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 Thursday 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.
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.
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.
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.
Read the rest here.
I don't know as I have a lot of comment here, other than to say that 1) I'm not horribly surprised at this and 2) that I'm glad to see this fact getting acknowledged in the mainstream media. The christian majority in the US too often would love to take the atheist minority and sweep it under the rug, as though it didn't exist or didn't matter. Yet when you have numbers like one in five, you're talking about a significant minority, sizable and visible enough to be politically significant, which means that at least some politicians (and likely most of them Democrats right now) will be at least marginally more aware of that factor in their campaigning and (one hopes) in their actions in office.
My only other concern here is the reaction to this survey by the religious community, particularly in any attempts they may make to return these perceived backsliders to their fold. Evangelicals are poor losers, it seems to me, and their behavior in the face of this news is not something we can just let lay.