PBS’ Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly on the Rise of the Nones, Part 1: Who Are They?

Earlier this week, we learned that the percentage of Secular Americans was higher than ever before. Not only do a third of Millennials (18-29) have no religious affiliation, nearly 20% of all adults are also unaffiliated.

That incredible report was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life in conjunction with PBS’ Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, and beginning tonight, that show is airing a three-part special on our people. Part one focuses on the demographic itself: Who are the Nones?

Greg Smith (Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life): Today in 2012 almost one in five American adults, 20 percent, describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated. That equates to about 46 million adults in the United States, so this is a big, growing, important group in American society. To see its continued growth at this kind of rapid rate has been very striking.

Bob Abernethy (Host): Striking indeed. In the early 1990s just under 10 percent were unaffiliated. Since then that number has doubled. About 13 million are atheists and agnostics. Thirty-three million more describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” By education and income and other common measurements, the Nones are very much like Americans as a whole. Except for age.

Smith: About one-third of all American adults under the age of 30 describe themselves as either atheists or agnostics or say they just don’t have any particular religion. And that large number is a big part of what’s driving the overall growth in this population.

The segment also features Lauren Anderson Youngblood of the Secular Coalition for America. It’s a short clip, but she makes the important point that, despite our growing numbers, discrimination against atheists is still a problem in our society.

My only criticism of the segment is that, when explaining why there has been a sudden surge of non-believers in this country, they ignore the impact the Internet has had. I think that explosion of access to information bears more responsibility for the rise of atheism than anything else.

Part Two of this series airs next week.

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.