The number of Americans who do not identify with religion is increasing. The Pew Research Center released a report last week that documented the rise of “nones” (people with no religious affiliation).
While the trend away from religion is national, there are generational implications. Although 20% of the American public is not religious, the percentage jumps to one-third for American adults under age 30.
PEW also reported that 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics compose about 6% of the U.S. public.
However, the distinction between unaffiliated people who believe in a higher power and unaffiliated people who reject the possibility of deities is important. For some hyper-religious groups, unaffiliated people are one and the same: a heap of folks who need to be “saved.”
But how does spirituality look outside the confines of a lone religion?
The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the PBS television program Religion & Ethics News Weekly found that a substantial number of “unaffiliated adults” possess religious or spiritual aspects of their identities.
Two-thirds believe in God. Almost 60% feel connected to nature and the earth. Nearly 40% percent said that they are “spiritual,” not “religious.”
About one in five pray daily.
In an election season there are political implications. Upwards of six-in-ten unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats or are left leaning. Most support abortion and same sex marriage. As observers of last week’s vice presidential debate saw, reproductive rights and religion continuously intersect.
“Our faith informs us in everything we do… Now I understand this is a difficult issue, and I respect people who don’t agree with me on this, but the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother,” Republican vice-presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said.
Vice President Joe Biden countered.
“I accept my church’s position on abortion… Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, and I just refuse to impose that on others…”
As the U.S. population continues to racially and ethnically diversify, the pluralism of prayer—or the lack thereof, nuances the nation’s identity.