Irreligion in the United States
20% of the U.S. population (2012)1
(Pew Research Center)
|Regions with significant populations|
|New England region, Western United States|
(including agnosticism, atheism, deism, skepticism, freethought/freethinker, secular humanism, ignosticism, Nonbeliever, Non-theist, Rationalist)
Encompassing at least agnosticism, atheism, secular humanism, and general secularism,2 nonreligious Americans have been counted in the tens of millions by various polls.23 Many Americans, especially in the American West, have historically rejected both organized religion and nonreligion, preferring what historians sometimes call "disorganized religion".4 For example, deists may be religious, though not part of any organized religion.5
A 2008 Gallup survey reported that religion is not an important part of their daily life for 34% of Americans.6 A 2012 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reported, "The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling."7 But being religiously unaffiliated does not mean that a person is not religious in some way; 68% of the religiously unaffiliated say they believe in God.7
Some evidence suggests that the fastest-growing religious status in the United States is "no religion",8 comprising nearly 20% of the adult public as of 2012.7 According to the Pew Research Center report people describing themselves as "atheist" or "agnostic" were 6% of the total population in the US, and within the religiously unaffiliated (or "no religion") demographic, atheists made up 12% and agnostics made up 17%.9 Those who have no religious affiliation are sometimes referred to as "nones".7810
Several groups promoting no religious faith or opposing religious faith altogether – including the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Camp Quest, and the Rational Response Squad – have witnessed large increases in membership numbers in recent years, and the number of secularist student organizations at American colleges and universities increased during the 2000s (decade).311
A Barna group poll found that about 20 million people say they are atheist, have no religious faith or are agnostic, with 5 million of that number claiming to be atheists. The study also found that "[t]hey tend to be more educated, more affluent and more likely to be male and unmarried than those with active faith" and that "only 6 percent of people over 60 have no faith in God, and one in four adults ages 18 to 22 describe themselves as having no faith."3
A 2008 Gallup poll asking the question "Which of the following statements comes closest to your belief about God: you believe in God, you don't believe in God but you do believe in a universal spirit or higher power, or you don't believe in either?" showed that, nationally, 78% believed in God, 15% in "a universal spirit or higher power", 6% answering "neither", and 1% unsure. The poll also highlighted the regional differences, with residents in the Western states answering 59%, 29%, and 10% respectively, compared to the residents in the Southern states that answered 86%, 10%, and 3%.12 Several of the western states have been informally nicknamed Unchurched Belt, contrasting with the Bible Belt in the southern states.
The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) found that while 34.8 million U.S. Adults (15.2%) described themselves as "without religion", almost 90% of these answered "none" with no qualifications. Only 1.4 million (4.0%) positively claimed to be atheist, with another 2 million (5.7%) professing agnosticism.13
A comprehensive study by Harvard University professor Robert Putnam found that religious Americans are three to four times more likely than their nonreligious counterparts to "work on community projects, belong to voluntary associations, attend public meetings, vote in local elections, attend protest demonstrations and political rallies, and donate time and money to causes -- including secular ones."2021 However, the study found that religious people are somewhat less tolerant of free speech and dissent than non-religious people.2223
However, the American public at large often has a less positive view of the irreligious. One "extensive study of how Americans view various minority groups", found that "atheists are at the top of the list of groups that Americans find problematic."24 A Religion and Public Life Survey (2002) found that 54 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of atheists,25 and 28 percent have an unfavorable opinion of people who are "not religious."26
Exit polls suggest that white Americans without religion vote Democratic at roughly the same rates that white Americans with religion vote Republican. According to exit polls in the 2008 presidential election, 71% of non-religious whites voted for Democratic candidate Barack Obama while 74% of white Evangelical Christians voted for Republican candidate John McCain. This can be compared with the 43–55% share of white votes overall.27 More than six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats (39%) or lean toward the Democratic Party (24%). They are about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72%) and same-sex marriage (73%). In the last five years, the unaffiliated have risen from 17% to 24% of all registered voters who are Democrats or lean Democratic.28 According to a Pew Research exist poll 70% of those who were religiously unaffiliated voted for Barack Obama.
In January 2007, California Congressman Pete Stark became the first openly atheist member of Congress. He described himself as "a Unitarian who does not believe in a Supreme Being." In January 2013, Kyrsten Sinema became the first openly non-theist Congresswoman, representing the State of Arizona. Although she "believes the terms ‘nontheist,’ ‘atheist’ or ‘nonbeliever’ are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character," she does believe in a secular approach to government. Her unbelief "was not used to slander her as un-American or suggest that she was unfit for office."29
On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became the first United States President to acknowledge "non-believers" in his inaugural address,30 although other presidents such as George W. Bush31 have previously acknowledged non-believers in different speeches.
- Ethical movement
- First Amendment to the United States Constitution
- Religion in the United States
- Religious skepticism
- Secular humanism
- http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/14/169164840/losing-our-religion-the-growth-of-the-nones Losing Our Religion: The Growth Of The 'Nones'
- Kosmin, Barry et al. American Religious Identification Survey, The Graduate Center of the City University of New York (2001). Accessed 2013-09-26.
- Salmon, Jacqueline. "In America, Nonbelievers Find Strength in Numbers", Washington Post (September 15, 2007).
- Ward, Geoffrey. The West: An Illustrated History, p. 151 (Hachette Digital 2008).
- Schultz, Jeffrey et al. Encyclopedia of Religion in American Politics, p. 73 (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999).
- Frank, Newport (28 January 2009). "State of the States: Importance of Religion". Gallup. Retrieved 2012-11-06.
- "'Nones' on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation". Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. October 9, 2012. Retrieved 2012-10-19.
- "American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population". American Religious Identification Survey. 2008. Retrieved 2014-01-30.
- Cary Funk, Greg Smith. "Nones" on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation". Pew Research Center. pp. 9, 42.
- Hunter, Jeannine. "Who are the ‘Nones’?". Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-11-06.
- Atheist Student Groups Flower on College Campuses
- Newport, Frank (July 28, 2008). "Belief in God Far Lower in Western U.S.". Gallup. Retrieved 2010-01-16.
- The No Religion Population of the U.S.
- Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, Summary report, March 2009, American Religious Identification Survey [ARIS 2008], Trinity College.
- Barry A. Kosmin, Ariela Keysar, et al., American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population, Trinity College.
- "Religious people make better citizens, study says". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 2007-10-18. "The scholars say their studies found that religious people are three to four times more likely to be involved in their community. They are more apt than nonreligious Americans to work on community projects, belong to voluntary associations, attend public meetings, vote in local elections, attend protest demonstrations and political rallies, and donate time and money to causes -- including secular ones. At the same time, Putnam and Campbell say their data show that religious people are just "nicer": they carry packages for people, don't mind folks cutting ahead in line and give money to panhandlers."
- Campbell, David; Putnam, Robert (14 November 2010). "Religious people are 'better neighbors'". USA Today. Retrieved 2007-10-18. "The scholars say their studies found that religious people are three to four times more likely to be involved in their community. They are more apt than nonreligious Americans to work on community projects, belong to voluntary associations, attend public meetings, vote in local elections, attend protest demonstrations and political rallies, and donate time and money to causes — including secular ones."
- Campbell, David; Putnam, Robert (14 November 2010). "Religious people are 'better neighbors'". USA Today. Retrieved 2007-10-18. "On the one hand, religious Americans are somewhat less tolerant of free speech and dissent."
- "The Importance of Religion". 21 February 2009. Daily Kos. Retrieved 2013-05-14.
- Edgell, Penny. 2003. "In Rhetoric and Practice: Defining ‘The Good Family’ in Local Congregations." pp. 164–78 In Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, edited by Michele Dillon, Cambridge University Press.
- Religion and Public Life Survey. 2002. opinion of atheists (last accessed 2013-05-14).
- Religion and Public Life Survey. 2002. Opinion of non-religious people (last accessed 2013-05-14).
- CNN Exit polls
- ""Nones" on the Rise". Pew Research. October 9, 2012. Retrieved 2012-12-26.
- Oppenheimer, Mark (November 9, 2012). "Politicians Who Reject Labels Based on Religion". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-28.
- An inaugural first: Obama acknowledges 'non-believers'
- "Bush, like Obama, acknowledged non-believers". USA Today. 2009-01-22. Retrieved 2010-05-05.
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- None of the above: the growth of the “non-religious”, Derek Michaud (2009)