October 10th, 2012 | Posted by: Vlad Chituc
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post. Below is a link to the full original article.
Last year, the president of the largest atheist organization in the United States spoke to a group of students organized for the 2011 Secular Student Allianceleadership conference. A focal point of his talk on the future of atheism was the idea of a “sleeping giant,” or what he called the “30 percent under 30″ — the nonreligious Americans who would shape the future of our national discourse on religion.
Though that figure was slightly off — under the most recent survey figures available last year, 25 percent of Americans under 30 were religiously unaffiliated, and only about 7 percent of them identified as atheist or agnostic – the statement was oddly prescient. This week, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Lifereleased their most recent figures, revealing that the number of people who identify as religiously unaffiliated is growing rapidly — particularly among people born in the 1980s and 1990s. So the nonreligious do indeed seem poised to assist in shaping the future of religious discourse, but perhaps not in the way some might have predicted.
People who monitor trends regarding religious affiliation in the United States have noted for several years now that the percentage of the American public that doesn’t affiliate with a religious tradition is growing at an astonishing rate, but even they may be surprised by Pew’s latest findings. The percentage of Americans with no religious preference, often referred to as the “nones,” has grown nearly 5 percentage points in the last five years to include about 1 in 5 Americans. For Americans under 30, the growth has been even more pronounced — to nearly 1 in 3.
There are many possible reasons people might disaffiliate from religion. Some simply stop believing in religious claims — sure enough, 12 percent of the “nones” identify as atheist and 17 percent identify as agnostic. But for many, their lack of religious affiliation may have more to do with identity politics than belief. In fact, the majority of the religiously unaffiliated seem to carry some beliefs associated with religious thinking. Sixty-eight percent of nonreligious Americans claim to believe in a god or universal spirit (strangely, this includes 38 percent of atheists and agnostics), and 40 percent pray at least once a month. Still, if we hope to understand this notable shift away from religion in American life, and where this growing demographic stands, we need to start including them in the conversation about religion and values. And that means believers and nonbelievers need to start paying attention.
Vlad Chituc is a lab manager and research assistant in a social neuroscience lab at Duke University. As an undergraduate at Yale, he was the president of the campus branch of the Secular Student Alliance, where he tried to be smarter about religion and drink PBR, only occasionally at the same time. He cares about morality and thinks philosophy is important. He is also someone that you can follow on twitter.