The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has issued a report on religious affiliation in 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.