What’s the future of religious institutions in the U.S.? Answer: None.
By Lynn Stuart Parramore
February 28, 2015
With fire-breathing religion figuring anew in global conflicts, and political discussions at home often dominated by the nuttery of the Christian right, you might get the sense that somebody’s god is ready to mug you around every street corner. But if you’re the type who doesn’t like to hang your hat on organized religion, here’s a bit of good news: in America, your numbers are growing.
There are more religiously unaffiliated people in the U.S. today than ever before. Starting in the 1980s, a variety of polls using different methodologies have come to the same conclusion: people who do not identify with religious labels are on the rise, perhaps even doubling in that time frame.
Some call them “nones”: agnostics, atheists, deists, secular humanists, general humanists, and people who just don’t care to identify with any religious group. It’s not exactly correct to call them nonbelievers, because some still have faith and spirituality in some sense or another. A 2012 Pew study noted that 30 percent of these people believe in “God or universal spirit” and around 20 percent even pray every day. But according to the latest research, Americans checking the “none of the above” box will make up an increasingly important force in the country. Other groups, like born-again evangelicals, have grown more percentage-wise, but the nones have them beat in absolute numbers.
The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute has documented this sea change in its American Values Atlas, which it released last Wednesday. The fascinating study provides demographic, religious and political data based on surveys conducted throughout 2014. According to PRRI director of research Dan Cox, “The U.S. religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation that is fundamentally reshaping American politics and culture.”
Last year, for the very first time, Protestants lost their majority status in the Institute’s annual report, making up only 47 percent of those surveyed. The religiously unaffiliated, who come in at 22 percent, boast numbers on par with major religious groups like American Catholics. All told, the unaffiliated is the second-largest group in the country. It was also the most common group chosen by residents in 13 states, with the largest share (a third or more) in Washington, Oregon and New Hampshire. In Ohio and Virginia, this group was tied for first place. The unaffiliated don’t find too many like-minded folks down in Mississippi, however, where they make up only 10 percent of the population.