Is No Religion the New Norm?

Is No Religion the New Norm?


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.



  1. Thomas Paine.

    “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.”

  2. Thomas Paine: “The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most dishonorable belief against the character of the Divinity, the most destructive to morality and the peace and happiness of man, that ever was propagated since man began to exist.”

    “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”

    “I have ever judged of the religion of others by their lives…. It is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read. By the same test the world must judge me. But this does not satisfy the priesthood. They must have a positive, a declared assent to all their interested absurdities. My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest. The artificial structures they have built on the the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolt those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there.”

    Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mrs. M. Harrison Smith: Mrs. M. Harrison, August 6, 1816. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 492.

  5. THOMAS JEFFERSON: “A professorship of Theology should have no place in our institution (the University of Virginia.)”.

    Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Cooper, October 7, 1814. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 492.

  6. THOMAS JEFFERSON: “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”

  7. President Thomas Jefferson referred to the Revelation of St. John as “the ravings of a maniac” and wrote:

    “The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ levelled to every understanding and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticisms of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power, and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained.”

    “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.”

    “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a Virgin Mary, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter…. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away [with] all this artificial scaffolding.”

    Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, 11 April 1823, as quoted by E. S. Gaustad, “Religion,” in Merrill D. Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson: A Reference Biography, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986, p. 287.

    • Just shows: Even presidents can get it wrong. Too much knowledge in the wrong direction can lead astray, as some “that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”

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