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.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Politics • Polls

soundoff (7,763 Responses)
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    March 24, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  5. http://reviewfrontier.com

    Using the same SF-1200 controller, it dominates
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    is craving for the new SF-2200. I don't remember ever reading another similarly-themed work, however, that contained as many references as this one does to so many authorities in such widely varying fields. That you can do more damage then good lifting items after a cesarean so if you need to move or lift something ask your partner or a friend to get it done for you personally.

    February 28, 2013 at 5:20 am |
  6. roman2819

    This book "Understanding prayer, Faith and God's will", is dedicated to all who believe (in Jesus), and to those who haven't .

    About the book:

    Do unanswered prayers cast inner doubts on your faith? Do you seek God’s will for your plans but are not able to discern His guidance? Do you face perpetual problems of job insecurity, financial burden and health issues?

    “Understanding Prayer, Faith and God's Will” present biblical truths not realized before – truths that we can see and apply in our human journey. It clarifies wrong notions we have about prayer and God's will, and strengthen faith with knowledge.


    There are 12 chapters in this book:

    1. Inner Doubts
    2. What does the Bible mean?
    3. Prayer: What did Jesus Intend to tell us?
    4. "Why doesn't God answer more prayers?"
    5. To Pray Again
    6. Does Sin impede prayer?
    7. Faith in God
    8. How does God call people? (if He has a designated plan for them)
    9. Understanding God's Will
    10 Being in God's will
    11 Journey of the Bible
    12 Reading the Scripture Fruitfully

    you-tube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPxQfh_I0dk

    http://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781620241431. Released Feb 2013, available at Barnes & Nobles, Amazon

    February 12, 2013 at 4:32 am |
  7. Bold Truth

    People who drift from Faith in God, which includes people who belong to Denominational organizations, will lose an important attribute that everyone needs if they decide to abandon the ideals and morals of a well balanced Church: Accountability. I've been a Pastor for almost 20 years, and Church or a place of worship is a unique environment where people who deal with everyday life come together for strength, encouragement, advice, and one of the most important human interactions needed for a healthy, productive lifestyle: Accountability. The problem today is, people are going to Church to find the benefits rather than being the benefit. This has created a "Taker" Society within a faith driven community, and the end result is leading people to forsake this model designed to survive by Givers. The common request when new people call our Church is: "What do you have to offer". This destructive trend is feeding an irresponsible and gluttonous Society that no longer will reap the power of Humility, which is the byproduct of Accountability. This is also the main reason that divorce and broken families find no healing from the onslaught of rebellion that comes from parents who live by this creed: "Give me, Give me, Give me!"

    January 23, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I think that if your god went through all the trouble to make himself invisible and undetectable we should do him the honor of treating him as if he doesn't exist. Besides, can anyone think of a more horrifyingly evil character than one that would allow a place of neverending torment to exist at all? Yuck!

      January 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • bible buster

      the truth hurts. your religion does not teach humility. science does. that we are tiny and insignificant in the universe.

      March 6, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Apparently, the Original poster thinks that Capitalizing certain Words means he's Right.

      March 6, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  8. Erik

    We Atheist are happier people, we don't bow to others who demand our attention to a ficticious GOD, who was devised to control peoples independent thought. We don't like control freaks, preaching of morals from those who are morally corrupt. And most of all we are growing in numbers by leaps and bounds. Common sense will one day prevail and religion will be a memory. Man-kind will grow and prosper through good sound judgement, experience and belief in one's self.

    January 21, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
  9. Kindness

    This is my experience... Thank you.

    MY personal testimony.
    A thought to consider without an ego response

    I Accepted Jesus christ as my lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Transcend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ (for me) resulted in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Also... much the world arranges "surrounding dark matter into something to be debated" in such a way that protects/inflates the ego.

    The key is be present and transcend our own desire to physically see evidence. We don't know anyways by defending our own perception of dark matter.

    Currently.... most of us are constructing our own path that suits our sin lifestyle. Were all sinners. Knowing that we are is often an issue. But both christians and non are sinners. Even once we are saved by christs merciful grace we will still experience adversity to mold us to adhering to the truth.
    We will slip... But not fall of the ship ...carrying us onward to perfection in christs grace.

    We don't like to Let go and let god. We want control to some degree. This is what Jesus asks us to do. "Follow me".
    It's the hardest thing to do... but is done by letting the truth of scripture lead you (redemptive revelation)... as I said .

    Try reading corinthians and see if it makes sense to you. Try it without a pre conceived notion of it being a fairy tale.
    See the truth...
    do we do what it says in todays society... is it relevant... so many have not recently read and only hinge their philosophy on what they have heard from some other person...which may have been full of arogance pride or vanity..

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancsend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find any truth you can take with you ....in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life..... You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf.... the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed..... your good deeds will be forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated..... your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over . This is truth .

    Trancsend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Understand you are a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent.... Repent means knowing (to change) The Holy spirit (within) will convict you beyond what you think you can do by yourself. Grace is given to those who renounce the world. That are" in" the world but not "of " the world.

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith ....above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Faith comes by Reading or Hearing the word of god from the bible . Ask Jesus in faith for dicernment and start reading the new testament... You will be shocked when you lay down your preconceived notions and ....see and hear truth ... see how christ sets an example ... feel the truth....

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read romans or corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth in Christ.

    Sell all your cleverness and purchase true bewilderment. You don't get what you want ....you get what you are by faith above reason in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
    You will also see how the world suppresses this information and distorts it

    You're all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
    I'ts a personal free experience you can do it free anytime . Don't wait till you are about to die.. START PUTTING YOUR TREASURES WHERE THEY REALLY MATTER >
    Its awsome and It's just between you and Jesus

    my testimony

    Romans 10:9

    "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

    Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door,
    And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
    The, looking in, I saw upon the floor
    Old hammers, worn with beating years of time.
    “How many anvils have you had,” said I,
    “To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
    “Just one,” said he, and then with twinkling eye,
    “The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
    And so, thought I, the anvil of God’s Word,
    For ages skeptic blows have beat upon;
    Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
    The anvil is unharmed – the hammers gone.

    Truth is..exclusive

    November 24, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Caleb Boone

      Dear Kindness:

      I have just read your letter in full.

      I thank the Lord for your acceptance of Salvation in Jesus, your excitement over Him and the Word of God, and your zeal to acclaim Jesus' Name!

      "This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Acts 4:11-12


      Sincerely yours,
      Caleb Boone.

      January 16, 2013 at 6:41 am |
  10. garahomar

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    November 16, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  11. T.P.Thank

    More Americans will be religiously unaffiliated with the passage of time. Young adults will be more open-minded and see
    life in a rational manner. That does not mean Americans will become bad people. One does not have to be a God-
    believer to be compassionate, ethical and moral. Secular values–free of religious doctrines and principles–are just as
    good as religious ones. And many religious believers are just hypocritical as the hood- and- crook.

    November 13, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Brian

      One just needs to look at the other non-religious countries to see where America is heading. I went to Sweden last year and let me tell you what a horrible horrible place that must be to live. II tried to teach them the ways of our lord, but they just think they know whats best for them. If only they were as smart as us Americans...... "If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her." ~Deuteronomy 22:28-29

      January 16, 2013 at 8:21 am |
    • Ax

      "Secular values–free of religious doctrines and principles–are just as good as religious ones"

      If not better. I've seen many religious people do heinous things and felt they were justified because it was for God.

      January 20, 2013 at 3:59 pm |
  12. vjsingh.com

    "It is better to be an atheist than a hypocrite."
    It is makes good sense to have no religion at all, as it leaves you with an opened mind which perhaps might enable you to grasp something sensible when it does come along.

    November 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  13. Lorraine

    All religions are false, pagan, idolatry, and not of the creator of life, and King YHWH, his spirituality is of righteouness, and peace for all not just for some as is in difference, greed, imposed poverty, hate, war, and adultery, swearing, perversion etc. etc. this is why its called righteousness, one must do what is 'right' by one another, as well as themselves.This is no religion, its common sense to the highest power just do right. For we are all responsible for our own righteousess taught in Ezekiel 14:14, and in Jeremiah 31:30, we must own up to what we do people.

    Say did the new jersey, new york worldwind of sandy, looked like YHWH to me though, but strike anyone as peculiar, in the mist of babel hum things that make you go are these the end times prophesied, or what? Well, its not over yet folks, the quiet before the storm, and get ready for a ride of a lifetime, in Daniel 12:1-4, prophesy fulfilled. YHWH Bless.

    November 4, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • Lorraine

      righteousness, cause it seems like what goes around certainly comes back around to us eventually.

      November 4, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • sarah

      And the book you quote from is unfounded fable. That's all.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Lorraine

      Sarah well you wished it was, but sorry do the research, and you will confirm the history of this truth, prophesies are being fulfilled right now, take off your blinders, or better yet call The Lord Yhwh Our Righteousness at 17738740325, with any historical facts or questions of this book, if you will, if you dare, and get the dates facts etc. try it know the truth for a change. Yhwh Bless.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Hear This


      You speak like a hick, as well as like a crazy person. No god with any smarts at all would send you to speak on its behalf. PFFT.

      November 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Lorraine

      Hear This, this is not on my behalf foolish, i have quoted these words of truth from the scriptures in the book of remembrance, the so called OT. What are you on, this is a free site to share ones ideologies, and facts, least forbid opinions, but i have quoted here, these are not my words, they are YHWH the King. All praise goes to YHWH.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  14. icons downloads

    For the life of me, I do not know.

    November 4, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  15. J. D. Hunter

    We are twenty percent FREE of religion!

    October 30, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  16. Aden Medina

    Its a SHAME SHAME SHAME.....the editor on this column is apparently an atheist. Please cut me off. :Play with the devil.

    October 28, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  17. Aden Medina

    Still wonder why there are more and more cases of terrorism not just by Blacks but Whites and what have you...Go ahead, atheists....You believe there is no God. Why even believe the Ten Commandments? Do what you please turns you on...even as Hollywood idolizes the violence.....What would happen to Supreme Court if they made their own rules on what is right and what is wrong???

    October 28, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • MCR

      Unlike yourself, apparently, not everyone needs a religion to tell them not to murder. Most people in China do not believe in god and yet there murder rate is lower than ours, as in most of Europe's. Everytime a Christian uses this argument it makes me nervous...are you saying that if you found out your religion was wrong you'd suddenly go out and kill people?

      November 3, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Lorraine

      thanks for that laugh, oh the irony its killing me, the supreme court being righteous of the right, and wrong of things,when on a good day of gross pay? please stop i cant take it, lol,ha, ha, ha,he,he, oooh shucks.

      November 4, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
  18. Stephen

    "The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge" Psalm 19:1-2 No excuse for godless man to continue to turn His back on God. Judgement day CANNOT be avoided.

    October 27, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son


      October 27, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Psst's understudy

      Unless you're Canadian or British, it's "judgment."

      You're welcome.

      October 27, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • truth hammer

      Religion allows views that, if a lone individual developed such beliefs, he or she would be considered insane. Please seek psychiatric help.

      October 31, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Lorraine

      Stephen, thank you, thank you so much for this Psalm 19, its the simplicity of the law of righteousness for all, the 10 commandments to do what is right for everyone, and live in peace. This is what YHWH is all about, the spirit of doing right by one another. Its not hard its being true. PRAISE YHWH, our ONLY savior, our redeemer.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • sarah

      The OT is, of course, rehashed folklore. Which means anything built upon it is very unfounded.

      November 5, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • Daniel

      Truth Hammer: May I be of some help. First of all, your name could be more accurate. Truth is not your forte. Maybe you should try 'confused', or 'confused soul', there you go. Just trying to help out. lol Now, the opinions of men really do NOT matter at all in the grand scheme of things. God is Judge, He is Truth. What God says, thats what matters. It doesn't matter whether or not you or I agree with Him. That will not change anything. Reality check my friend:. change your way of thinking about God and Jesus Christ the Savior (without Whom no one will escape eternal judgement) or indeed the Hammer will come down. It will fall on you.

      November 11, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  19. Julia

    I have five or six religions, they keep me amused.

    October 26, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  20. beall

    I am 56yrs. old and never one time have I been surveyed on any of my positions regarding anything -what are the odds?.So.. therefore I tend to be skeptical of so called surveys.So I will conduct a survey of my own.Even if 5 in 5 people state they "have" a religion it means nothing as "having" a religion and adhereing to it are two different things.I further survey that the number of those affiliated with religious groups and living in a hypocritical way is greatly higher than 1 in 5.And I further suspect that the number of Atheists are far greater than ever surveyed-As I said I've never been asked.

    October 24, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Jim

      Hmmm... couple hundred million people, you're only one person. Most polls survey a couple thousand people, tops. So your odds of being called in any given survey are around 10,000,000 to 1. Keep playing the PowerBall–but your logic you should have won the big jackpot by now.

      December 18, 2012 at 2:50 am |
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About this blog

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.