It’s Official: The “Nones”– People Who Profess No Religion–Are Now as Big as Catholics & Evangelicals in the United States

The usu­al irreg­u­lar­i­ties and shenani­gans notwith­stand­ing, the vot­ing pat­terns of the U.S. elec­torate may under­go a sea change in the com­ing decades as the num­bers of peo­ple who iden­ti­fy as non-reli­gious con­tin­ue to rise. One of the biggest demo­graph­ic sto­ries of the last few decades, the rise of the “nones” has been inter­pret­ed as a threat and as an inevitable reck­on­ing for cor­rupt and scan­dal-rid­den insti­tu­tions dri­ving mil­lions of peo­ple out of church­es across the coun­try.

Pol­i­tics and social issues are hard­ly the only rea­sons, though they poll sec­ond in list from a 2017 Pew sur­vey. At num­ber one is “I ques­tion a lot of reli­gious teach­ings,” at num­ber three, the slight­ly more vague “I don’t like reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions.” It’s maybe a sur­prise that non­be­lief in God appears all the way at num­ber four. Which speaks to an impor­tant point.

Not all of those exit­ing the pews have renounced their faith or con­vert­ed to anoth­er, but huge num­bers have joined the ranks of those who claim “no reli­gion” in sur­vey and polling data. Their num­bers are now equiv­a­lent to Catholics and evan­gel­i­cals, the two reli­gious groups most in decline behind main­line Protes­tant church­es. Polit­i­cal sci­en­tist Ryan P. Burge of East­ern Illi­nois Uni­ver­si­ty is not sur­prised. “It’s been a con­stant steady increase for 20 years now,” he says, point­ing to data from a Gen­er­al Social Sur­vey visu­al­ized in the graph above.

The last decade has seen the sharpest upturn yet, with “nones” now esti­mat­ed at 23.1 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. If this rise—and sub­se­quent plateaus and declines in the major reli­gious groups sur­veyed (and the batch of non-Judeo-Chris­t­ian “Oth­er Faith”s dis­mis­sive­ly lumped together)—continues, the shift could be dra­mat­ic. In 2014, 78% of the unaf­fil­i­at­ed, accord­ing to Pew polling, were raised in and walked away from a reli­gion. The shift in iden­ti­ty among young peo­ple tends to cor­re­late with a shift in pol­i­tics.

The “ris­ing tide of reli­gious­ly unaf­fil­i­at­ed vot­ers,” writes Jack Jenk­ins at Reli­gion News Ser­vice, is “a group that a 2016 PRRI analy­sis found skews young and lib­er­al.” It’s one that might off­set the over­sized influ­ence of white evan­gel­i­cals, who now make up 26% of the elec­torate and 22.5% of the pop­u­la­tion.

Any such con­clu­sions should be drawn with sev­er­al caveats. “Evan­gel­i­cals punch way above their weight,” says Burge. “They turn out a bunch at the bal­lot box. That’s large­ly a func­tion of the fact that they’re white and they’re old.” And, he might have added, many are in less eco­nom­i­cal­ly pre­car­i­ous straits than their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, more sus­cep­ti­ble to mass media mes­sag­ing, and less prone, by design, to find­ing their vote sup­pressed. A 2016 PRRI report not­ed that “reli­gious­ly unaf­fil­i­at­ed Amer­i­cans do not vote in the same per­cent­ages as evan­gel­i­cals, and are often under­rep­re­sent­ed at the polls.”

Addi­tion­al­ly, and most impor­tant­ly to point out any time these num­bers come up: “the nones” is an entire­ly overde­ter­mined cat­e­go­ry full of peo­ple who agree on lit­tle, but they’re not sign­ing up for any church com­mit­tees any time soon for a hand­ful of loose­ly-relat­ed rea­sons. If herd­ing athe­ists, only one part of this group, is like herd­ing cats, try­ing to cor­ral 23% of the pop­u­la­tion with­out any shared creed or spe­cif­ic ide­ol­o­gy is cor­ralling an even less pre­dictable menagerie. We need to know far more about what peo­ple affirm, as well as what they deny, if we want a clear­er pic­ture of where the country’s politics—if not its gov­ern­ment or policies—might be head­ed.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Visu­al Map of the World’s Major Reli­gions (and Non-Reli­gions)

Ani­mat­ed Map Shows How the Five Major Reli­gions Spread Across the World (3000 BC – 2000 AD)

Does Democ­ra­cy Demand the Tol­er­ance of the Intol­er­ant? Karl Popper’s Para­dox

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Gerald says:

    If true, I can only say woe for the future of our coun­try. Our First Pres­i­dent said it best: “Of all the dis­po­si­tions and habits which lead to polit­i­cal pros­per­i­ty, reli­gion and moral­i­ty are indis­pens­able sup­ports .… And let us with cau­tion indulge the sup­po­si­tion that moral­i­ty can be main­tained with­out reli­gion.”

  • Torbjörn Larsson says:

    Pinker and his data said it bet­ter, mod­ern and best morals come from Enlight­en­ment, not Bronze Age ideas.

    But it *is* nice to see US catch­ing up with Europe, where “nones” is now the major­i­ty and — prov­ing the quote entire­ly wrong — the youngest gen­er­a­tion is almost devoid of reli­gious super­sti­tion.

  • Allison says:

    Some rare good news appear­ing dur­ing this bleak peri­od.

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