Irreligion in the United States

In the United States, between 6% and 15% of citizens demonstrated nonreligious attitudes and naturalistic worldviews, namely atheists or agnostics.[2][3][4][5] The number of self-identified atheists and agnostics was around 4% each, while many persons formally affiliated with a religion are likewise non-believing.[6][7][8]

Religion in the United States by personal self-identification (2023 The Economist/YouGov survey)[1]

  Protestant (30%)
  Catholic (21%)
  Unaffiliated (20%)
  Atheism (7%)
  Agnostic (4%)
  Mormon (2%)
  Eastern Orthodox (1%)
  Jewish (2%)
  Muslim (2%)
  Buddhist (1%)
  Other (10%)

The percentage of Americans without religious affiliation, often labeled as "Nones", is around 20-29% – with people who identify as "nothing in particular" accounting for the growing majority of this demographic, and both atheists and agnostics accounting for the relatively unchanged minority of this demographic.[9][10][11] Most of the increase in the unaffiliated comes from people who had weak or no commitment to religion in the first place, not from people who had a religious commitment.[3] Still, "Nones" is an unclear category.[12][13] It is a heterogenous group of the not religious and intermittently religious.[14] Researchers argue that most of the "Nones" should be considered "unchurched", rather than objectively nonreligious;[13][15][16][3][4] especially since most "Nones" do hold some religious-spiritual beliefs and a notable amount participate in behaviors.[13][17][15][18][19] For example, 72% of American "Nones" believe in God or a Higher Power.[20] The "None" response is more of an indicator for lacking affiliation than an active measure for irreligiosity, and a majority of the "Nones" can either be conventionally religious or "spiritual".[21][15][22]

Social scientists observe that nonreligious Americans are characterized by indifference.[23] Very few incorporate active irreligion as part of their identity, and only about 1-2% join groups promoting such values.[23]

Demographics edit

A 2007 Barna group poll found that about 20 million people say they are atheist, have no religious faith, or are agnostic, with 5 million of that number claiming to be atheists. The study also found that "[t]hey tend to be more educated, more affluent and more likely to be male and unmarried than those with active faith" and that "only 6 percent of people over 60 have no faith in God, and one in four adults ages 18 to 22 describe themselves as having no faith."[24]

In the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) report, 15% of the US population identified as having "no religion", almost double the 1990 figure.[25]

Irreligiosity is often under-reported in American surveys; many more express lack of faith in god or have alternative views on god (e.g. deism), than those who self-identify as atheists, agnostics and the like.[25] In 2012, 23% of religious affiliates did not consider themselves to be "religious", though this is subjective.[26][27] The number of atheists and agnostics found in common surveys tends to be quite low since, for instance, according to the 2019 Pew Research Center survey they were 3.1% and 4% respectively[7] and according to the 2014 General Social Survey they were 4% and 5% respectively.[28] However, their self-identification and actual views on God do differ since one study observed that out of people who did not believe in God or a universal spirit, only 24% actually self-identified as "atheists" and 15% as "agnostics".[6] In one 2018 research paper using indirect probabilistic methods with considerable uncertainty estimated that 26% of Americans are atheists, which is much higher than the 3%-11% rates that are consistently found in surveys.[29]

A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center reported that, of the U.S. adult population, 19.6% had no religious affiliation and an additional 16% identified as "neither spiritual nor religious".[30][27] Furthermore, atheists made up 2.4% and agnostics made up 3.3% of the US population. It also notes that a third of adults under the age of 30 are religiously unaffiliated. However, out of the religiously unaffiliated demographic: the majority describe themselves either as a religious (18%) or as spiritual but not religious (37%) while a significant minority (42%) considers themselves neither spiritual nor religious. Additionally, out of the unaffiliated: 68% believe in God, 12% are atheists, 17% are agnostics and overall 21% of the religiously unaffiliated pray every day.[31]

The Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014, 22.8% of the U.S. population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the U.S. population.[32] Out of all Americans who identify as unaffiliated including atheists and agnostics, 41% were raised Protestant and 28% were raised Catholic according to the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape survey.[33]

The 2014 General Social Survey reported that 21% of Americans had no religion with 3% being atheist and 5% being agnostic.[28]

Some 20% of Americans considered themselves neither religious nor spiritual. Irreligiousness is highest among young, white, unmarried, educated males.[34][35][36]

When asked, around a third (24%-34% in different years) answered they were "not religious", and another 8% as atheist.[37] Many of these identify/affiliate themselves with established religious groups and most believe in God.[36][38] In one survey, 88% considered themselves as at least moderately spiritual.[35]

According to the 2014 General Social Survey the percentages of the US population that identified as no religion were 21% in 2014, 20% in 2012, just 14% in 2000, and only 8 percent in 1990. Furthermore, the number of atheists and agnostics in the US has remained relatively flat in the past 23 years since in 1991 only 2% identified as atheist and 4% identified as agnostic while in 2014 only 3% identified as atheist and 5% identified as agnostic.[28]

According to the 2008 Pew Religious Landscape report, as 2007, 16.1% of the US population identified as "no religion", atheists made up 1.6% and agnostics made up 2.4% of the US population.[39]

According to a 2012 Pew Report on the "Nones", 19.6% of the population identified as "no religion", atheists made up 2.4% and agnostics made up 3.3% of the US population.[40]

The Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014, 22.8% of the American population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the US population.[32]

A 2010 Pew Research Center study comparing Millennials to other generations showed that of those between 18 and 29 years old, only 3% self-identified as "atheists" and only 4% as "agnostics". Overall, 25% of Millennials were "Nones" and 74% were religiously affiliated.[41] Though Millennials are less religious than previous generations at the same age frame, they are also much less engaged in many social institutions in general than previous generations.[27]

According to the American Values Atlas from PPRI, 24% of the US Population was unaffiliated with a religion in 2017.[42]

According to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, 31% were "nones" in 2016[43] and 29.5% were "nones" in 2018.[44]

According to a Pew study, 7% of those raised Protestant are now unaffiliated whereas 4% of those raised Catholic are now unaffiliated.[45]

In 2019, a Pew study found that 65% of American adults described themselves as Christians while the religiously unaffiliated, including atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular”, is 26%.[46]

According to a 2018 Pew report, 72% of the "Nones" have belief in God, a higher power, or spiritual force.[47]

Several groups promoting irreligion – including the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Camp Quest, and the Rational Response Squad – have witnessed large increases in membership numbers in recent years, and the number of nonreligious student organizations at American colleges and universities increased during the 2000s (decade).[24][48] However, the growth of atheist groups is very limited and will possibly shrink due to atheists normally being non-joiners.[49] The overwhelming majority of the nonreligious in the US do not express their convictions in any manner, and only a negligible percentage joins irreligious organizations.[49] As such, the overwhelming majority on the nonreligious do not join secular groups. Only a very small minority of the nonreligious, around 1% to 2%, actually join these kinds of groups.[49]

Various explanations for trends edit

Some of the underlying factors in the increases in people identifying as "Nones" seem to not be that significant numbers of people are dropping religion, but rather that, in recent times, it has become more socially acceptable for younger and older generations to identify as a "None" than in previous decades, when identifying as having no religion carried negative stigmas. With young people usually having lower religious observance than older people and them feeling more comfortable identifying as a "None", generational replacement factors could play a role in the increment.[50]

Other possible driving factors may be just broader general cultural changes in the American way of life. The growth of the internet and social media has altered the sense of community and spirituality and the growth of self-focused citizenry, as opposed to community-focused citizenry, has broadly led to less civic involvement and less loyalty to many public institutions.[51]

Other possible driving forces could be political backlash. Young adults, in particular, have turned away from organized religion because they perceive it as deeply entangled with conservative politics and some seek to distance themselves from polarized systems.[52]

Others have suggested that delays in marriage, settling down, and having children among younger people reduces or delays the number and commitment of people participating in traditional religions or religious activities.[53]

Robert Fuller argues that the ascendency of science as a way of understanding the world makes it difficult for some people to believe in the supernatural or accept the "blind faith" that religion often requires.[54] That modern biblical scholarship has illuminated the human authorship of the Bible as opposed to divine revelation.[54] And most educated people are aware of the role that cultural conditioning plays in shaping beliefs.[54]

Younger generations as a whole have lost trust and belief in numerous institutions along with religion. For instance, Millennials, which make up about 1/3 the "Nones" demographic, tend to have less belief and trust in institutions such as the labor market, the economy, government and politics, marriage, the media, along with churches; than previous generations.[55] The Nones tend to be more politically liberal and their growth has resulted in some increases in membership of secular organizations. However, the overwhelming majority of those without religion are not joining secular groups or even aligning with secularism.[49]

Secular people in the United States, such as atheist and agnostics, have a distinctive belief system that can be traced for at least hundreds of years. They sometimes create religion-like institutions and communities, create rituals, and debate aspects of their shared beliefs. For these reasons, they are surprisingly religion-like despite often being opposed to religion.[56]

Tables edit

"Nones" by US state (2014)

Various beliefs edit

Various beliefs and practices of the "Nones" in 2012.

Traits % Nones (2012)[57][58]
Believe in God 68%
Consider themselves religious 18%
Consider themselves spiritual but not religious 37%
Consider themselves as neither spiritual nor religious 42%
Pray every day 21%
Pray once a month 21%

"Nones" by state edit

Rank Jurisdiction % "Nones" (2007)[32] % "Nones" (2014)[32]
United States 16% 23%
01   Vermont 34% 37%
02   New Hampshire 29% 36%
03   Washington 23% 32%
04   Massachusetts 20% 32%
05   Alaska 27% 31%
06   Maine 25% 31%
07   Oregon 27% 31%
08   Montana 21% 30%
09   Colorado 25% 29%
10   Nevada 21% 28%
11   Idaho 18% 27%
12   California 21% 27%
13   Arizona 22% 27%
14   New York 17% 27%
15   Wyoming 28% 26%
16   Hawaii 18% 26%
17   Indiana 16% 26%
18   Wisconsin 16% 25%
19   District of Columbia 18% 24%
20   Michigan 17% 24%
21   Florida 16% 24%
22   Delaware 19% 23%
23   Connecticut 20% 23%
24   Maryland 16% 23%
25   Ohio 17% 22%
26   Utah 16% 22%
27   Illinois 15% 22%
28   Kentucky 12% 22%
29   New Mexico 21% 21%
30   Iowa 15% 21%
31   Pennsylvania 13% 21%
32   Rhode Island 23% 20%
33   Nebraska 16% 20%
34   Virginia 18% 20%
35   Missouri 16% 20%
36   Minnesota 13% 20%
37   Kansas 14% 20%
38   North Carolina 12% 20%
39   North Dakota 11% 20%
40   South Carolina 10% 19%
41   New Jersey 12% 18%
42   West Virginia 19% 18%
43   South Dakota 12% 18%
44   Texas 12% 18%
45   Oklahoma 12% 18%
46   Georgia 13% 18%
47   Arkansas 13% 18%
48   Tennessee 12% 14%
49   Mississippi 6% 14%
50   Louisiana 8% 13%
51   Alabama 8% 12%

"Nones" by territory edit

Territories of the United States with percentage of population claiming no religion in 2010.

Territories % Nones (2010)
  U.S. Virgin Islands 3.8%[59] or 3.7%[60]
  Puerto Rico 1.9%[60]
  Guam 1.7%[61]
  Northern Mariana Islands 1%[62][63]
  American Samoa 0.7%[64]

"Nones" by region edit

A region of the western United States known as the "Unchurched Belt" is traditionally considered to contain the highest concentration of irreligious people, although this may have been surpassed by New England.[65]

Regions of the United States ranked by percentage of population claiming no religion in 2014.

Region % Nones (2014)[32]
West 28%
Northeast 25%
Midwest 22%
South 19%

"None" demographics edit

Demographics of the religiously unaffiliated in 2012 (as fraction of the named groups).

Race % Unaffiliated[66]
White 20%
Hispanic 16%
Black 15%
Gender % Unaffiliated
Men 23%
Women 17%
(years of birth)
% Unaffiliated
Younger Millennials
Older Millennials

Politics edit

In the late 2010s, 21% of registered voters were religiously unaffiliated; they are considered to be the largest "religious" voting block.[67][68]

More than six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats (39%) or lean toward the Democratic Party (24%). They are about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72%) and same-sex marriage (73%). In the last five years, the unaffiliated have risen from 17% to 24% of all registered voters who are Democrats or lean Democratic.[40] According to a Pew Research exit poll 70% of those who were religiously unaffiliated voted for Barack Obama.

In January 2007, California Congressman Pete Stark became the first openly atheist member of Congress. In January 2013, Kyrsten Sinema became the first openly non-theist Congresswoman, representing the state of Arizona.[69]

See also edit

References edit

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  5. ^ Burge, Ryan (February 24, 2021). "Most 'Nones' Still Keep the Faith". Research. Christianity Today. The center of the Venn diagram indicates that just 15.3 percent of the population that are nones on one dimension are nones on all dimensions. That amounts to just about 6 percent of the general public who don't belong to a religious tradition and don't attend church and hold to an atheist or agnostic worldview.
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  17. ^ Davis, Jim; Graham, Michael; Burge, Ryan; Hansen, Collin (2023). The Great Dechurching: Who's Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring Them Back?. Zondervan. p. 121. ISBN 9780310147435. What is often overlooked is that when people say they no longer go to church or affiliate with a religious institution, that doesn't mean they leave all vestiges of religion behind...They left the religious label behind but not their belief. In the same way, a lack of church attendance doesn't necessarily mean someone has given up on the idea of God. Among those who report never attending church in the General Social Survey, the share who don't believe in God is about 20 percent. But the share of these never attenders who say they believe in God without any doubts is also about 20 percent. Despite the fact that about 40 percent of Americans never attend church and 30 percent say they have no religious affiliation, just one in ten Americans says God does not exist or that we have no way to know if God exists. Religious belief is stubborn in the United States, and while someone may not act on that belief by going to a house of worship on Sunday morning, that doesn't mean they think their spiritual life is unimportant.
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  31. ^ "'Nones' on the Rise". Pew Research Center: Religion & Public Life. October 9, 2012. However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country's 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious" (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.
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  56. ^ Blankholm, Joseph (2022). The Secular Paradox: On the Religiosity of the Not Religious. New York University Press. pp. 3, 8. ISBN 9781479809509. Secular people's efforts to avoid religion and the creative ways in which they embrace it generate the diversity in American secularism. This book makes sense of secular people's strange ambivalence toward religion. Though being secular means being not religious, it also means participating in a secular tradition and sharing ways of life with other secular people. The secular paradox is the tension between what secular people do not share and what they have in common between avoiding religion and embracing something like it...all secular people live with the secular paradox." & "Each chapter of this book examines a different aspect of religion: belief, community, ritual, conversion, and tradition. Because secular people struggle to simply remove all of these religion-like elements from their lives, they affirm them in part or entirely, sometimes uncritically but more often quite carefully and not without reservations.
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Bibliography edit

External links edit