The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey

The American Religious Identification Survey has released numbers for 2008 (previous surveys were done in 2001 and 1990).

The theme: Atheism is more popular than ever before, as is overall non-religiosity. Hallelujah!

Not just that, our numbers are up in every state!

noreligion

USA Today has fantastic graphics if you want to check them out. I love the bit where you can see the changes in percentage in each state from 1990 to 2008. Watch the circles grow for the non-religious!

What else have we learned?

Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.

Our numbers have doubled in nearly twenty years. I predict we’ll see that number grow for another 10-20 years before it begins to drop or stabilize.

So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, “the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion,” the report concludes.

We have numbers. We need to begin effectively using that clout, especially politically.

Northern New England surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious region, with Vermont reporting the highest share of those claiming no religion, at 34 percent.

“No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every state,” the study’s authors said.

That’s fantastic news, though I suppose not all that surprising.

The current survey, being released Monday, found traditional organized religion playing less of a role in many lives. Thirty percent of married couples did not have a religious wedding ceremony and 27 percent of respondents said they did not want a religious funeral.

Ok, I am surprised by that. I’ve been to several weddings in the past year, all of which were religious. That’s a small, isolated sample, of course, but I didn’t realize nearly a third of weddings were not religious!

I’m clearly being invited to the wrong weddings.

The ARIS report should be out while I’m at work. Please let me know what other bits are interesting!

(Thanks to Karl and Matthew for the links!)

  • Colin M

    In my experience, non-religious weddings tend to be smaller, which would explain why it’s rarer to get invited to one.

  • Bleatmop

    It’s amazing. Almost all of the growth has gone to either none or don’t know/refused. Perhaps there is some hope for us yet :)

  • Dave

    Also, the fact that nearly a third of respondents don’t want a religious wedding doesn’t imply nearly a third of weddings aren’t religious.

    - Only when both couples want a non-religious wedding will the wedding be non-religious. Many couples will come to a compromise if one partner wants a more traditional/religious ceremony.

    - Many times couples will bow to family wishes (perhaps due to financial pressure or perhaps just to keep peace) and make a wedding religious when otherwise they might prefer not to.

    - We may be defining how religious a wedding is differently. If it’s given by a member of a ministry but has no sermon/mass attached, some people would call that “not religious.”

  • http://www.michaelstowe.com/ Michael

    Among other things the Bible teaches us, I’m pretty sure it says Delaware is in the North.

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    I should also point out that “no religion” doesn’t mean “atheist”.

    Example: my late father rejected every established religion but believed in a god of some sort.

    He saw the religious texts as the work of humans but still thought “hey, something made this world” and would have bristled at the thought of being classified as an atheist.

    He also rejected evolution (though he didn’t come close to understanding what he was rejecting).

    I know of another atheist who rejects evolution (she knows nothing about science); but that is a different matter.

  • Tyro

    I think the marriage stats are probably a great way of getting around the question of language, stigma and other complicating factors in these surveys. It’s a classically religious ceremony and a third of people want to take religion out! Maybe they say they’re “Christian” or something on the form but in action, they’re not far from godless :)

  • http://christwire.org Brother Adam

    Yeah, go ahead and yuck it up right now you immoral liberal fornicators. Know that your ways of spreading global iniquity will fall in 2012 when the GOP leads America and the world to a new age of morality via Sarah Palin.

    The numbers you celebrate here are the same numbers that will all be sharing the same fierty eternal fate if you don’t change your perverted atheistic ways!

  • Zeke

    Sadly, my state’s down near the bottom. Hooray for the South.

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  • LonelyVoice

    Here’s my take on things, looking at the numbers in the report:

    - Christians are 76.0% of the population
    - Surprising, yes, is that “No Religion” is so high at 15.0%
    - Of these, only 2.3% say there is no God
    - And only 0.7% identify as atheists

    So all but 2.3% of the population believes in one God or another. And less than 1/3 of the 2.3% identify as Atheists. It seems as though Atheism has a bad rap, don’t you think? Curious to hear your thoughts.

  • http://arkonbey.blogspot.com arkonbey

    yet another reason I love living in Vermont.

    @Ollie: an atheist who rejects evolution? That’s an interesting ‘other matter’ that makes me curious as to her beliefs.

  • http://minerscanary.blogspot.com Zarathustra

    Hemant-

    Careful about interpreting that wedding statistic. The one-third figure might include couples who never had a wedding, and whose marriage is under common law based on years of co-residence. It probably also includes married couples where both partners are religious, but neither wants to convert to the religion of the other.

  • Siamang

    That’s great news. It seems very much part of an interesting trend if indeed it’s across all states.

    You know all those mean, nasty godless books that have been bestsellers recently? You know, the ones that were so mean that the couldn’t possibly change people’s minds?

    I wonder if they aren’t changing people’s minds, at least at the cultural level by shifting the zeitgeist. Almost a year at the top of the NY Times Book review has got to do something to get some people, if not to read it, to ask certain previously unasked questions about their own belief.

  • Skeptimal

    “So all but 2.3% of the population believes in one God or another. And less than 1/3 of the 2.3% identify as Atheists.”

    I don’t really see this as good news, either. Some people may be seeing through Christianity, but it doesn’t mean they’re embracing reason and skepticism either. In ten years, we may find that a lot of the de-converts have found something even worse than Christianity to believe in.

  • EB

    Ok, I am surprised by that. I’ve been to several weddings in the past year, all of which were religious. That’s a small, isolated sample, of course, but I didn’t realize nearly a third of weddings were not religious!

    My wedding was non-religious, but it was also small. So, if this scenario is representative, then what you observed it explained by the possibility that non-religious people had their weddings, but simply didn’t invite you… :(

  • Vincent

    Nobody was invited to my wedding. It was me, my wife, the judge and the bailiff.

    If you want to see these non-religious weddings, just hang out in your local courthouse. You’ll see plenty of people coming in as couples or even small family groups, and sometimes even in white dress and tux.
    It happens here several times a day.

  • Gabriel

    I have been expecting the drop off in religion since the mid 1990’s. This actually came a little earlier than I had thought it would. I’ve noticed that everytime we have a new century roll around that church attendance goes up and then drops off in the second decade. I think that our primitive little chimp brains look at numbers like they are magic words. “Abra Kadabra” = “2000?. Now we have had a new century and a new millineum and the world hasn’t come to an end. The rapture hasn’t happened. The lord hasn’t called the faithful home. So people start to relax their bung holes and church attendance drops off. Atheists always seem to do well in the second and third decades of a century. I’ll be curious to see how we are doing in the 2050’s.

  • Siamang

    But what about the 2012 end of the world, Gabe?

  • Paul

    The only funny thing about this is that I can’t find anything out about the survey itself, who did it, and who funded it. I always question studies where the organization and the funding are not apparent.

    American Religious Identification Survey. Who are they? Who funded it? Methods anyone?

  • http://blueollie.wordpress.com ollie

    an atheist who rejects evolution? That’s an interesting ‘other matter’ that makes me curious as to her beliefs.
    ——————-

    Yes, this person has intense skepticism for ALL authority, be it religious or scientific.

    Never mind that the medical technology that is keeping her alive was, in part, founded by the principles of evolution.

    I know that the stereotype of the atheist is the rationalist, but that doesn’t fit all atheists.

    For some, if they can’t figure out the theory, it must be BS. :)

  • Erp

    I should point out that the 2.3% of no belief in God is in answer to the question

    “Regarding the existence of God, do you think…”

    The choice of answers was
    There is no such thing – 2.3%
    There is no way to know – 4.3%
    I’m not sure – 5.7%
    There is a higher power but no personal God – 12.1%
    There is definitely a personal God – 69.5%
    Refused to answer – 6.1%

    Agnostic atheists would quite likely give the second answer or even the third answer (I’m not sure …but I’m going to assume not) so atheistic people might range up to about 12% of the population. Deistic people seem to be another 12.1%.

    Also the among those without any religion there are 60 men to every 40 women. Note that some atheists might have a religion (e.g., Unitarians) and some of the ‘no religion’ might be theists.

  • http://godhatesprotesters.wordpress.com godhatesprotesters

    Two thoughts:

    First, I’ll bet the shift towards secularism is mostly generational. It’s the under-30 crowd that largely identifies as non-religious, so it may be several more years before secularists (finally) make real headway into politics.

    Second, I’m an ordained atheist minister. Last year I officiated at my friend’s wedding without a single mention of God, Jesus, angels or ninjas. I guess you’ve attended the wrong weddings.

  • weaves

    Conveniently, a previously religious friend of mine just came out of the atheist closet. Made a facebook status and all, so you know it’s serious.

  • Stephie

    @godhatesprotesters:

    That’s awesome… What, aside from officiating, does an atheist minister do, may I ask? (How do you even get atheists to attend a “religious” function??) I wish you could officiate for us, although I WOULD like ninjas to be mentioned a LITTLE bit…

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  • Richard Wade

    Siamang,

    But what about the 2012 end of the world, Gabe?

    It will only be the end of the world for ancient Mayans. All ancient Mayans will cease to exist in 2012. Good riddance. Pesky ancient Mayans.

    The rest of us will have to continue hearing about each successive doomsday, watch them come and go, and then notice that the only people who disappeared were the ones who made some money making the predictions. I’ve lost count of how many ends of the world I’ve survived.

    Back on topic, these stats are encouraging but we should not read more into them than is really there. As others here have pointed out, the “unaffiliated,” the “nones” as they are called are not necessarily free of belief in gods. Those who still retain some kind of belief in the supernatural may be susceptible to joining organized religions later in life.

    I hope they don’t revive some kind of ancient Mayan religion.

  • Jen

    I was in a non-religious wedding this weekend. There was a minister, but I don’t think he mentioned God once, which was neat. There was no long, drawn-out reading of Proverbs, no prayer, and no two-hour religious ceremony. We were in and out in twenty minutes. Of course, having the minister, and being in a church (well, a Unitarian church) might mean it was counted as religious.

    This same friend who got married participates in a few Jewish holidays, but has never mentioned a belief in God, ever. On the other hand, she and the MoH drove with me to the church and those two babbled on about astrology. Clearly one can be basically non-religious but still susceptible to woo-woo thinking.

  • Wolfgang Fernandez

    I’m disappointed for the analysis of ARIS is rather superficial. The fact is that the growth rate of the None group has dramatically slowed down between 02 and 08. This is either an anomaly or the numbers of people who identify themselves as “None” is hardly growing anymore. The other important factor which is alluded by one of the people who wrote back is that the None group includes many more people besides Atheists. There is a lot of people there who believe in God (in various forms) but are dissatisfied with church as it is know today.

  • Anonymous

    I love the bit where you can see the changes in percentage in each state from 1990 to 2008. Watch the circles grow for the non-religious!

    Holy shit! If we extrapolate the same trends decades ahead, that map begins to look like the map used in the movie Outbreak! :)

    The end is near!

    I don’t really see this as good news, either. Some people may be seeing through Christianity, but it doesn’t mean they’re embracing reason and skepticism either. In ten years, we may find that a lot of the de-converts have found something even worse than Christianity to believe in.

    I have little expectation that the overall culture will ever embrace reason and skepticism. I think the best we can hope for is the generic disinterest in religious issues characteristic of Europe. And if the Christians all become New Agers or Buddhists or something, that’s still not bad for us, because then a single faith trying to browbeat everyone in to submission to its theology will cease to exist. A religious marketplace means everyone can believe, or not believe, whatever floats their boat. If that happens, religion will cease to have such clout with people, and people won’t take it so seriously (something they should not have done in the first place!)

  • Aaron

    Hey, Paul:
    Professors Kosmin and Keysar are, respectively, director and associate director of Trinity’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. The Program on Public Values at Trinity College comprises the Institute and the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, which is also directed by Professor Silk. ARIS 2008 was made possible by grants from Lilly Endowment, Inc. and the Posen Foundation. To receive a copy of the ARIS 2008 Summary Report by email, contact any of the above

  • http://www.facebook.com/palidances Pali Endi

    Perhaps this explains why Vermont was able to vote an Independent into senate? Huzzah for reason!


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