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Oct 11 2012

A Closer Look at the ‘Nones’

My Facebook feed filled up on Tuesday with links to a new Pew survey on the religious identification of Americans, which shows that about 20% of the country now identifies as having no religious affiliation. But let’s be careful not to equate no religious affiliation with being agnostic or atheist. In fact, those who identify as agnostic or atheist are still under 5%.

And a lot of those who are religiously non-affiliated are still religious or “spiritual” (I really hate that word):

However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country’s 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them 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%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day.

But the trends are still good:

And these trends are especially strong with younger people. But Alan Jacobs wonders if there actually are more people who are leaving traditional religion behind, or if there are just more people admitting to it these days:

The question I would ask is this: Has there been an actual increase in religiously unaffiliated people, or do people who are in fact unaffiliated simply feel more free than they once did to acknowledge that fact? My suspicion is that until quite recently a person born and baptized into the Catholic church who hadn’t attended Mass in fifteen years would still identify as a Catholic; but recently is more likely to accept his or her unaffiliated status. There is less social (and perhaps also psychological) cost in saying “I have no particular religion that I’m connected to” than there once was.

That’s a good question, but not one that is easily answered. I suspect he’s right, though, about at least a portion of the increase. And that’s another reason why being out as an atheist is important, because it makes others feel safe enough to be honest about what they think and believe.

41 comments

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  1. 1
    Synfandel

    I’m not an American. Someone help me understand this, please. Why are the Protestants divided into white and black? Is this a racial reference or some other kind of black and white? If it refers to race, are Protestant churches actually racially segregated in the USA? In 2012?!

  2. 2
    ashleybell

    Yeah, but that ‘feeling ok’ to admit your non-religiousity is a good sign too. In fact, i would argue that it is necessarily the first step. Welcome to the new ENVIRONMENT where these declarations can begin to be made

  3. 3
    Reginald Selkirk

    In fact, those who openly identify as agnostic or atheist are still under 5%.

    I filled in the missing word for you.
    You’re welcome.

  4. 4
    Michael Heath

    Synfandel writes:

    I’m not an American. Someone help me understand this, please. Why are the Protestants divided into white and black? Is this a racial reference or some other kind of black and white? If it refers to race, are Protestant churches actually racially segregated in the USA? In 2012?!

    I’m not sure why pollsters do this though there is some benefit to them doing so which I’ll elaborate on here.

    One is that black Protestants overwhelming tend to vote for Democrats, 90+%. White evangelicals used to be split prior to 1980, but now predominately vote Republican. We would have a more difficult time understanding black protestants and white evangelicals if they were lumped together; which would be regrettable since they’re very different in their collective behaviors though with a few similarities – their shared bigotry of GBLTs being one.

    Segregation is effectively still in place in many areas, churches being one example, neighborhoods, even townships, counties, and whole states. As an example, there are virtually no black people living in the top half of the mitt of Michigan where I live. Another example I found when I was in college was the dormitories.

    Given how politicized white conservative Christianity has become since the 1970s, I can’t see how we’ll observe significantly more integration in the future, especially given that conservative Christians are increasing their political activism to the point it’s a predominant feature. What self-loving black person would join such a group whose racism is barely beneath the veneer?

  5. 5
    slc1

    Re Synfandel @ #1

    Most of the Protestant churches in the US are racially integrated, as is the Catholic Church. However, for historical reasons, there are a number of Afro-American churches which have few, if any Caucasian members.

  6. 6
    Sastra

    Yeah, I hate the word “spiritual,” too. It’s not just poorly defined, it seems to be poorly defined on purpose. What Daniel Dennett called a “deepity” — a word, concept or phrase with distinctly different interpretations which are blurred together, so that the more rational meaning gives credibility to the one that makes less sense.

    What makes a person “spiritual?” A love and sense of connection with nature; a compassion for suffering; a concern for human well-being; an appreciation for beauty; a feeling of reverence and awe for the universe — and the fact that we are here. Deep thoughts. Awwwww…

    Who the hell is going to reject all that?

    But we know all know what else makes a person “spiritual.” Belief in the supernatural; having a special way of knowing; mysticism; the conscious universe; ESP and PK; alternative medicine; God and religion; the sense that the cosmos is fundamentally mental, and magic, and structured around human concerns. Shallow thinking. Arghhhh…

    (And then there’s the stuff in the middle: meditation, prayer, whatever it means to “connect” with nature or believe in something “higher” or “larger” than yourself. This can flip in either direction.)

    So what do they usually mean when they talk about “spirituality?” Both. Either. First one, then the other. Flip flop, flip flop … till they are seen as the “same thing” and atheists either must be ornery and believe in God anyway or atheists must be hollow shells of human beings incapable of feeling deep thoughts. Whatever fits the situation and yet still makes atheists wrong.

    So I always answer the question “are you spiritual?” with “It depends.” It depends on what you, the person asking the question, actually means. And then I will pin you down to that, and only that. No bait ‘n switch. No deepities.

    Go to a book store and look under the section marked “Spirituality.” See how many art and science books there are.

  7. 7
    ashleybell

    Re Synfandel @ #1

    Re- Writ large, protestant simply means “not catholic”. Where there is essentially only one catholic church, protestantism (which begins with Martin Luther’s proclamation)now inclues the several hundred baptist denominations, lutherans methodists episcopalians, evangelicals (which are the most recent offshoot of protestantism-proper) so already its all over the map, fromthe most intolerant fundamental side to the far more progressive Epsicopal church. Each of these protestant offshoots have slightly to extremely differing socio/political/racial makeup.

  8. 8
    Ben P

    I’m not an American. Someone help me understand this, please. Why are the Protestants divided into white and black? Is this a racial reference or some other kind of black and white? If it refers to race, are Protestant churches actually racially segregated in the USA? In 2012?!

    Most of the Protestant churches in the US are racially integrated, as is the Catholic Church. However, for historical reasons, there are a number of Afro-American churches which have few, if any Caucasian members.

    Slc1 is probably correct as an *official* matter, but from personal experience I think he’s wrong here. It’s much more integrated up north, but in the South you will not find a more segregated environment than churches. Accross large parts of the rural south you find that White folks go to churches that are mostly white folks, and black folks go to churches that are mostly black folks. No one ever really talks about it because the numbers of people trying to cross over are very rare, but they’re present.

    The best example of this is Baptists.

    Look at this photo fro the “Southern Baptist Convention”
    http://www.conventionalthinking.org/files/2011/07/imageserverasp.jpeg

    Now look at this photo from the “National Baptist Convention”
    http://images.christianpost.com/full/43826/national-baptist-convention.jpg?w=658&h=438&l=50&t=50

  9. 9
    W. Kevin Vicklund

    It’s more of a historical artifact. Churches used to be segregated, and as a result, there was a divergence in doctrine.

  10. 10
    Ben P

    I’ll correct that slightly.

    Slc1 is probably correct as to most mainstream protestant denominations. My observations are limited primarily to the south.

    Methodists and Episcopals and “bible churches” in my experience tend to be quite integrated. Lutherans tend to be majority white if only because most lutherans come from nordic or germanic families, and it’s a shrinking, rather than a growing denomination. Baptists outside of the south tend to be more integrated than those in the south.

  11. 11
    Doug Little

    In fact, those who openly identify as agnostic or atheist are still under 5%.

    That’s still 15,000,000 people give or take. Not too shabby.

  12. 12
    eric

    But Alan Jacobs wonders if there actually are more people who are leaving traditional religion behind, or if there are just more people admitting to it these days

    The Pew survey DID ask about weekly service attendence. Its disappointing that (1) they either didn’t collect this data in the past or (2) they did, and just didn’t bother to do a trend analysis. Because that could answer the question. If people are really leaving, you’d expect a downward trend in attendence. If, OTOH, they’re just admitting to how they’ve always felt and acted, you’d expect attendence to be relatively constant (because such ‘admitters’ probably never went that often in the first place).

  13. 13
    Jacob Schmidt

    So I always answer the question “are you spiritual?” with “It depends.” It depends on what you, the person asking the question, actually means. And then I will pin you down to that, and only that. No bait ‘n switch. No deepities.

    I have a hard time getting people to give me a straight definition. I always like Carl Sagan’s definition, from Demon Haunted World. His is about why we enjoy life. The reasons we like to be alive are the things about which we are spiritual.

    Even so, I still really dislike the word spiritual.

  14. 14
    Tony Sidaway

    The most interesting figure I get from that survey is 50%. That’s the amount of growth seen in the number of self-declared atheists and (separately) of self-declared agnostics in just 5 years.

    The “nothing in particular” number is larger, but has not really increased much.

    Now the crosstab figures I’m discussing aren’t statistically significant, but given time we may begin to see a trend.

  15. 15
    Gregory in Seattle

    @ashleybell #7 – Not true. Protestantism derives from the heritage of the Roman Catholic Church; the name refers to those traditions which split from Rome during the Protestant Reformation and to their ideological and doctrinal descendants. Eastern Orthodoxy, ancient traditions considered heterodox (the Arians and Oriental Orthodoxy) and more modern traditions which grew separately from any historic church (such as the LDS movement) are not considered Protestant.

    @Synfandel #1 – Even today, there is a very large racial gulf in much of the religious US. Keep in mind that the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, was created to support white slave-holders during the Civil War; the SBC did not renounce this heritage until 1995, and even today, the denomination is overwhelmingly white.

    Also keep in mind our history of racial segregation. In many states and townships, it was illegal for races to mix, even in churches. Have you ever seen “To Kill a Mockingbird,” with the “colored balcony” in the courthouse? Most churches were built that way, too, with blacks allowed in only if they stayed in the upper tier, arriving before the whites got there and not allowed to leave until the whites left so as not to disturb the illusion of a white-only congregation. As a result, many African-American communities built and ran their own churches; over the decades and centuries, these developed very different cultures to the point where predominantly AA denominations are effectively a separate demographic. Even in denominations that are generally integrated, like the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ, the realities of self-segregation into different neighborhoods leave many individual congregations with different cultures and traditions based on the majority race of the congregants.

  16. 16
    Ben P

    I have a hard time getting people to give me a straight definition.

    I think that’s because there is not any definition that is both straight and broadly applicable.

    There’s a great video on Youtube called “Science saved my Soul” (seriously, watch it if you haven’t seen it) where the narrator describes being in awe at a particular natural phenomenon and describing it to another, and being infuriated when they co-opt the feeling by saying “ah, you had a religious experience.

    I think this happens because, with perhaps some very limited exceptions, Religious belief is not a creature of logic, but a creature of emotion. And everyone experiences emotion in a subtly different way.

    Like the narrator of that video I’ve been camping on a particularly dark and clear night and been so in awe of the beauty of the night sky that I get choked up thinking about it. The explicitly religious wax poetic about the majesty of god and the beauty of creation. The “nothing in particular” or “spiritual crowd” may still describe it in terms of religion, but without god. I don’t think it diminishes the emotional reaction for an atheist to recognize it’s just an emotional reaction, but that the physical world really is that awesome.

  17. 17
    Michael Heath

    slc1 writes:

    Most of the Protestant churches in the US are racially integrated

    I doubt this is true. They may not have rules prohibiting blacks from joining, but most are effectively segregated.

  18. 18
    Nemo

    Those “nones” may not all be atheists, but the important thing in political terms is that they don’t want to be ruled by churches. That puts them squarely on our side, I think.

  19. 19
    Squiddhartha

    Speaking of self-identification as atheist, Ed, I remember that when I first started following you, you described yourself as a deist. But more recently, and certainly since the founding of FreeThoughtBlogs, I’ve seen you calling yourself an atheist. Do you have a post anywhere that I missed, describing your decision to change that?

  20. 20
    Forrest

    I’m an atheist and would never call myself spiritual, but I would still say I “often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth”.

  21. 21
    lofgren

    How many of these people put none because “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship with Jesus?”

  22. 22
    Sastra

    Forrest #20 wrote:

    I’m an atheist and would never call myself spiritual, but I would still say I “often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth”.

    Ah, so do I! But in the most popular meaning for “spirituality,” that connection is supposed to be mind-to-Mind.

    Otherwise, it’s not “deep.”

  23. 23
    wscott

    There was a time when I used to call myself spiritual-but-not-religious. I know, I know…. I had rejected organized religion, but wasn’t ready to let go of God – transitioning from theist to deist on the road to atheism. I stopped calling myself spiritual because most people I met that embraced that label were New Agers, and I didn’t want to be associated with their beliefs either.

    Nothing In Particular is good – it’s a gateway drug. And I expect NIPers are far less likely to try and impose their beliefs on others, so I have no problem with them.

    I think the main reason pollsters differentiate between white vs black protestants is simply because the “numbers” are so very different on so many issues. As Michael Heath pointed out, politically the two groups are miles apart. Socially, churches are seen as being a much larger part of “the Black Community” than they are the white community. (It’s been said, without much exaggeration, that President Obama is the first national Black political leader who isn’t a Reverend.) And as you can see, while white protestants are fleeing the church in droves, black protestants hold steady.

    What I find really sad is that with all the Catholic Church scandals of the past few years, their numbers haven’t budged an inch. Unless they already had their big drop pre-2007?

  24. 24
    mildlymagnificent

    Forrest wrote

    I’m an atheist and would never call myself spiritual, but I would still say I “often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth”.

    Funnily enough we were talking about exactly this over dinner with friends the other day. The basic conclusion?

    We like to take our wonders and mysteries of the universe neat. We don’t want them diluted or filtered through made up mysteries.

  25. 25
    tacitus

    How many of these people put none because “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship with Jesus?”

    This is the thesis of many of the commenters over at WorldNutDaily when they put up a story about the survey, but if you look into the data you’ll find that only 5% of the “nones” attend a religious service on a weekly basis. If there are any unaffiliated evangelicals hiding in those numbers, it’s very few.

  26. 26
    gesres

    In fact, those who identify as agnostic or atheist are still under 5%.

    Actually, it’s 5.7%, unless I’m misreading the chart.

  27. 27
    tacitus

    But Alan Jacobs wonders if there actually are more people who are leaving traditional religion behind, or if there are just more people admitting to it these days

    I’m sure it’s some of both, but in the end what really matters is that either way, it shows that the disconnect from the religious establishment is happening here in the US as it has in most of Western Europe over the last 30 years.

    Back in the UK, 30 years ago, a large number of my parents’ generation, never went to church, but they still believed that their religious traditions were important enough that many of their children (and my friends) were required to attend Sunday School while they were growing up.

    Today, that doesn’t happen. The vast majority of British parents today couldn’t care less about getting their kids a religious education. Most churches have seen Sunday school roles plummeting in the last decade.

    The first step in this process is the recognition that family religious traditions are just not that important, and so whether the survey is showing that young people are less likely to be religious, or just that more young people are willing to admit it today, it’s progress either way.

    Remember, many of these Millennials are going to be raising kids over the next twenty years and are far less likely to be instilling “religious values” in them than their parents, so while it’s going to take time to see the full fruits of these numbers appear, it’s going to happen eventually.

  28. 28
    bad Jim

    I feel a strong, nearly unbreakable connection to the earth. I call it “gravity”.

    There is attrition among Catholics, but their numbers are being maintained by immigration.

  29. 29
    cazfans

    Even George W. Bush recognized the segregation of churches in the US, once repeating the old phrase, “America is never so segregated as it is at 11 o’clock on Sunday.” Not too many years ago I taught a minority groups course in Alabama. Students were required to hang out or do something where their racial or ethnic group didn’t usually go. Many students chose to go to other race churches. White students who attended black churches came back amazed by the energy they experienced. Black students came back amazed that white church services ended on time. (When I tell my black church going acquaintances about this, they crack up and tell me about how last week they were half out the door when they were called back for more). I found the service I attended at the Islamic Center the most interesting, as it was the most mixed racially and, so far as I could tell, mixed in terms of social class of any congregation I’ve seen recently. (To be sure, most of my contact with congregations is from driving by on the outside.) The service proper was not, however, mixed by gender. Though this was not a big Friday service, the numerous men (and boys) seemed to take the service quite seriously. My female student reported that upstairs, where the women, a much smaller crowd than the men, had a video feed from the goings on downstairs, there was more conversation and whatnot going on than the bowing and listening from the men that they could see on their screen.

  30. 30
    joewinpisinger1

    Very well done… Balance post… Good job Ed!

  31. 31
    matty1

    It seems to me people who identify as atheist or agnostic are making a kind of intellectual self identification. Those labels are a way of saying “I have thought about this question before and my conclusion is..”.

    People who are not involved in religion because they never were or because they gave up due to time commitments or boredom are less likely to use a name like atheist because they haven’t reached a conclusion that religion is bollocks. They just don’t think about it unless some pollster asks them.

    Religion is also a kind of identification of course but because it is more common for children to be raised religious I think it is less about having consciously decided a religion is right and more about declaring allegiance to family and community.

  32. 32
    tacitus

    I think we also have to accept the fact that atheism is never going to appeal to a majority of people. There isn’t a country in the world where atheism has been freely adopted a majority of the population. (i.e. China, Cuba, and the former Eastern Bloc countries, etc. don’t count.)

    Most people simply don’t like the idea of there being nothing more to life than life itself, and prefer to hold on to the hope that there is a supernatural/spiritual component to our existence.

    The good news is that most of these people still have little patience with the kind of Old Testament religion that infests America, but we do need to be realistic about the future.

    Spiritual woo isn’t going to go away, even after the majority of American churches fall silent.

  33. 33
    Ataraxic

    Regarding your suspicion that people may just be more comfortable identifying as unaffiliated, in my experience a portion of these may later be more comfortable identifying as agnostic/atheist. That was my experience, and that of a few other “de-converts” I know.

  34. 34
    birgerjohansson

    So the heritage of “N*gger Heaven” still lives on? That’s very sad.

  35. 35
    left0ver1under

    I doubt that it really matters if most of the “nones” still believe in a fiction. The real good news is that organized cults are losing numbers and thus losing power and money.

    Organized religion has emotional and peer pressure and physical force to get its members to blindly obey, to do things against their own sense of right and wrong. When believers in myths leave organized religions, they have to start making moral and social judgements on their own. And when they do, they’re far more likely to make good judgements based on what they see with their own eyes and experience rather than wearing blinders and doing what they’re told.

  36. 36
    Michael Heath

    tacitus writes:

    I think we also have to accept the fact that atheism is never going to appeal to a majority of people. There isn’t a country in the world where atheism has been freely adopted a majority of the population.

    I strongly disagree. The rise of atheism among non-intellectuals is a very new phenomena where the trends are strongly in favor of atheism. Especially if humans continue to enjoy moral progress and increased financial security where both are strong correlative factors. Less than a quarter of Swedes believe in a god, that same rate are atheists, and just over half believe in a ‘spirit or life force’. 1/3 of France are atheists, with only 34% believing in God whereas the rest believe in a spirit or life force. Cite, 2005 Eurobarometer, PDF]: http://goo.gl/tJUZe . Best viewed in this Wikipedia table: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism

    Society without God is an excellent introduction to the culture of disbelief. One of the most interesting findings implied throughout the book is how new we are to disbelief as a culture. Even those Scandanavian cultures where the vast majority of citizens are not believers still rely on the remnants of religion to frame their morality, e.g., they support the golden rule and refer to the New Testament as their reference point.

    If climate change is not too devastating to humanity in the next several decades I would expect see atheism become a major sub-population in all developed economies, including the U.S.

  37. 37
    tacitus

    Michael, I’m not sure you’re idea of a majority is the same as mine. I know the figures you quote about Sweden and France — it’s those kind of figures that I’m basing my argument on.

    If you believe in some kind of spirit or life force, you aren’t an atheist, and when half a nation does, it’s impossible for atheists to be in the majority.

    It’s the same situation in the UK. Only a small minority of Brits could be classed as orthodox (lower case) Christians these day, but then atheists are not close to being in the majority either.

    When I was there over the summer, I had to roll my eyes and bite my tongue when a friend of mine was telling me that one of her friends is psychic, saying that she this person had predicted things said things about her and her partner she could not possibly have known. And just a few weeks ago I got into a (polite) argument with a woman who believes that she was able to buy the house of her dreams solely through the act of positive thinking (she rejected my hypothesis that her state of mind had made her more determined to do what it took to get the house, saying, essentially, that it was the universe that aligned to her wishes, not the other way around.)

    Now, these are just personal anecdotes, but over the years many of my non-religious friends had repeated similar experiences and beliefs. There’s even a couple of moments in my own past where I’ve found myself saying “Did that really happen?” And I think that when you add it all up, the “Alliance of Woo” (the traditionally religious and those who feel spiritually connected in some way) will always have the upper hand over those who definitively say that it’s all nonsense.

    This type of thing is one of the main reasons we have religions in the first place. Strange things happen to almost all of us if we live long enough, and while some of us can write them off as chance or misapprehensions, there are more who do not, and I just don’t see that changing substantially, even if evolution becomes non-controversial and church pews are empty. (Yes, even in 100 years and more.)

    But as I said, it’s not all bad news. a nation that has a strong (30-40%) atheist minority is almost certainly not one where conservative religion as we know it in the US can flourish. I fully expect the “unaffiliated” to rise well above 50% in the US in the decades ahead (perhaps as early as 2020 in the generation after the Millennials) and the number of atheists will grow strongly too, just not enough to threaten the 50% mark.

  38. 38
    Michael Heath

    tacitus writes:

    I’m not sure you’re idea of a majority is the same as mine. I know the figures you quote about Sweden and France — it’s those kind of figures that I’m basing my argument on.

    Right, but you were predicting the future, that was my objection where I’ll quote you again:

    I think we also have to accept the fact that atheism is never going to appeal to a majority of people.
    [emphasis mine - MH]

    So based on the current empirical evidence combined with the fact secularism, political liberty, science, cognizance of how to manage economies, and easy cheap easy access to knowledge are all relatively novel aspects of being human, we’re racing to disbelief at a sprinter’s pace, not that the race was already lost.

    So again, I strongly disagree we should concede atheism will never happen for most of us or that such a conclusion is so foregone we must accept it as fact as you assert here. As I noted in the current stats, it’s already beginning to take root in some developed economies. Besides the countries mentioned previously less than 15% of Japanese believe in God [1].

    1] Heine, Steven. Sacred high city, sacred low city: a tale of religious sites in two Tokyo neighborhoods. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 54. ISBN 0195386205. According to his Wikipedia site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Japan#Demographics

  39. 39
    tacitus

    So based on the current empirical evidence combined with the fact secularism, political liberty, science, cognizance of how to manage economies, and easy cheap easy access to knowledge are all relatively novel aspects of being human, we’re racing to disbelief at a sprinter’s pace, not that the race was already lost.

    I agree that in some very significant ways, things are moving rapidly in the right direction — most notably the demise of organized religion in Western Europe, something I do believe will happen (though probably not as comprehensively) in the USA over the next 25-50 years. And, yes, in the USA and other more religious nations, secularization is gaining speed.

    But where I think we will have to agree to disagree is just how deep that secularization will go. I think a strong majority of people will eventually get as far as some combination of agnosticism and weak deism, accepting that the Gods of the Holy Books aren’t real but unwilling to take that last step and reject the supernatural in its entirety. They will keep on bumping up against that final hurdle saying “There’s got to be something more to life than this.”

    Without religion to show the way, that something more manifests in all kinds of ways, from belief in mediums, horoscopes, mystics, and theories of woo through the New Age “connectedness of beings” back to the echos of traditional faiths. These are all manifestations of our brains wanting to connect dots in our lives and experiences that aren’t there. It’s part of who we are, and I believe it will always be a battle to overcome it.

    But I’m not depressed by this at all. The majority of these non-believers are functional atheists. They have no interest in having religion in their daily lives (even if many of them still want to “teach the controversy” when asked) and while belief in woo comes with its own set to problems, for the most part, it remains on the margins when it comes to making public policy, and where it doesn’t it’s easier to tackle than fully entrenched religious conservatism.

    I guess the best way to put it is that the worlds we imagine are pretty much the same when it comes to practical matters, even if I there will be far fewer atheists than you do in the future.

  40. 40
    tacitus

    Sorry I mangled last paragraph, but I think you know what I mean.

  41. 41
    abb3w

    @12, eric

    The Pew survey DID ask about weekly service attendence. Its disappointing that (1) they either didn’t collect this data in the past or (2) they did, and just didn’t bother to do a trend analysis.

    I think the latter.

    The Berkeley SDA is down this week, but the GSS collected similar data. The question is, since you may not be sampling the exact same people over time, what analysis do you use to find the claimed trend or not between attendance, strength of religious identification, generational cohort, and time? Especially as it seems very likely those whose religious identification diminishes will thereafter also decrease attendance?

    @14, Tony Sidaway

    The most interesting figure I get from that survey is 50%. That’s the amount of growth seen in the number of self-declared atheists and (separately) of self-declared agnostics in just 5 years. The “nothing in particular” number is larger, but has not really increased much.

    50% for atheists, 57 % for agnostics, and about 20% Nothing In Particular. (“NIPs”? Sounds ethnically offensive, but we’re already befuddling Catholics by talking about Nones.) This means atheists/agnostics are an increasing fraction of the Nones.

    While the numbers may not be statistically significant, the Georgetown/PRRI study noticed a sharp rise within the Millennials of atheists and agnostics. I think the combination may be statistically significant. What’s not clear is how significant the None-internal growth of atheists/agnostics is in pre-Millennial generation cohorts. The magnitude of the number in the Georgetown/PRRI study might leave this shift in the None’s composition primarily an effect of generational turnover.

    @23, wscott:

    And I expect NIPers

    Aha! Little “NIPpers”! A good shorthand for them, if with some irritating connotations. I like it.

    @23, wscott:

    What I find really sad is that with all the Catholic Church scandals of the past few years, their numbers haven’t budged an inch.

    Mostly due to immigration (not only from Mexico, but also the Phillipines and elsewhere) and a slightly higher birth rate. As I recall, if you cut out immigration, Catholics are imploding as fast as the Baptists. Optimistically, this may be a difference in availability of information, that growing up in the US will tend to offset in the next generation.

    @27, tacitus

    I’m sure it’s some of both, but in the end what really matters is that either way, it shows that the disconnect from the religious establishment is happening here in the US as it has in most of Western Europe over the last 30 years.

    The GSS has similar data and allows similar breakout. Similar to how Spain and Italy remain much more religious than the Scandinavian countries and (at a guess) may be changing more slowly, the shift in South in the US lags on the order of a generation over the country as a whole. Eppur si muove….

    @32, tacitus

    I think we also have to accept the fact that atheism is never going to appeal to a majority of people.

    I’m not sure I’d go that far.

    Extrapolating the cohort trend logistically, the 2007 birth cohort will end up about 50% “None” as adults, and the 2032 cohort about 80% when they show up in the survey data circa 2050. Georgetown/PRRI indicates the agnostic and atheist fraction in the millennial cohort already outnumber the NIPpers, and may be growing. So, barring major trend shifts the US should be majority “atheist/agnostic” circa 2090 or so. The question remains whether or not atheist will ever overtake agnostic; that may depend on how long the current concept of “agnostic atheist” (combining certainty vs. belief) stays in vogue.

    So… maybe never in your lifetime. But that’s not the same thing.

    @37, tacitus

    I fully expect the “unaffiliated” to rise well above 50% in the US in the decades ahead (perhaps as early as 2020 in the generation after the Millennials)

    From what I can make out, 2025 will have report the first majority “None” cohort; when the US median age catches up to them circa 2050, the US will be majority “None”, about when the first majority “atheist/agnostic” cohort will show up.

    This neglect the probably non-trivial but ambiguous impacts from the impending Peak Oil and Anthropogenic Climate Shift events on the horizon. That could drive people to seek solace in religion over disaster, or provoke a violent backlash against religion over its having bolstered obstacles to timely response. And, of course, it’s possible something completely unexpected might impact the trends.

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