The Fastest Growing Religion in America Is "Unaffiliated."

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The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a new survey that finds that Americans switch religious affiliations a lot, and that more and more can't be bothered to join a church, synagogue, mosque or temple. As the Chicago Sun-Times reports:

A Pew Forum poll of 25,556 adult Americans released Monday found that 44 percent of Americans have either changed religious affiliations or claim no formal religion at all.

"People have always switched religions; that's part of what happens when you have a great deal of religious freedom," said Pew Senior Fellow John Green. "[But] America has become more diverse, and there are more places people can come from religiously and more places they can go."

About 16 percent said they are unaffiliated—a group that includes atheists and agnostics but also people who consider themselves believers but belong to no denomination.

In a survey last year, the Christian marketing consultancy, the Barna Research Group, found that youths are increasingly rejecting Christianity and secular beliefs are spreading. As the Ventura County Star reported:

Only 60 percent of 16- to 29-year-olds describe themselves as Christians, according to Barna Group President David Kinnaman. He believes that figure represents "a momentous shift," noting that 77 percent of Americans over age 60 consider themselves Christians.

"Each generation is becoming increasingly secular," said Kinnaman, who details the findings in his new book "unChristian" (Baker Books).

If you were a subscriber, you would already have my article "The New Age of Reason" in the April issue. In that article I explain how the last three decades of religio-political moralizing known as the 4th Great Awakening is now ending. Happily, what will follow is the dawning of new era of social tolerance. At only $19.97 for 11 issues, you can't afford not to subscribe.

Disclosure: I've been very religiously unaffiliated since my teens.  

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  1. If “socialism” was one of the check boxes, I think that would get most of the 16-29 year olds.

  2. “Each generation is becoming increasingly secular,” said Kinnaman, who details the findings in his new book “unChristian” (Baker Books).

    So its time for the next “Great Awakening”?

    His trend only works until then.

  3. Bailey, are you still a member of the ACLU?
    You never answered that question from way back.
    Thanks.

  4. Reason hates babies and jesus on the same day.

  5. Does the First Church of Shatnerology count as religion, or would it be more of a cult?

  6. So its time for the next “Great Awakening”?

    Here’s hoping it’s an orthodox one!

  7. Regardless of the fact that America is loosing interest in Religion…I still think that we should bring back the CROSS

  8. Only 60 percent of 16- to 29-year-olds describe themselves as Christians,. . . 77 percent of Americans over age 60 consider themselves Christians.

    So, the closer you get to meeting your Maker, the more likely you are to believe in Him? It’s like this whole thing was intelligently designed by a superior being.

  9. I wonder how many of that 12% ‘nothing in particular’ was simply a polite refusal?

    I know a fair number of people, myself included, who answer such busybody questions with a polite brushoff of the form ‘oh, I don’t have much to say about that’ that might not register as ‘refused to answer’ as clearly as ‘it’s none of your damn business, shove off!’ might.

    It may also include people who have a strong sense of ‘private spirituality’ but not necessarily a pigeonholed religion.

    Or it could be a lot of people are just too busy to worry about which set of fairy stories to declare for. 😉

    Jake
    (who thinks it’s ALL fairy stories to someone else)

  10. “Each generation is becoming increasingly secular,”

    thank god.

  11. Episiarch, would you please drop me an email? I have a sekrit message for you.

  12. Hooray! I am one of the new religiously unaffiliated! Too bad that it’s the cool thing to do now, though it makes more sense to be unaffiliated with religion than not for people who are lazy or careless (which happens to account for at least 70% of those currently affiliated with a religion).

  13. About 16 percent said they are unaffiliated — a group that includes atheists and agnostics but also people who consider themselves believers but belong to no denomination.

    Wow, only 16%? I feel ill. We are still living in the dark ages.

    Throughout human history, organized religion has brought us such wondrous things as the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts, terrorism, almost every war that has been fought since the beginning, constant oppression, intolerance, and ignorance. And what have we learned? Apparently, not much.

  14. This is a bunch of BS, Ron. Remember that one time that you changed your mind about global warming? Yeah, what about that, huh? What about that?

  15. Sanity vs. Security Blanket

  16. Episiarch, would you please drop me an email? I have a sekrit message for you.

    I cannot, Jake–Khan is monitoring my communications. Hours might seem like days.

  17. And lo, Shatner took the green women, and knew them upon the tabernacle. And it was good. [The congregation shouts, Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaan! Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!]

  18. found that youths are increasingly rejecting Christianity and secular beliefs are spreading. As the Ventura County Star reported:

    No they’re not. They’re finding new areas which weren’t traditionally thought of as “religious” activity.

  19. Religion is idolatry. True believers should worship God, not a bunch of old men dispensing dogma. Religion was invented by Satan for just that purpose – to stop people from finding God on their own and to start worshipping religion instead. If God loves us, religion must be the cruelest thing for him. He sees those he loves not only murdering each other, but doing it in his name! A devious invention, indeed. This lack of religious unaffiliation is a good thing.

  20. Hmm. So does that mean there’s a multitude of 16 to 29 year olds ready to experience a new spiritual awakening under the tutelage of a prophet? Hmmm…

    Maybe it’s time to ditch this engineering thing and start the next Scientology. I can base it off quantum mechanics and it’ll sound cooler, too.

  21. How do they classify UUs for a survey like that?
    or how are UUs supposed to classify themselves if approached for a survey like that? “Mainline Protestant”? That doesn’t seem quite right. “Other Christian” doesn’t fit either.

    Oh, never mind. Now I see. “Other faiths”

    ‘Kay. Hmmm.

  22. almost every war that has been fought since the beginning,

    Except, you know, every war since about 1700.

    Jes’ settin’ the record straight, is all.

  23. Unaffiliated is to atheist as (male) bisexual is to gay: just go ahead and admit what everyone already knows.

  24. SugarFree, did you just call highnumber a fag?

  25. Episiarch,

    No, I think he called him bisexual.

  26. No, I called no one a fag. Just being mean.

  27. My local chapter of Campus Free-Thought Alliance has two atheist bisexuals in it.

    In a survey last year, the Christian marketing consultancy, the Barna Research Group, found that youths are increasingly rejecting Christianity and secular beliefs are spreading. As the Ventura County Star reported:

    Sure, but how many of those are going to re-discover Jesus later in their life? My mom was pretty unaffiliated as a kid, but as she gets older she becomes more and more involved in the church.

  28. No, I called no one a fag. Just being mean.

    Sure, just pussy out. Wait until highnumber gets back.

  29. I declare jihad on all non-unbelievers in the name of No One (PBUH)!

  30. Sure, but how many of those are going to re-discover Jesus later in their life? My mom was pretty unaffiliated as a kid, but as she gets older she becomes more and more involved in the church.

    That’s called a hedge fund.

  31. Hey! I’m affiliated!

    And I’m married.

    To a woman.

    Not that there’d be anything wrong with it if I were unaffiliated.

    Or if I were gay in my church.

  32. What about us Agnostics who are affiliated? I’m a proud minister of the Universal Church Triumphant of the Apathetic Agnostic.

    And a holy day is coming up…

    Nephilium

  33. Episiarch is just trying to stir up trouble.

    By the way, Epi, were you planning on reading Iain Banks’ new novel, Matter? I’m about halfway through it and very pleased so far.

  34. Good riddance!

  35. highnumber,

    Have you let Shatner into your heart?

  36. Throughout human history, organized religion has brought us such wondrous things as the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts, terrorism, almost every war that has been fought since the beginning, constant oppression, intolerance, and ignorance. And what have we learned? Apparently, not much.

    I think you are confusing human nature with religion:

    Throughout human history, greed, fear, power, igornance, selfishness, every other bad aspect of human beings has brought us such wondrous things as the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts, terrorism, almost every war that has been fought since the beginning, constant oppression, intolerance, and ignorance. And what have we learned? Apparently, not much.

    You could replace the belief in a supernatural being with the belief in democracy, freedom, and human rights and then find yourself invading some poor country ruled by a tyrant.

  37. The Unaffiliated

    According to the Landscape Survey, more than one-in-six American adults (16.1%) are not currently affiliated with any particular religious group. Through the 1980s, the GSS
    consistently found that between 5% and 8% of the public was not affiliated with any particular religion. By 2006, however, the GSS showed that 16% of U.S. adults reported no religious affiliation.

    The Landscape Survey finds that the unaffiliated population is quite diverse and that it is simply not accurate to describe this entire group as nonreligious or “secular.” Roughly one quarter of the unaffiliated population identifies itself as
    atheist (1.6% of the overall adult population) or agnostic (2.4% of the adult population). But the remaining three quarters (12.1% of the adult population) consists of people
    who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” (A fuller discussion of the religious beliefs and practices of the unaffiliated population will be included in a subsequent report.)

    This latter group consists of two smaller, fairly distinct subgroups. About half of people who describe their religion as nothing in particular (6.3% of the overall adult population) say that religion is not too important or not at all important in their lives. Thus, they can be thought of as being mostly secular in their orientation. But the other half of this group (5.8% of adults) says that religion is somewhat important or very important in their lives, despite their lack of affiliation with any particular religious group. Thus, this group can be thought of as the “religious unaffiliated.”

    From Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life / U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.

    The big underreported trend IMHO, is the decline of the significance of specific denominations in American culture. In the table showing the movement in and out of religions, the biggest net movements were into unspecified (+5.5%) and Nondenominational Protestant (+3.0%), which were followed by agnostic (~+2.1%), non-specific Protestant (+1.5%), then atheist (+1.1%). Note that these aren’t changes in population levels, but how people in the sample changed their beliefs over the course of their lives.

  38. It seems to me hate of religion is roughly akin to hate of Microsoft. Wait, hear me out.

    Both are entities that call a majority of people as users (in countries with computers anyways), and neither is perfect. It’s easy for people to look at the imperfections that they have and assume that if religion or Microsft weren’t there that all the imperfections would not exist.

    Man is imperfect and whatever he does will be imperfect. Whether it be software or pondering God. If Microsoft didn’t exist everyone would see what a jackass Jobs is, and if religion didn’t exist people would still be killing each other for some reason.

    For the record I would qualify as unaffiliated as I believe in God, but don’t think any organized religion has it right. Not saying I do either, but I’d rather be wrong on my own.

    If we are looking for a prophet to lead the 16-29 year old crowd I’m willing to volunteer. I figure if you can keep from getting killed as a heretic then the job becomes pretty sweet. The hours aren’t too bad and you don’t have to track receivables or inventory.

  39. Maybe it’s time to bring back our old friend polytheism. What was so bad about Zeus, Hera, and company. Dionysus would fit right in with our changing values. By Zeus, by Demeter, and by the dog would be much more interesting than the swearwords we have today. Aristophanes’ plays would be made into movies and fit right in. I would look forward to “the Knights” and “Wealth” which would put modern movies to shame. The writings about Socrates would be taught on a much larger level and the quality of education would greatly improve. Really I think it would be much more tolerable than today’s situation. They wouldn’t be just over-the-head references highbrow columnists make.

  40. Man is imperfect and whatever he does will be imperfect. Whether it be software or pondering God. If Microsoft didn’t exist everyone would see what a jackass Jobs is, and if religion didn’t exist people would still be killing each other for some reason.

    Why do you assume there is a God to ponder?

  41. Episiarch is just trying to stir up trouble.

    And not too successfully, it seems.

    By the way, Epi, were you planning on reading Iain Banks’ new novel, Matter? I’m about halfway through it and very pleased so far.

    I don’t read much scifi any more; I just can’t find the time. It’s a shame, but that’s the way it is.

  42. If we are looking for a prophet to lead the 16-29 year old crowd I’m willing to volunteer. I figure if you can keep from getting killed as a heretic then the job becomes pretty sweet. The hours aren’t too bad and you don’t have to track receivables or inventory.

    I would say I got dibs on the job, but after further reflection, I decided I don’t want it. You can have it.

    First off, if I can’t have a harem of devoted mistresses who believe in my divinity, I don’t want the job. Since Mrs. T would kill me in short order if I tried that, I’m out. Second, I remembered what happened to the last heavily armed guy who tried to start his own religion down here in Texas. That ended badly…

  43. Why do you assume there is a God to ponder?

    I can ponder unicorns without assuming unicorns are real.

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