“No religion” segment of U.S. population profiled

September 23, 2009

At the “Values Voter Summit” of conservative Christian activists I attended last week in Washington, more than one participant lamented the “secularization” of America.

That will come as a surprise perhaps to more than one foreign reader of this blog, given America’s famously high rates of religiosity which set it apart from much of the rest of the developed world. And the evangelical tradition which much of the U.S. “religious right” comes from has been fast growing in recent decades.

spire1But Americans who claim no religion are fast growing and Trinity College in Hartford offers a detailed portrait of this group in a new report released this week called “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population.”

The 1990s was the decade of the “secular boom.” Regarding the percentage of adult Americans who claim no religious affiliation, the researchers found that it had grown from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001 and to 15 percent in 2008. The growth of the Nones is a national phenomenon. They are the only group that increased in every state and region of the country during the past 18 years,” the report says.

“Who exactly are the Nones? “None” is not a movement, but a label for a diverse group of people who do not identify with any of the myriad of religious options in the American religious marketplace – the irreligious, the unreligious, the anti-religious, and the anti-clerical. Some believe in God; some do not. Some may participate occasionally in religious rituals; others never will. Nones are easily misunderstood. On the one hand, only a small minority are atheists. On the other hand, it is also not correct to describe them as “unchurched” or “unaffiliated” on the assumption that they are mainly theists and religious searchers who are temporarily between congregations. Yet another incorrect assumption is that large proportions of Nones are anti-rationalist proponents of New Age and supernatural ideas,” it says.

The report will no doubt be held up by conservative Christians — a key base for the Republican Party — as further evidence of the country’s cultural slide since the permissive 1960s and the end of school prayer. The neo-atheist movement on the other hand will probably say it attests to their growing popularity (even if outright atheists are only a minority of Nones).

The report is drawn from the massive American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), which questioned 54,461 adults in either English or Spanish between February and November 2008. Its main findings were released in March.

Here are some highlights of this report:

* The “None” numbers — 34 million American adults — far exceed the combined total of all the non-Christian religious groups in the United States.

* Whereas Nones are presently 15 percent of the total adult U.S. population, 22 percent of Americans aged 18-29 years self-identify as Nones.

* Regarding belief in the divine, most Nones are neither atheists nor theists but rather agnostics and deists (59 percent) and perhaps best described as skeptics.

* The most significant difference between the religious and non-religious populations is a gender gap: Whereas 19 percent of American men are Nones only 12 percent of American women are Nones. The gender ratio among Nones is 60 males for every 40 females.

It is also interesting to note the political affiliation of Nones. Some observers of the U.S. political scene would no doubt regard “secular humanists” — many of whom would be classified as Nones — as a key base for the Democratic Party. Certainly many among the conservative Christian crowd I rubbed shoulders with last week would hold that point of view. But perhaps unsurprisingly the report says when it comes to partisan politics they tend to have an independent cast of mind: “Politically, 21 percent of the nation’s independents are Nones, as are 16 percent of Democrats and eight percent of Republicans. In 1990, 12 percent of independents were Nones, as were 6 percent of Democrats and 6 percent of Republicans.”

(PHOTO: The spire of Memorial Church rises above Harvard Yard at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts September 21, 2009. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Ok Noah,
What was his counsel to Job?
to go ahead and curse G-d,
Now was that G-d counsel or Satan’s?

Mt 7:15
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

when they get out side of the word, you need to walk away.
But Noah , this not your issue with G-d is it?
email me and tell what the real issue is?

Why are you threatened by the word of G-d. Wouldn’t it be nice to that he loves and wants you to spend eternity with Him. Where is your hope in life?
Just to be put in the ground
Noah that’s not much of a life. God is real and he is calling you, nothing to threatened by.
I never new him to eat anybody…LOL
What are you afraid of?

There was no mention of Satan controlling Eliah. According to the bible, Eliah was simply a man who believed he knew everything. I am familiar with the passage. Are you?

Those who believe they know about God’s will and his decisions, claim to know things for which they cannot possibly have knowledge. The bible is clear on that. And for a person who obviously thinks the bible is fact, I am surprised you don’t also see this.

Regarding your other statements: What I or you may wish has no bearing as to what is true or not.

You may not like the idea that there may be nothing beyond death. But whether you like that idea or not, has no relevence to whether god exists or not. So asking me about what I desire after death is not only improper, but irrelevent to whether a god exists.

And you presume too much when you assume that I am afraid of faith. On the contrary. The fact is that I am willing to accept that I do not know the nature of the universe or how it was created. One who accepts his ignorance is not gripped by fear.

But you cannot accept the possibility that there may be no god, or that you cannot possibly know the nature of the universe. You fear the unknown, so you refuse to accept that the universe is unknown. You fear the concept of oblivion after death, so you refuse to believe there is true death.

So you attribute the universe to a cause for which you have no proof. You believe things which a human has no ability to know. And you claim things are true, when you have no evidence to show the truth of your claims.

That is the only issue here. The issue has nothing to do with me. Perhaps instead of looking at my fear, you should examine your own?

Do not expect further replies. I have said what I wish, and you have nothing to say that hasn’t already been said before.

Posted by Noah Idea | Report as abusive

First, I was wrong about what He was telling Job, Its been a while since I been in Job, But I do have some things I want to show..I gotta run right now. be back in a couple hours

And the debate finally died.

Posted by Arkist | Report as abusive

Mr Noah!

You are speaking gross error and entirely out of context re your ill-informed and presumptuos remarks about the Book of JOB !
Allow ME to School YOU!
Elihu is criticised by God for his impertinent hypocrisy in attempting to correct Job who was a far more schooled, experienced and righteous man in the Sight of God than Elihu was !
Elihu was wrongly assuming that Job was guilty of some form of sinful conduct which had resulted in the adverse circumstances which had come upon Job.
Your lack of Scriptural knowledge is apparent in your grossly erronoeus interpretation of God’s rebuke to Elihu.
You have, in fact, committed the same presumtuous error as that committed by Elihu.
Job was a Godly, righteous man who knew God and who also knew God’s Will.
Elihu was neither. He was too full of his own importance which led him to take advantage of Job’s vulnerability as he underwent the test of his faith.
At the end of the Book of Job, Elihu et al escape God’s judgment for their ‘dark counsel’ and prideful presumptous attitudes towards Job ONLY because Job prayed for them!> I’ll pray for you Mr Noah!

Posted by Angel | Report as abusive

Noah! You are as presumptous and ignorant of the facts as was Elihu!
You are clearly commenting with very little knowledge of the Scriptures concerned!
Elihu was not rebuked for claiming to know the Will of God but for his vain mis-interpretation of it!
Just like you, he thought he knew it all,
but he was foolishly MISTAKEN!

Posted by Angela | Report as abusive

To Angel/Angela.

You are the one claiming to know about god’s will. You are the one claiming to know everything about the universe. You are the one claiming to know the motives behind why god does things.

All I did was point this out. And YOU accuse ME of being presumptuous?

I have little time for your hypocracy. Spend your words elsewhere. You are an elihu, and no better. And you obviously don’t like being told so.

Posted by Noah Idea | Report as abusive

Yes indeed! Noah Idea!
I claim to know all those things !
I support my claims with a correct interpretation of that section of the Bible which you vainly attempted to use as an affront to my faith .
By way of response, I have pointed out to you the error of your interpretation.
Your subsequent adolescent, verbal attack is indicative of your inability to concede defeat!

Posted by Angela | Report as abusive

oh angel, your version is not special.
interpretations are interpretations.

i wonder what denomination/sect you are.
many christians will disagree with you.
claims are not facts.

in case you forgot, “the” bible was revised and reinterpreted thousands of times. thus, numerous versions exist.

bottom line: everyone is misinterpreting “the” bible.

Posted by mythsRmyths | Report as abusive