In previous posts, many of the contributors to this site (along with many scholars of religion in America) have commented on the steady decline in organized religion, especially the decline in the evangelical and fundamentalist churches. The same studies have also shown a remarkable increase in the “religiously unaffliated”, not only atheists and agnostics, but also those who say “nothing in particular” when polled about their religious affiliation and beliefs. According to a Pew study released last October, the “unaffliated” are now about 20% of the general population, outnumbering nearly every other group (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Mormons, and most Protestant denominations) by a big margin (each of the rest of these groups is 2% or less of the population). Only the Catholics and the Southern Baptists are still more numerous, and both of these are losing ground. And those who said that they had “nothing in particular” in the way of affiliation, 88% also said they were “not looking.” Thus, the decline in religiosity across the board in the U.S. is not some sort of hippy-dippy movement to “New Age” religions from the old stale Protestant churches—but a movement away from any form of organized religion.
Even more striking is how this breaks down demographically. The most remarkable of the trends is how much it is stratified by age. Young people are becoming decreasingly religious, so much so that the youngest cohort (the “Young Millennials,” born 1990-1994) are 34% non-religious! About 30% of the “Older Millennials” (born 1980-1989) are also non-religious, while the “Gen Xers” (born 1965-1980) report 21% “unaffiliated”, so the percentage declines only very slightly as the cohorts age. All of these people together contribute to the overall 20% of “unaffiliated” in the poll, and will increase through time. Clearly, organized religion is fading rapidly in this country, driven by a combination of young people who see no need of it, and the dying off of the older generations that were raised in a strongly religious society. As sociologists like Phil Zuckerman have shown, such trends have already happened to most of the western industrialized nations (especially those in Scandinavia), as the benefits of a modern secular society and modern medicine and science become more central to their lives. Continue reading…comments (14)