Growth of the Nonreligious: Many Say Trend is Bad for American Society


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About half of Americans say the growing number of “people who are not religious” is bad for American society. But a similar share say either that this trend is good or that it does not make much difference, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

In recent years, Pew Research surveys have found evidence of a gradual decline in religious commitment in the U.S. public as a whole. For example, there has been a modest uptick over the past decade in the share of U.S. adults who say they seldom or never attend religious services. The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion also has grown in recent years; indeed, about one-fifth of the public overall – and a third of adults under age 30 – are religiously unaffiliated as of 2012. Fully a third of U.S. adults say they do not consider themselves a “religious person.” And two-thirds of Americans – affiliated and unaffiliated alike – say religion is losing its influence in Americans’ lives.

The new, nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life asked Americans whether having “more people who are not religious” is a good thing, a bad thing, or doesn’t matter for American society. Many more say it is bad than good (48% versus 11%). But about four-in-ten (39%) say it does not make much difference. Even among adults who do not identify with any religion, only about a quarter (24%) say the trend is good, while nearly as many say it is bad (19%); a majority (55%) of the unaffiliated say it does not make much difference for society.

Written By: PEW Forum
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  1. Quite obviously less religion is a good thing by any scale or measurement and with the littlest of rational thought, so clearly we can’t expect the religious to have thought about it.

    Most religious people have not thought about their faith in any meaningful way which unfortunately isn’t the same as having thought about not having it.

  2. It comes as no surprise that the majority of those who disapprove are religiously affiliated. I’d be annoyed too if it became more and more apparent that people can do well without (my) organised religion despite my insistence they can’t. Being a religious leader I would be especially frustrated to see the cash cow growing thinner.

    Interesting bit is that there are also nones who consider their increased numbers a bad development. Perhaps this can be explained in part because there are quite a few religious people who identify as non-affiliated so they can enjoy their Sundays off, divorce, marry someone of the same sex or dodge tithes. But there must be some genuine nones as well. Any clues as to why they would say it’s a bad thing?

    PS: Shouldn’t atheists and (already a concession) agnostics be tracked separately? Really the only thing they have in common with not religiously affiliated theists is that they don’t recognise religious authorities.

  3. This headline is completely misleading. What it should say is most Americans don’t think losing religiosity is a bad thing. Do the math. It’s 50% to 48%.

  4. Seems like 38 degrees is drawing close…the tipping point of the avalanche……At least in Western Countries….we need a Richard Dawkins type website in Arabic so that as many secular people living in Islamic countries can share in the growing wave of reality sweeping the world….
    A world where non religious people are the majority will not be a bad world at all ….rest assured all you believers – Secular Atheists make far better, fairer and more equal law makers, governors, doctors and educators…Religion has no business interfering in Law, Government, Medicine or Education…. Religion could be more acceptable as an optional belief system – God and religious entitlement is only in the heads of religious people and should stay in their heads….Do not even try to govern me with any beliefs in a false entity !

    I only want grown up, fair and realistic leaders to govern me….Modern Atheists will not accept dictatorship or religion of any kind as fair or democratic authority…they have no place in Authority and only seek personal power….

  5. Popular wisdom says that religion will tend to make a criminal commit less crimes. Is there any evidence to support that?

    Santa Claus is a lie told to children to make them behave. I think it works.

  6. Since when has becoming more rational been a bad thing for any country?

    Let’s suppose America was gripped by a religion which said that you only had to work 3 hours a day spend 5 hours praying to the sun and stipulated that you could only work within 5 miles radius of your home or you’ll go to hell. That you couldn’t go out at night and only wear sack cloth, shaving was forbidden along with the eating of anything with cereals in it.

    Now how the fek is that going to improve things? It won’t! Yet the propitiations above make at least as much sense as all the fool rubbish you get in the Abrahamic trio of doom.

  7. Roedy

    Places where catholic – christian religion is the authority have more crime, under education, sexually transmitted disease and teenage pregnancy.
    More crimes are committed where religion rules…Largely due to poverty, under education, no women’s rights, no reproductive control and the like.
    Alternatively in Islamic countries many crimes are committed against innocent people and it’s not called a crime because Religion hijacks the Law……Islam is not a law – only a regime of submission….Western countries Secular law is as equal and fair as you can get and crimes that are committed are punished fairly. Though less crimes are committed where people have more equal human rights.

    Just explaining to all children of the world that they have to generally behave well in order to receive gifts and rewards is a fair and honest way to offer incentive…. no need for Santa other than a Western fairytale

  8. In reply to #4 by Loudguitr: It would be a stretch to say “most” since it’s only just more than the other. “More” would be better, “slightly more” even better but I can’t see much wrong with “many” as it just implies not a few.

    This headline is completely misleading. What it should say is most Americans don’t think losing religiosity is a bad thing. Do the math. It’s 50% to 48%.

  9. In reply to #6 by Roedy:

    Popular wisdom says that religion will tend to make a criminal commit less crimes. Is there any evidence to support that?

    Santa Claus is a lie told to children to make them behave. I think it works.

    I can’t cite the studies that have been done, but it has been found that a larger proportion of prison inmates are religious than the general population.

    Atheists are known to be generally better educated and have higher intelligence than religious believers, and it may be these attributes that prevent offending, they are less likely to do it, aware they are likely to be caught (and possibly better able to get away with it).

  10. I’d say its an even match. There are folks like Ken Miller who are smart, pro science and religious who would still be smart and pro science sans religion. A jerk is gonna be a jerk, god or not. The only thing loss of religion will do is make it so the jerks wouldn’t be able to hide behind a deity.

  11. Of course, as with all polls, they don’t tell you how many people refused to be involved. The telling figure is the number of people that don’t do the prerequisite number of daily genuflections required by their religion – in their hearts they know its all rubbish but still say that they are ‘religious’ in some vague notion of being a ‘good’ citizen. If they really believed in all that twaddle they’d do the time.

  12. It’s all about perception, not reality. They obviously haven’t looked at the stats correlating religiosity with a higher crime rate etc.

  13. In reply to #10 by N_Ellis:
    I can’t cite the studies that have been done, but it has been found that a larger proportion of prison inmates are religious than the general population.

    Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg identified six stages in moral development, not to be confused with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You could look at them as what motivates people to behave well.

    1. Obedience and punishment orientation (How can I avoid punishment? This might be from parents, law enforcement or the god Jehovah.)
    2. Self-interest orientation (What’s in it for me?)
    3. Interpersonal accord and conformity (Social norms) (The good boy/good girl attitude)
    4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation (Law and order morality)
    5. Social contract orientation (co-operate with law because they create cohesion)
    6. Universal ethical principles (Principled conscience)

    I would think the main motivator for the prison population would be “will I get caught”. The purpose of the Christian lie is to convince people is they will get caught, even if it looks for now they are getting away with the crime. I also think these people have an inordinate focus on immediate reward, so threat of after death punishment would be too remote to be effective. I read about people going to be hanged in the 1700s, waving to the crowds. They believed the Christian lie, but even hanging was not much of a deterrent.

  14. As for society’s ills, Americans have more important things to worry about than them losing their religion.

  15. In reply to #10 by N_Ellis:

    I can’t cite the studies that have been done, but it has been found that a larger proportion of prison inmates are religious than the general population.

    I don’t find such surveys to be reliable because of the biased way the people who RUN the prison system tend to assume religion is the path to redemption. Because of their bias, which the inmates are acutely aware of, inmates who aren’t religious have a very strong incentive to lie about it and pretend they are. If you’re an inmate who knows that professing religion increases your chances of early release, and gives you cushier treatment even prior to release, then your responses to a survey about your religious views cannot be trusted, nor can taking an observation of your activities (attending bible classes, church services, etc) be trusted either.

    I’m not saying its impossible for there to be more religious criminals than religious people in the general population. I can easily see the mindset that could cause that (i.e. the common evangelical Christian meme that everyone sins so trying to live a good life is pointless all that matters is whether you accept the scapegoat Jesus proxy punishment story or not. If you do before you’re dead, then all is forgiven and there’s no moral difference between a mass murderer and a soup kitchen worker – they’re both equally sinful and equally forgiven for it. I can easily see that mindset of cheap un-earned forgiveness for all wrongdoings being popular among criminals. So I don’t doubt that this is possible.) I just don’t think there’s a good way to find out if it’s the case since I can’t think of a good double-blind way to survey the inmates’ beliefs to see what they are without the incentive to lie about it. It’s not good enough for the survey to actually be double-blinded either because what matters is whether or not the inmates BELIEVE the survey is double blinded or not. If you tell an inmate who’s in the practice of lying about religion for the sake of benefits or early release, then saying “trust us, nobody in the prison system will be able to trace these answers to you – so you’re free to be honest about it” – there is NO way that inmate will trust you when you claim that. So not only does the survey have to be double blinded, but the participants have to THEMSELVES believe that it’s double-blinded and you’re not lying about that. I can’t imagine any way to actually accomplish that, and that’s why I do not trust the results of these surveys.

    Also there’s the issue of timing – of WHEN the survey was taken. The only reliable sort of survey would be one taken BEFORE the inmate realized they were going to become an inmate. i.e. looking at a survey from the inmate’s history form before before they got arrested. There’s a huge difference between “religious people are more likely to go to prison” and “prisoners are more likely to become religious”. Even if the survey was properly double-blinded and the inmates believed it and so there’s no incentive to lie, showing the correlation is just as likely to be because prison causes religion than the other way around.

  16. If we can educate the masses of the frivolity of individual immortality and the importance of cooperation to promote human survival, they may realize that the universe has more to offer them than the lies of everlasting peace or damnation. Then, and only then, will they come to the realization of the power they possess through sheer numbers. We can restructure our electoral system by phasing out the senate and replacing it with a secure public electronic on-line ballad for all citizens to decide on proposed legislation. True democracy will level the playing field and give all citizens their fair share of the global wealth and resources. The human psyche needs to welcome change, accept mortality and evolve with the rest of the universe.

  17. Now that they are paying attention, perhaps Pew will be motivated to ask better questions that will tell us how all this breaks out.

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