America is becoming less religious: “Nones” gain momentum, but can we turn it into political power?

America is becoming less religious: “Nones” gain momentum, but can we turn it into political power? November 6, 2015

By Andrew L. Seidel
Staff Attorney
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Pew has released new numbers on religion in the U.S. and things are looking good for the “Nones.” The number of Americans who do not “believe in God” is up from 8% in 2007 to 11%.  Doubt is spreading. The number of Americans who are “absolutely certain” there is a god dropped from 71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014.

In fact, most of the major markers for religious devotion are down a statistically significant amount, including: “the percentages who say they pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion to be very important in their lives.”

The most exciting numbers come from the Millennials, Americans born between 1981 and 1996. They are significantly less religious. For instance, 11% of the overall population don’t believe in god, while 16% Older Millennials (1981-1989), like me, and 20% of Younger Millennials (1990-1996) don’t believe in a god.

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More than half of Americans born before 1945 (51%) regularly attend church services, but only about a quarter of millennials do. Coupled with the chronic over-reporting of church attendance, things look wonderfully bleak for churches in America.

Meanwhile, the people who feel a sense of wonder about the universe is up from 39% to 46%, something I attribute almost entirely to Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan and Seth MacFarlane’s Cosmos, which is epic.

The most striking number from the report comes from the link between religion and political leanings. The “Nones” are now the largest single religious identification among Democrats; 28% of all self-identified Democrats also identify as nonreligious. The next largest group is Catholics at 21%, a full 7 points behind the Nones. Nones also made gains in the Republican party. About 14% of Republicans (up from 10% in 2007) now consider themselves nonreligious.

PF_15.10.27_SecondRLS_overview_nonesDems640px PF_15.10.27_SecondRLS_overview_nonesReps640pxThough the Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office, since the 1950s there has been a voter-imposed auto de fe on political candidates. Politicians have been forced to pander to religion and proclaim a religion that they may or may not have believed in. Whatever their personal beliefs, they had to appear outwardly religious. They often accomplished this by taking symbolic religious action that had little to do with governing, for instance, putting religious language on currency.

But as the demographic tide turns against religion, it’s time we “Nones” start demanding substance over transubstantiation, representation over religious pandering, and action over prayer. We remain an uncourted, untapped source of political power, but not for long.

 

 

FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.


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