidly industrialized, grew into a world power, and won WWI and II was a very religious/spiritual country. Despite what atheists and social liberals claim, the historical record shows that religion and progress/modernity are quite compatible. And now that religion is drying up, Western civilization is crumbling and we may be in for an extended economic depression and social disintegration. Atheism is the death knell of a culture.
And what *exactly* did being religious have to do with winning WWI and WWII (was nuking two cities–the only nation ever to do so–a sign of our benevolent Christian values?) and what *exactly* does the slight increase in the lack of religion have to do with economic issues, many of which are directly tracable to the unregulated behavior in the housing market?
Please, be specific.
You might want to reread your history then.
This country didn't really adopt a much more religious stance until the red scare AFTER WWII. That's when god was put on the money and in the pledge, because for some reason people thought that if you were a communist you couldn't say god. It was a ploy by the government against communism by using the sheep.
If we delve a little deeper though, To tie "atheism" as the reason for all the bad things to happen in the world means you have to be a denizen of bullsh.it mountain. You ignore the problem and look for the quick solution. You think the problems we face are easy to fit into a soundbite and even easier to fix as long as we have jesus on our side. It's idiots like you who are the real death knell to any country, choosing to remain idle and wait for some mythical lord to save you instead of saving yourself.
It is evident that many people on here have been hurt by Christians in the past. Unfortunately, many people do not represent the faith in a very welcoming fashion. I feel terrible reading some of the posts, as you can obviously see the hurt that has been caused to fuel the anger. The way these types of discussions, by discussions I mean hate speech, shows how great the division has gotten in our country. Sad.
Truth has to be sorted out from hinduism, lies, is it not a right thing to do?
If Jesus were real he would be able to prevent false Christians from abusing others in his name. If you look around for lighting to hit when you say "There is no God!" but think your God is so weak as to sit by while someone claims to be his servant and then r a p e s some alter boys or steals from their parishioners or forms a mob to go beat up or kill some gays or anyone you disagree with? Is he really that impotent?
@ The Truth. You can not understand what your not willing to. There are a lot of bad things in the world that neither you nor I can explain. Never have I heard a scientist tell me that "matter can never be created or destroyed, except when the universe was created." Some things will never be explained.
Yes, there is a division but not it is not as great as you think. The fact is, every belief driven person in the world today still wants to be judge based on the facts VS what someone thinks or believes. The FACTS show, clearly that most religious people are all in favor of belief driven justice until it is the ass in the Chair. At this point they scream for true justice, which one gets from a court of law, which does not allow things like belief and opinion. It is similar to how all the good Christians in the US are all in favor of the wars but none of them sign up to fight or vote for a war tax.
The laws in this country originated in the Christian faith. Ironic.
jarhead wrote "The laws in this country originated in the Christian faith"
that is an old fallacy long ago debunked.
Hooray. How much delusion and religious animosity between whack job gangs can one person stomach?
People can't stand the thought of simply being a good and decent person in this life without needing the carrot on a stick?
Exactly. Who's the better person? One who does the right thing, because it's the right thing? Or, one who does the right thing with the hope of a reward?
You are so going to hell...see you there.
Imagine no religion .. it isn't hard to do!
Breaking a lifetime of indoctrination .. now that's difficult, but worth it!!
You mean we'll have to rely on thought, reason, and reality to make decisions. Sounds scary....
Not south of the Mason Dixon.
They just have theie Bronze Age book and their AK-47's to learn from
Isn't this what our Govt. has wanted?
No.It is a change.
Jeebus vs. the evil gubmint?
Rush Limbaugh your daddy?
and we all know how scary change is....muahahahahah
Not Mitt Romney, he'll force his religion right down your throat with every decison he makes, and expect you to like it.
no this is what our founding fathers were
This was inevitable, and those numbers will only grow. It’s difficult to perpetuate the cycle of obedience and indoctrination when people have access to the global spectrum of ideas and information at younger and younger ages. The mind questions, and thirsts for information, and today those needs are more easily met than ever before.
So it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that if you lift the constraints from what knowledge people are exposed to or even allowed to learn, more and more will embrace reason rather than the unreasonable.
Reason is nothing but hinduism, absurdity of hindu's, ignorant's, A hindu, hungry dog has a reason to bite you, right? Justified.
Ya can't keep the boy on the farm.
It's called PROGRESS
What are you suggested then? That we stop indoctrinating our school children with secular/liberal ideologies?
No.It is the other way around.Christianity has indoctrinated them.Let them choose.
What I'm saying is that we're obviously on the right track if fewer and fewer people are buying into bronze age mythology. Given another couple or few generations, we might even run out of people like you, who equate education with "liberal ideology".
That is exactly what I said, MDAT. Maybe read it again?
I think what the issue really is about is control. Those who are part of a "religious" group want us all to be part of the group because then they can exert control. If you don't belong to the group, or a group, then there is no one to tell you that you are doing it "wrong" or that what you think or believe is "wrong". Heaven forbid (pun intended) you have strong faith, moral principles but don't go to their church and put money in their coffers! You might be believing in the "wrong" thing or doing it the "wrong" way and then they wouldn't have the power of being able to tell you so. It is so hypocritical to me! I have very strong faith, that comes from dying and being brought back. But that same faith just strengthened the belief in me that "church" is NOT the place to go to worship my creator or to find or strengthen ones faith! Walk the walk "believers" and give up trying to talk the talk!!!!! Especially to those you deem weaker than you whom you wish to control and lead!
One can only hope the religinut numbers continue to shrink as people realize man created god
Hope? Isn't that in itself religion?
All you religion bashers are just proof of God's existence, since the Bible said that believers would be persecuted in the last days.
End of days everyone. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The Bible also says you should keep slaves.
I bet you agree with that as well?
What about killing your Kids?
I could go on, but I suspect you haven't even ever read the rag?
That is true, that's what the men who wrote the bible suggested.
Who is persecuting you?
You guys have been claiming 'persecution' since day one of your cult's formation. It is in fact much, much less prevalent today. Get over it.
You 'persecute' reality.
@Sandra: 1 Timothy 2:12: [I] do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be silent.
I didn't realize that not having a religion automatically made you a persecutor of Christians...
That's funny because I invented a religion that said some people won't believe in it and if they don't believe in it, that is undeniable truth that it is actually true.
Funny how that works!
Also, to be clear, by "persecuted" do you mean holding 96% of all national level elected offices and governorships? Is that the kind of persecution you are facing?
How woeful your existence must be not to be allowed to hold 4% of such posts. Are you sure you can go on living?
Wait, woman. You came from my rib, so you just back inthe kitchen and make dinner. After that get back in bed, we have some things to do.
there's a reason they call it the "Bible"... because if you believe it, you're "buying" a bunch of "bull".
Sums it up perfectly.
Doug, you made my day. I never thought of it that way Bible = Buy Bull. Too funny indeed.
I'd rather have no religion than be muslim.
That's how atheists feel about all religions.
Muslim or anything else......
Reason is forever. Choose wisely.
ZerkyWerky, I'd rather have no religion than any religion.
So don't. Who asked you to be a muslim? Anyone knocking down your door to adopt sharia law? Self delusion perhaps?
"Pew found that those who are religiously unaffiliated are strikingly less religious than the public at large." Seems like a redundant statement to me.
Oh, not at all.
In my travels, I'm amazed to have found so many people who claim to be religious but are not.
54+ pages of comments, mostly from people who don't care about Religion....Mmmm...Very Interesting.
But many of us have VERY STRONG feelings about the tyrany of Religion.
So sad that people feel the way they do. This country was built and grown by people who believed and trusted in God. As these new generations take over you can understand why the country is crumbling as it falls from the grace of God.
So Sorry, but you are wrong. Bible class has your facts messed up again.
What an absurd comment.
Translation of word GOD please. What do you mean by word GOD.
Sandy R...Many of us are not young. We are just feeling more comfortable saying what we really believe. People have been so judgmental. I always find it interesting that the people who claim to be the most religious are also the most judgmental about others. I don't care if you believe. It is your choice.
Is this the same god that told your forefathers to burn witches at the stake?
Religion is just a big tale to try and control the masses. The bible is the greatest fairy tale ever told. Not to mention the bible you read now is missing a whole lot. Hard to believe in something when they only want you to see bits and pieces and not the truth
Christianists are driving people to question Christian organizations because it seems those organizations are trying to use God, or more correctly, the fear of the wrath of God, to force ideology into the Political discourse. It should be no surprise that people are now de-coupling defacto Super-Pacs like the Catholic, Baptist, and Mormon churches with the love of God presented in the new testament. If Jesus were alive today, do you really think he'd be a Republican watching Fox News? The dichotomy of that vision is stunning.
Just so you know... This country was founded by Christians who believed in everyone's rights to choose what religion they want... and that includes no religion. They build this country to escape Religious persecution... Yet it seems more and more religious people feel the need to persecute other people for choosing something that is not seen as "right" (and I use that term loosely) in your Bible.
I am an 27 year old atheist woman... and I am very proud to say so. I believe in science; and I believe in doing the right thing because it is RIGHT, not because I feel like I have to or because someone who wrote a book in the dark ages thinks it was right. Religion in antiquated, and is what is wrong with the world. The world will be a better place when religion is a thing of the past.
Yeah, if only ancient Romans hadn't abandoned Jupiter and Juno, etc., who were, of course, the reason for their successes and achievements, they'd still be here today?!
Dumbest thing I've ever heard.
To be fair, those who believed in god only built this country after committing widespread genocide of the land's native inhabitants. Yes, a golden bygone age of Christian moral values...
Oh, and while holding slaves. Can't forget the slaves when talking about how Christianity built this great nation. I apologize for the oversight...
The idea of a beneficent, loving god who created parasites, cancer cells, lethal bacteris, fungi, and viruses, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanos is clearly absurd. If there is an all-knowing, all powerful god, he/she/it is evil, malevolent, and certainly not worthy of worship.
As Christianity is growing at a faster pace around the world than at anytime in history, it's ironic that in America people are fading away from the church. Of course, our societal values and behavior reflect this change. Narcissim, addictions, materialism, emptiness, broken families, and depression abound. Lots to celebrate, I guess.
The wetbacks just lie so you give them free nachos.
Pray or starve, so they pretend to pray.
Feel free to leave, I hear life is great in Sierra Leone.
Jeez, William. Racist much?
malibu123:"Lots to celebrate, I guess." Including a rampant increase in hate-filled speech by so-called Christian leaders, politicians, media. Good times, indeed!
Islam is the fastest growing religion in America. Go figure and celebrate more. Why are more christians turning to Islam? Christianity's fault or Islam's? Religions finds easy inroads among the needy, poor, and helpless. That's where christianity and islam are growing. The more educated a community the less hold of religion, regardless of nation or region of the world. I know I grew up in Pakistan as a muslim.
Narcissim, addictions, materialism, emptiness, broken families, and depression are a result of religion
My children would disagree quite strongly considering their race!
Do you refer to your children with such racial slurs?
So pray tell, a confused non-christian. You are talking about the son of god, who was born as a human jew, and somehow got entangled in with the holy spirit (what is that?), laid down his life at the hands of the evil (human) jews and romans so humanity can be cleansed of their sins (past, present and future?), and yet this world is still messed up. And you don't believe in the Greek mythology as true religion? Sounds like both are very similar.
You want to hear more mythology? Jesus walked on water and Muhammed split the moon in half and then rejoined it. It's true! I am appalled at myself why I did not question this kind of brainwashing when I was a practicing religious person.
I remember sitting in Greek Mythology class my junior year of high school and thinking that I couldnt believe that people actually BELIEVED those stories... then, as I was sitting in Religious Studies a couple of years later in college, I realized that people still do and its laughable.
In light of the story immediately above it at the moment – about the girl shot by the Taliban – I would have to say a movement away from religion would be a good thing. I guess what I don't get is all the hate. You have religion or you don't. Whatever. Live and let live.
The problem, Liz, is that religion requires an absolute. And theists often need as much external validation as they can get. So they do their best to force their religion on others, assumign that as long as they have a herd around them that makes them "right". They forget that as soon as you enforce religion, you can never again trust who really believes and then comes the police state.
When your religion tells you you cannot live and let live then you can't live and let live. Which is one of many reasons we don't need religions anymore.
@ clubshadenfreude – well said. Religion has historically been used for power and control. Agreed we don't need religions. It is a shame, though, since there are many people (and no, not me, but many) who seem to take comfort, strength, and other positive feelings from their sense of faith without shoving it on others.