Disaffection With Religion in America

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has issued a report on religious affiliation inclick to enlarge America. While most of it confirms facts that are easily deducible anecdotally by anyone with their eyes and ears open, such that Catholicism is bleeding membership from its nether regions, and many people are being sucked into a more religious experience such as those presented by the mega churches and evangelical/fundamentalist churches, the interesting factoid for me was this one:
The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.

Disaffection with religion is actually on the rise, especially among the young. Is this a good thing? Some would argue yes, some no. I think it’s heartening and a clear indication that religion is beginning to lose it’s stranglehold on the minds of America. However, historically, the youth of this country have always been the group most disaffected by the status quo, and what could be more status quo that religion? But a doubling of affiliated theists to non-theism is an indication that we are getting wiser.

Another heartening statistic is that involving non-belief. With 4% atheist/agnostic, and another 6.3% secular unaffiliated, this makes for more than 10% of the population who appear to have no belief in god, or at the very least, find the issue has no importance to their lives and how they live them. And I wonder about that almost 6% of religious unaffiliated. Are they unaffiliated because religion makes no sense to them, yet they cling to their traditional belief in god out of habit? Are do they really believe, but are lazy? It’s hard to reconcile a sincere belief in god with apathy.

It has been pointed out in the past, by Richard Dawkins and others, that there are less Jews than atheist/agnostics in the United States, which, according to these statistics, is only at 1.7% even if we ignore the unaffiliated. At 4% there are twice as many atheist/agnostics as there are Jews, yet we have absolutely no political, social or cultural voice in this country. I’m at a loss as to what to do about that, other than to steadily increase our population through education and de-conversion. Once we reach a larger percentage, like the numbers Europe enjoys, perhaps the political clout will follow.

The major finding of the study, however, points out that 28% of Americans have left the religion they were born and raised into. That means that they found religion in general, or in many cases, their specific brand of religion, dissatisfying, forcing them to search for alternatives. I count myself in the 28%. Like me, as noted above, many of them chose no religion. Many simply switched to a religion that they felt met their needs. The study doesn’t say whether, in fact, those needs have been met. I ponder the possibility that those who switch do so partly out disaffection with religion in general, but search for another form of religion out of an inability to completely jettison god-belief, in the hopes that they will find what they are missing by simply changing brands, much like we choose and switch laundry detergents. “New and Improved” is the claim of many of the mega-churches, and many are sucked in by their promises of a better way of knowing the mind of god.

Unfortunately, they’re still selling the same old thing.

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10 thoughts on “Disaffection With Religion in America

  1. Interesting post. I’d heard about this survey on NPR this morning, and I was wondering who’d get to posting on it.

    Regarding Jews and their political influence as opposed to atheist/agnostics, I wonder how much of that has to do with ethnicity and nationalism as opposed to Judaism as a religion. Granted, the two are obviously intertwined, but I think there are probably a fair number of individuals who might consider themselves secular Jews.

    To broaden the point regarding atheist/agnostics, there is usually little to unite us as an interest group other than atheism. What’s the real atheist agenda? I suppose secularization and probably funding science education and research fit the bill, but, truth be told, many of us care about other issues just as much, if not more, than our “atheist issues.” I mean, would you vote for McCain if he started pushing for secularism but remained committed to a major military presence in Iraq?

    Secularism, as a political issue, still has to build some more traction, and it’s certainly going to play second fiddle to issues the rest of the country thinks are far more important.

  2. SI said: “New and Improved” is the claim of many of the mega-churches, and many are sucked in by their promises of a better way of knowing the mind of god.

    Unfortunately, they’re still selling the same old thing.

    Yup. Same old meaningless drivel in shiny, new packaging.

  3. At 4% there are twice as many atheist/agnostics as there are Jews, yet we have absolutely no political, social or cultural voice in this country. I’m at a loss as to what to do about that…

    Maybe all atheists need to get bar mitzvahed.

  4. SI: you beat me to it. I saw it this afternoon, but couldn’t write it until tonight. I did, however, do some quick comparisons regarding prison populations over at my site. The numbers are pretty sobering.

  5. At 4% there are twice as many atheist/agnostics as there are Jews, yet we have absolutely no political, social or cultural voice in this country. I’m at a loss as to what to do about that, other than to steadily increase our population through education and de-conversion. Once we reach a larger percentage, like the numbers Europe enjoys, perhaps the political clout will follow.

    I don’t think atheists are going to automatically going to have political clout unless we become the majority. We’re going to have to work for it. And really, the only issue that really unites atheists is the separation of church and state and perhaps civil liberties. A secularist could just as easily be conservative as liberal.

    I don’t see an issue with working with other political groups to meet our objectives, but as a group our political objectives aren’t going to necessarily overlap other than the above. And I agree that those political objectives are important. But somehow purely secular objectives always seem to get shunted to the side in favor of others (like separation of church and state and gay rights). When do these become the priority? Am I going to be told for the next 20 years that the election is too important to throw away on those singular issues?

  6. Regardless what inspires people to shift between religions, be it honest searching, fads, marriage, whatever, it at least shows that despite all that hard work religious leaders and parents have done to indoctrinate the young, it’s hardly a guarantee that it’ll stick. Enough people are either dissatisfied with or simply never cared enough about that initial indoctrination to stay with it. That’s good news.

  7. “Once we reach a larger percentage, like the numbers Europe enjoys, perhaps the political clout will follow.”

    Being European, let me just wade in on this one. Atheists qua atheists don’t have much political clout in Europe, not because we are drowned out by the clout of the religious but in fact because the religious have so little clout of their own! We don’t have overwhelming quasi-fundamentalist churches to fight against so we don’t really feel the need to have our voices heard ‘as atheists’ as such and instead mostly spread ourselves out according to our political views and affiliations.

  8. Brit

    Thanks for stopping by. It’s good to get a non American viewpoint. I know I have some regular folks from across the pond who do stop by, but on the whole the views are primarily American.

    I look forward to the day when atheists don’t need clout in the this country. Maybe when we get our first atheist president.

    Don’t hold your breath.

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