More than 13 million atheists and agnostics and nearly 33 million claim no particular affiliation. About 20 percent of U.S. adults say they had no religious affiliation, an increase from two decades ago when about 8 percent of people were deemed so-called “nones,” according to a new study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life. The group will be the subject of an upcoming PBS miniseries this month.
“But despite their nickname, the “nones” are far from godless. Many pray, believe in God and have regular spiritual routines,” The Washington Post’s religion reporter Michelle Boorstein wrote Tuesday.
About 37 percent of the religiously unaffiliated say they’re spiritual but not religious.
From 2007-2012, the so-called “nones” have risen from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults.
For the first time in recent history, the number of Americans who consider themselves as Protestant has dropped below 50 percent at 48 percent.
“Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptists Theological Seminary in Louisville, saw a welcome clarity in the report, even if he didn’t like the new picture in focus,” USA Today’s Cathy Lynn Grossman reported.
“Today, there’s no shame in saying you’re an unbeliever, no cultural pressure to claim a religious affiliation, no matter how remote or loose,” Mohler told USA Today. “This is a wake-up call. We have an incredible challenge ahead for committed Christians.”
Nones are also becoming a larger force in politics. “Nones” are largely Democratic, being 24 percent of registered voters who vote Democratic or lean that way, the study says, showing that “the unaffiliated have become a large and important constituency of the Democratic Party,” Religion News Service reported Tuesday.
“Millions of Americans are discovering that religion isn’t required in order to lead a moral and purposeful life,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association said in a statement Tuesday morning.
According to Pew, young people are increasingly less religious: 32 percent of people under 30 have no religious affiliation, compared to 9 percent of those 65 and older. And 72 percent of unaffiliated people support abortion rights and while 73 percent support same-sex marriage.
“College students and people starting families and entering new careers are coming out as non-religious in droves,” Speckhardt said in a statement. “Saying that you are an atheist no longer carries the stigma that it did in years past. More and more are recognizing that you can be good without a belief in a god.”
“I’m undecided as far as religion is concerned,” Sean Taylor, 25, a college student who lives and works in Baltimore, told The Post.
He said about five or six years ago, “it came to me that when you look around you got Muslims, Christians, people over in China and people who say that their way of life is built around a certain belief and people who don’t belief that are wrong.
“But who am I say something is right or wrong or whose religion or right or wrong,” Taylor said in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Post.
“I wanted to sit back and take time to see what I’m comfortable,” he said when asked how long he’s identified himself as being unaffiliated. “There’s a lot of religion out here.”
Elaine Antkowiak, 80, who lives near Townsend, Md., was raised Catholic. She has considered herself religiously unaffiliated for years and right now would describe herself as atheist.
“I find it very hard believing. If there was a real God, things wouldn’t be happening, like all of our service people being killed over in Afghanistan,” she told The Post Tuesday before mentioning the toll serious injuries of two of her children have had on her family.
She said her husband is a head usher of a local church and her enjoys going, but she would only reconsider returning to Mass if structural changes occurred in the Catholic Church including allowing priests to marry.
To read the report
Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly, the national PBS television program, which partnered with Pew in the survey, will air a three-part series. The first segment debuts Friday and features “an overview of who these religiously unaffiliated people are and what they believe,” according to Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.
Watch a preview:
Watch None of the Above: The Rise of the Religiously Unaffiliated on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.