Young people continue to abandon religion in America

December 15, 2019 • 9:30 am

Nate Silver’s site FiveThirtyEight is famous for accurate election forecasts, though it ruined its record in 2016 by giving Hillary Clinton a 71% chance of winning. Well, to be fair, that was a close one, and at any rate today’s report is not about politics but religion. And it’s not even the site’s own poll, but a report on two new polls by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Pew Research Center. Both show that Millennials are abandoning established religions in droves. Given that AEI is a somewhat conservative site while Pew seems to be soft on faith, the data showing that Millennials are less religious than expected, and, unlike previous generations, are not coming back to the faith after leaving it, can be seen as credible.  Click on the screenshot to read 538’s report:

I’ll be brief here because this is part of a continuing trend of secularization in America, a trend that has been shown in many earlier surveys, and that I’ve written about several times.  The site defines “Millennial” as someone between age 23 and age 38, i.e., those born between 1981 and 1996.  Here are the salient results:

  • Four in ten Millennials identify as “nones,” in other words they are not affiliated with a church. As for the trend, the recent Pew survey shows this:

. . . the data shows a wide gap between older Americans (Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation) and Millennials in their levels of religious affiliation and attendance. More than eight-in-ten members of the Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1945) describe themselves as Christians (84%), as do three-quarters of Baby Boomers (76%). In stark contrast, only half of Millennials (49%) describe themselves as Christians; four-in-ten are religious “nones,” and one-in-ten Millennials identify with non-Christian faiths. 

You can see the generational trend in the bar graph below, as well as the fact that loss of religion in the last decade—or at least formal religion, as not all “nones” are unbelievers—cuts across all demographic groups. Note that unaffiliateds have increased significantly in every group save the silent generation, with a paltry 1% increase. And, of course, the nones have grown faster among Democrats than among Republicans, but even in the latter group there’s been a decrease of 7% in self-described Christians and a 6% increase in “nones”:

Across all Americans, those who self-describe as Protestant or Catholic have decreased since 2007, the “nones” have increased, while self-described atheists and agnostics have risen moderately (about 2-3%, which is still more than a doubling from 12 years ago). I suspect that there are actually more atheists and agnostics than depicted in the graph below, as it’s easier for people to say they’re “nothing in particular” than to say that they’re nonbelievers.

  • The AEI survey compiled Millennials’ reasons for their increased “none-ness.” First, more of them have been raised as “not religious” (17% compared to 5% of Baby Boomers), and raising has a big influence on your beliefs later in life. Of course this fact doesn’t explain why increasingly fewer kids are raised religious, but punts the data to the question: Why are fewer children raised as religious? There are many possible reasons for this, but I’m just documenting the facts.Second, Millennials are married to nonreligious people more often, and religious spouses tend to draw people back to the church. But this, too, is simply a reflection of the increasing number of “nones”: the more nones there are, the more likely you are to marry one.Finally—and here at last we have a reason—538 says “Changing views about the relationship between morality and religion also appear to have convinced many young parents that religious institutions are simply irrelevant or unnecessary for their children.”

In other words, Enlightenment Now! As time passes, and we see the increasing immorality of religion (viz., Catholic child rape, Islamic oppression), its attractions wane. And we also see European countries, far more secular than the U.S., not being immoral, but in fact being more moral than America in many ways. Finally, the well-known positive correlation between being well off and being less religious is taking effect as the rising tide in America is affecting all the boats.

There’s one more reason in the 538 piece: “A majority (57%) of millennials agree that religious people are generally less tolerant of others, compared to only 37% of Baby Boomers.” I’m not sure why the increasing recognition of what is true (American religion by definition is intolerant), but it’s a synergistic effect, I think. For as secularism increases, religious people become more defensive and vociferous, and that can manifest itself as intolerance.

At any rate, FiveThirtyEight sees two big implications of this trend. The first I see as just plain weird, for they’re worried about it:

Why does it matter if millennials’ rupture with religion turns out to be permanent? For one thing, religious involvement is associated with a wide variety of positive social outcomes like increased interpersonal trust and civic engagement that are hard to reproduce in other ways.

We hear this all the time, and some of the results may be correct. On the other hand, I don’t much care given the data from nonreligious countries like Denmark and Sweden, which show us that the loss of faith in a nation needn’t have dire consequences. (The data cited are, of course, all within the U.S.) “Hard to reproduce in other ways”? Ask the Swedes and Danes! Finally, I’d rather have a country based on rationality, especially when the citizens do practice “civic engagement.”

The site’s second conclusion is that because Democrats lose faith faster than Republicans, the gap between parties will widen:

As we wrote a few months ago, whether people are religious is increasingly tied to — and even driven by — their political identities. For years, the Christian conservative movement has warned about a tide of rising secularism, but research has suggested that the strong association between religion and the Republican Party may actually be fueling this divide. And if even more Democrats lose their faith, that will only exacerbate the acrimonious rift between secular liberals and religious conservatives.

Ask me if I care! Are we supposed to engage in superstitious delusions just so Democrats and Republicans can be friends? We don’t have to hate Republicans to reject their ideology and their platform, but neither should we worry about increasing secularism exacerbating the political divide. For one thing, in the distant future almost nobody will be religious in America. And really, what can we do about it—save the unpalatable solution of re-indoctrinating our children in baseless superstitions?


UPDATE: Reader Pliny the in Between has a relevant cartoon at The Far Corner Cafe, making the point that “nones” can still—and often do—subscribe to magical thinking.

h/t: Barry

Ex-Muslims of North America mounts a “Awesome without Allah” campaign, but aren’t allowed to put those words on billboards

September 9, 2019 • 9:00 am

Here’s the announcement I found on Twitter:

The Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) just put up billboards in three cities—Atlanta, Chicago, and Houston—basically stating that a substantial proportion of Muslims raised in the U.S. have become apostates, and implicitly affirming that that’s okay (of course, to many Muslims apostasy is a capital crime). According to the EXMNA announcement, they had some trouble doing this:

After several rounds of rejections, changes, and even one contract termination from companies afraid of offending religious sensibilities, the billboards are scheduled to be placed on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 3rd and 4th, 2019.

“In a dozen Muslim-majority countries, ex-Muslims are condemned to the death penalty”, said Muhammad Syed, President of Ex-Muslims of North America. “In the West, our existence is not a crime, but we still face isolation, threats, and abuse by our own families and former faith community. Unsurprisingly, many former Muslims choose to hide their lack of belief. But the first step to gain acceptance is coming out openly, without shame or fear.”

“We want closeted ex-Muslims to know they are not alone”, said Sarah Haider, Executive Director of Ex-Muslims of North America. “We also want them to know that while the prospect of coming out as nonreligious is frightening, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can make it to the other side, you can rebuild your life and find joy in the freedom from religion.”

Syed, Haider, and their colleagues are doing useful and courageous work. Putting up a billboard that, say, noted that a high proportion of Christians had become “nones” would be unlikely to be rejected in this way. As we all know, it’s a lot more dangerous to offend Muslims than Christians.

This page gives more details about the difficulty of getting the billboards displayed:

The billboards took months of planning and countless rounds of rejections from companies who were concerned about offending religious sensibilities. Unfortunately, the process diluted our message quite substantially. Our billboards went from challenging religious claims head-on to a simple declarative sentence about our existence. Many of our first versions were rejected. Even the proposed hashtags were rejected, and fearing a longer delay in publishing, we decided to remove the “Awesome Without Allah” hashtag entirely from the billboards.

The most controversial of the billboards we drafted and proposed featured a drawing of the Islamic mythological figure called the “buraq”. This figure sports the face of a woman, the body of a donkey, wings and a peacock tail. The idea was to provoke critical thinking by pointing out the absurdity of religious myths. However, all companies we worked with rejected this concept. It appeared that the most distressing aspect was the cartoon itself. Of course, the fear is not surprising. There is a record of extremist Muslims answering a drawing with violence, such as the murders of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and attacks on Danish cartoonists.

However, even after choosing a message as mild as possible, one of the contracts was cancelled. The company had not realized how near our billboard was to a mosque, and when they realized, they told us they could not honor the agreement.

The site has a number of short videos (“mini-documentaries”) of ex-Muslims explaining their departure from the faith. Here’s one of many, with the caption “A Canadian woman who converted to Islam in her late-teens, Stephanie married a Libyan Muslim man, and gave birth to two daughters.”

This is heartbreaking, for you see the mother’s anguish well up as she describes how her husband tricked her into going back to Libya and then basically kidnapped their daughters, whom she hasn’t seen in five years. I defy you to watch the whole thing without tearing up.


Join me in donating to EXMNA, which you can do by going here.  They are way short of their $25,000 campaign goal, and that’s not a large amount. If every reader gave just a dollar, that would more than double the amount targeted. How about a buck or five?