According to USA Today, a new survey by the Pew Forum brings the welcome news that the proportion of “nones” in America—that is, those who identify as either agnostics, atheists, or lacking religious belief—has jumped to an all-time high of 19%, a threefold increase in the last 22 years.
Barry Kosmin, co-author of three American Religious Identification Surveys, theorizes why None has become the “default category.” He says, “Young people are resistant to the authority of institutional religion, older people are turned off by the politicization of religion, and people are simply less into theology than ever before.”
Kosmin’s surveys were the first to brand the Nones in 1990 when they were 6% of U.S. adults. By 2008 survey, Nones were up to 15%. By 2010, another survey, the bi-annual General Social Survey, bumped the number to 18%.
Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church, the nation’s largest religious denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, Methodists and Lutherans, all show membership flat or inching downward, according to the 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.
The 19% count is based on aggregated surveys of 19,377 people conducted by the Pew Research Center throughout 2011.
Where do the “nones” come from?
Two forces could hold Nones’ numbers down. First, they are disproportionately young, often single, and highly educated — all groups with a low birth rate. Second, the number of believers who immigrate to the USA from particularly religious nations, such as Catholics from Mexico, fluctuates with government policies and economic issues, Chaves says.
But the chief way the category grows is by “switchers.” A 2009 Pew Forum look at “switching” found more than 10% of American adults became Nones after growing up within a religious group.
This underscores the fact that a combination of rationality and immersion in religious nonsense is a good path to atheism. And it convinces me that the public statements and presence of New Atheists, combined with the irrevocable path of secularism in other Western countries, will ultimately lead to the demise of religion in America. Just not in our lifetime.
Caveat: I haven’t found anything on the Pew site verifying these data. Presumably a formal report is in the offing, which I’ll highlight when it appears.