Losing Our Religion?
The number of non-affiliated, non-religious Americans at all-time high.
An increasing number of Americans do not identify with any particular religion, and the majority of unaffiliated are not seeking to follow any specific theology, says a Pew study examining Americans and religion in the U.S.
One-fifth of the U.S. public—one in five adults—and one-third of Americans under age thirty, report that they are religiously unaffiliated. This is the highest number of unaffiliated Americans in Pew research history.
The past five years has demonstrated a rapid increase in the number of unaffiliated, up from 15 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2012. There are currently 13 million self-identified agnostics and atheists, comprising six percent of Americans, while the unaffiliated makes up 14 percent of the population, or 33 million people.
Although formal religious affiliation—like attending services—is waning, the majority of Americans maintain that they follow some kind of non-traditional belief system, with two-thirds (68 percent) of the 46 million unaffiliated adults saying that they believe in God. More than a third (37 percent) define themselves as “spiritual” but not religious, and more than half (58 percent) profess a deep connection with the earth and nature. One-in-five (21 percent) even say that they pray every day. Moreover, while these Americans don’t attend church or other religious institutions, many contend that these religious organizations are good for society and help the poor.
The study results are “accurate,” says Willie Elliott, D.Min., MSW, LISW, associate professor at Northern Kentucky University.
“It reflects the trend of moving away from traditional religion to a more spiritual focus,” he explains. “Also, it reflects the age of its members who are in the stage of life where you are more likely to try out different ways of expressing themselves.”
Globalization and technology continue to make the world smaller, exposing people to more and different ways of experiencing spiritual fulfillment, Elliott notes.
The short-term ramifications of so many unaffiliated, agnostic and atheist individuals, Elliot notes, will be “distress” as a society as families and individuals struggle with the challenges of diversity.
Why? “Because in our culture difference is considered deviant,” he says.
Over the long term, however, non-traditional ways of finding and sustaining spiritual fulfillment will be accommodated, Elliott adds.“I think this [trend] is a very good thing because it reflects the diversity that our country advocates for,” he concludes. “Yes, it will bring troubles but in the long run it will bring healing that is needed.”
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