25% of Millennials Don’t Subscribe to a Religious Faith

The Religious News Service headline makes it sound like it’s a bad thing…:

Young ‘Millennials’ losing faith in record numbers

A new study put out by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs explains what’s happening (PDF) to 18-24-year-olds.

When it comes to how their faith is changing, the numbers favor the unaffiliated.

Red has never looked so good:

Not only are Catholicism and Christianity losing ground, the study says that “one-quarter (25%) of Millennials identify as religiously unaffiliated.” Not only that, since only 11% of Millennials were raised without faith, more than half of unaffiliated Millennials left their childhood faith.

Some of them will return to their faiths as they age, “but there’s not a lot of evidence that most will come back,” added [PRRI’s research director Daniel] Cox, who said the trend away from organized religion dates back to the early 1990s.

In case you’re wondering how “unaffiliated” is defined, they’re including anyone who responded to the question “What is your present religion, if any?” with Atheist, Agnostic, or Nothing in Particular. (For what it’s worth, other responses included “Just Christian” (no denomination), Something Else, Refused (to answer), and Unitarian.)

So why is this change happening?

I think the answer is contained in large part in this statement (p. 32 in the report):

Almost two-thirds (64%) of Millennials say that “anti-gay” describes present-day Christianity somewhat or very well. Over 6-in-10 (62%) also believe that present-day Christianity is “judgmental,” while 58% agree that “hypocritical (saying one thing, doing another)” describes present-day Christianity well. Half of Millennials say that “too involved in politics” describes present-day Christianity well.

Christianity represents — to the church’s own detriment — a value system intelligent Millennials want increasingly less association with. Christians are seen as anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-women, anti-sex, anti-intellectual, and pro-bullshit. The younger you are, and the more you’re surrounded by people (like atheists) who make logical, coherent arguments against much of what the church stands for (hopefully with a compassionate heart), the easier it is to realize Christianity isn’t based in truth; it’s based in an archaic and incorrect view of what one group of people (read: men) believes is good for society. Whenever the church figures that out, they’ll have no choice but to adapt (ha!) or watch their numbers dwindle away.

Their power can’t fade quickly enough.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Tom from Cleveland

    Unaffiliated includes Unitarian?  How does that happen?

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

       All the other religions require belief in one or more deities. Like Buddhism (more of a belief system than a religion, by my understanding), Unitarianism doesn’t require belief in a deity.

      • Greg

        I was curious too, so looked it up. More baffled now than before. m Wikipedia: “Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being.[1] Thus, Unitarians adhere to strict monotheism, and maintain that Jesus was a great man and a prophet of God, but not God himself.[2]

        • JoshuaCunningham

          In the US, people identifying as “Unitarian” are typically Unitarian Universalists. Unitarianism and Universalism were both Christian movements that merged back in the 60′s in America. They’re a church without a shared creed that allows everyone from any faith or no faith to join as long as they play nice with each other.

        • http://www.zazzle.com/godless_monsters The Godless Monster

          There are several atheists at the UU church I attend from time to time. Their origins are indeed Christian, but it’s really impossible to label them as such after attending a UU service.

    • Greg

      Oh, it doesn’t say unaffiliated includes Unitarian, it mentions that as an example of other response options.

  • MG

    I have no fewer than 8 “Millennials” in my family (nieces, nephews, and their SOs). These kids have all grown up having an aunt who strives to be loving, kind, charitable, and involved, even though she doesn’t believe in the existence of a god. 
    The tally for my bunch is: 3 outright believe in god, but seem to be quite non-judgemental about people who don’t.3 fall somewhere in the non-observant-to-agnostic range. 2 are atheist.  (As the official family skeptic/free-thinker, I’m the auntie they come to when they want to talk about this stuff.)
    Never underestimate the power of being a good role model.

    • anonymous

      As a “Millennial” atheist myself, I agree with your comment. The first thing that began cracking the shell that my semi-fundamentalist Christian upbringing had created was not a rational argument, but the overwhelming kindness of my (so called by my church) “evil” friend.

      • anonymous

        “evil atheist” friend.* (Sorry, lack of sleep)

  • MegaZeusThor

    I always thought that the reason religion is fading is a lack of actual deities. Poseidon probably isn’t real, and neither is Gork, the giant telepathic head that occasionally grants wishes. (OK,  perhaps I made Gork up, but he reminds me of some other mythology.)

    Still, if religion’s outdated world-view is what’s causing their influence to fade, that works I guess. I hope some of them have just stopped entertaining magical thinking though.

    • P. J. Reed

      It’d be nice if that was the reason, but it doesn’t follow — gods haven’t ever been real, and religions have been waxing and waning for thousands of years.  Simply not being real doesn’t seem sufficient.

    • chicago dyke, mediocre of lime

      i’m am convinced it’s the internets. really. i studied religions for a long time in a formal way, and what’s different today: birth control, and the glowing boxes we all spend so much time staring at. google “jeebus” or “ganesh” or “thor” and you can spend all the live long day reading about their majik powers. which are more or less all the same, in that they all make for great comic book reading. i suppose peer pressure will never go away, and it will always be hard for some to leave the in-group. but eventually, in today’s society, it becomes harder and harder to say “i didn’t want to google that and find out what the details were, but i still believe in it with all my heart/soul/whatever.” i can honestly say i’ve never played angry birds. i can’t honestly say i have not looked up a religious idea or tradition with which i was unfamiliar using the internet. this seemingly simple ability is literally an historic world changing development which excites me greatly. 

  • Erp

    It is not until page 50 that they mention stats on belief in God.  The question being which statement comes closest to your view of God?  Note the stats for all Americans are from a different survey so the question might not be the same

    God is a person whom people can have a relationship 54% (70% all Americans)

    God is an impersonal force 22% (17% all Americans)

    I do not believe in God 14% (8% all Americans)

    Not sure (VOL.) 2% (- all Americans)

    Other (SPECIFY) 5% (2% all Americans)

    Refused (VOL) 3% (3% all Americans)

  • B. Andrew

    “pro-bullshit” “Their power can’t fade quickly enough”

    Hemant must have eaten his Wheaties this morning.  I like this Hemant.

  • Savoy47

    These 
    Millennials  were of the age of reason or close to it when Jerry Falwell launched his attack on Tinky Winky for being gay.  There was a 
    clown show  of preachers all trying to out crazy one another.  Local preachers were 
    clown show  wannabees.  

    Children of  reasonable  discernment saw it for what it was and walked away from it as  soon as they could . That’s when the cracks started forming in the bubble.  These 
    Millennials pushed their way through those cracks.  We now can see the pressure building inside of the bubble and hopefully those cracks will widen  faster than the repair crew can patch them.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

    “Unaffiliated” to me means “I don’t belong to a church”, it does not mean “I think the idea of a god is bullshit”.
    Honest-to-FSM “The evidence for your ‘god’ is sorely lacking” people are still less than 5% of the population.

    And we still can’t get elected Dogcatcher.

  • advancedatheist

    I suspect that the zero-sum nature of time management has something to do with the decline of religious belief among millennnials. The time youngsters spend on sports, or computer games, or watching movies, or listening to their favorite music, or reading Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games novels, has to come at the expense of receiving indoctrination into their respective parents’ religions. Regarding the novels, I’ve noticed that some parents have religious objections to their content, yet their kids will defy these parents’ prohibitions and try to read them any way. You just don’t see that kind of enthusiasm in American culture for reading about Jesus.

    We’ve also seen the trend towards increasingly dumbed-down bible translations because most people with basic literacy apparently can’t read reasonably complex texts translated from ancient writings:

    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/new-bible-translation-replaces-christ-angel-apostle/ 

    http://hearthevoice.com/ 

    Interestingly enough, I noticed from watching the trailer for the film Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter that “Lincoln” quotes from a couple of verses from the King James translation of Revelation 6. I recognized the verses immediately, but that probably puts me into something like one percent of the American population which has read the King James bible pretty thoroughly. But then everyone “knows” that we atheists display massive ignorance about the religions we criticize:

    http://youtu.be/34x6m-ahGIo

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1019365643 John J. Ronald

    Don’t forget the healthy grain of skeptical salt when digesting this news, my peeps.  “Unaffiliated”  includes not only us atheists but also neo-pagans, deists, and woo-wooey new agey types as well…all of which are less harmful than Christians of any stripe, yes, but still not people at their rational best.

    • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

      Not according to this:

      “In case you’re wondering how “unaffiliated” is defined, they’re
      including anyone who responded to the question “What is your present
      religion, if any?” with Atheist, Agnostic, or Nothing in Particular.”

      The groups you’re talking about appear to be included in “other.”

      “For what it’s worth, other responses included “Just Christian” (no
      denomination), Something Else, Refused (to answer), and Unitarian.”

      • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

        Many people believe in the supernatural but don’t subscribe to any religion. I wonder how many of these unaffiliated millennials believe in the existence of a deity, a soul, or an afterlife. I would guess that it’s still the majority.

        • http://twitter.com/butterflyfish_ Heidi McClure

          Maybe so.  Personally, when I was post-Christianity but still into “woo,” I would have answered “other” to that question.

  • Miko

    “more than half of Millennials left their childhood faith.”

    No.

    • Doug

      Well, yes, but Hemant was not clear on what he meant there, though in context it is obvious. It is not that half of ALL Millenials left their faith, it is that half of “Unafilliated” Millenials left their childhood faith.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Whoops! Meant more than half of all *unaffiliated* Millennials. Fixed now. Thanks!

      iTyped with my iThumbs.

      Please excuse the brevity, spelling, and punctuation.

  • ortcutt

    The thing I found disappointing is that young people are still partly in thrall of religious conceptions of morality.

    Only 48% of these young millenials said that sex between two adults of the same gender is “morally acceptable”.  44% said that it is “morally wrong”.  For this age group, that’s a shockingly low number accepting the moral acceptability of same-gender sexuality.

    There has been a lot of effort on getting legal rights for LBGT people, but the basic message that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay and having sex hasn’t received as much effort.  The reason is that doing so requires direct confrontation with religious figures claiming that it is immoral.  Fighting for the moral acceptability of same-gender sexuality is an issue that secular people should champion.

    • Ndonnan

      What you have to realise is most men find the idea of touching another mans hairy butt as weird,no matter your beliefs.So that 48% didnt think it an issue at an age when hormones are running wild isnt bad or is terrible,depending on your perspective

      • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

        What is the connection? Even if you were right that most men find it “weird,” there is no reason (other than religion, of course) for millennials to say that homosexuality is “morally unacceptable.”

  • GregFromCos

    Seems to match up relatively well to this survey.

    http://www.pewforum.org/Age/Religion-Among-the-Millennials.aspx 

    Although it does seem to be a couple of points lower than the Pew Poll from 2 years ago. When you account for “some other christian” would normally be considered “Other Christian”. Either way, likely still within the margin of error.

  • Greisha

    Hemant:

    It may be nitpicking, but it always irritate me when somebody says Catholics and Christians.  Catholics are original Christians and Protestants and particularly Evangelicals are just the other denominations with not so long history.

    BTW, I am not any kind of Christian by ancestry or beliefs.

    • Shannon Hawkins

      More accurately: Catholicism is one of the longest surviving sects. The Council of Nicene was hundreds of churches gathering together to decide once-and-for-all what Christianity was due to Christianity being even more Balkanized than it is today (the Nicene Creed, which I once knew by heart, is one of the results of that meeting). That church later split into Catholicism and various Orthodox churches, primarily over the role of the Pope.

  • Gex

    I myself enjoy the differences in the numbers.  It seems that  a majority of the millenials who find Christianity to be judgemental, anti-gay, hypocritical, and highly political don’t mind that at all.

    This gay person can’t wait until the following generation to have religion stop destroying my life.  Literally. I don’t want to be 90 and have a deceased partner when people finally let me have equal rights.

  • Jconolley

    Those columns that supposedly add up to 100 actually add up to well over 100. What’s going on?

    • JConolley

       Oh, wait. They break the Catholics out. Ne’mind.


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