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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 12, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 41
Less religion
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Less religion

A new survey shows Americans becoming more secular

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A new survey by the Pew Research Center Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that the number of Americans who do not identify with any particular religion continues to grow by about 1% per year.

The survey, released October 9, also shows that for the first time in history, Protestants make up a minority of the U.S. population.

Those who report that they are not affiliated with any religion are about twice as likely to describe themselves politically as liberals than they are as conservatives. Large majorities of the unaffiliated support reproductive choice (72%) and marriage equality (73%).

The Pew report is based on cell-phone and landline interviews of 2,973 adults, conducted between June 28 and July 9. Pew also interviewed an additional 511 people who self-identified as religiously unaffiliated, to produce a sample of 958 nonreligious respondents.

NON-THEIST VIEWS ON RISE
According to Pew, 19.6% of their respondents said they are 'atheist, agnostic, or 'nothing in particular.' In 2007, when Pew first began conducting this research, only 15.3% said they were not religious.

Only 48% of this year's respondents identified as Protestant, compared to 53% in 2007 when the survey of religious affiliation began. Nineteen percent described themselves as evangelical, 15% said they are affiliated with a mainline denomination, 8% are 'Black Protestants,' and 6% 'other minority Protestants.'

Roman Catholics remain the largest single denomination, with 22% of the respondents, a number that has remained relatively constant since 2007. The number of Mormons has also remained constant, at 2% of those surveyed.

As for the unaffiliated, 2.4% of the respondents said they are atheist, 3.3% are agnostic, and 13.9% claimed to be 'nothing in particular.' Eighty-eight percent of the unaffiliated said they are 'not looking' for a religion, compared to only 10% who said they are 'looking' for the right faith.

Being 'unaffiliated' does not necessarily indicate hostility to common religious beliefs, however.

More than two-thirds of the unaffiliated 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%). More than one in five (21%) said they pray every day.

In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans say they think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.

POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
Because their numbers are growing, religiously unaffiliated voters are an increasingly important segment of the electorate.

In the 2008 presidential election, they voted as heavily for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants did for John McCain.

Thirty-nine percent of religiously unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats, and 24% 'lean toward the Democratic Party.'

Of all the registered voters who identify as Democrats or say they 'lean Democratic,' fully 24% are not affiliated with a religion. Sixteen percent are Black Protestants, 14% are white mainline Protestants, 13% are white Catholics, 9% are white evangelicals, and 5% are Hispanic Catholics. Eighteen percent identify as 'other.'

GENERATIONAL SPLIT
'The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans - sometimes called the rise of the 'nones' - is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones,' the Pew survey said.

Almost one-third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one in 10 who are 65 or older (9%).

'And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives,' the Pew report added.

Not only are young adults less likely to be affiliated with a church than their elders, but the data also show that the percentage of Americans who were raised without an affiliation has been rising gradually, from about 3% in the early 1970s to about 8% in the past decade.

However, the overwhelming majority of the currently unaffiliated were brought up in a religious tradition. The Pew survey found that some 74% of unaffiliated adults were raised with some religious affiliation.

Pew also observed what they describe as 'a gradual softening of religious commitment among some (though by no means all) Americans in recent decades.'

For example, Pew's data show a growing number of people who say they seldom or never attend religious services, as well as a declining number who say they 'never doubt the existence of God.'

A SHIFTING PARADIGM
Pew found that as religious affiliation declines, 'the way that Americans talk about their connection to religion seems to be changing.' Increasingly, Pew says, Americans describe their religious affiliation in terms that more closely match their level of involvement in churches and other religious organizations.

In 2007, 60% of those who said they seldom or never attend religious services nevertheless identified themselves with a particular church or religious tradition. In 2012, only 50% of those who say they seldom or never attend religious services still claim a religious affiliation - a 10-point drop in five years.

'These trends suggest that the ranks of the unaffiliated are swelling in surveys partly because Americans who rarely go to services are more willing than in the past to drop their religious attachments altogether,' Pew concluded.

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