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Why the “no religion” demographic is growing so fast

Why the “no religion” demographic is growing so fast

It has become apparent that resistance toward organized religion is growing, and not just in the parts of the United States that one would expect. Overall, the number of persons who don't go to church or who are involved in religious organizations is rapidly gaining ground. So is the demographic that specifically identifies as atheist. In fact, a recent Pew survey, as reported by CNN, reveals that number of those who are religiously unaffiliated to be approximately 20% of the population. There are several reasons being attributed to this, including the religious right being responsible for part of this exodus.

Once a common reply from the religious right that unbelief and indifference to religion is "a phase of doubt” that can be overcome using conventional methods of indoctrination, the sheer numbers of those abandoning the pews make it obvious that the resistance to religion is more than a passing fancy. There has also been an increase in activism, as well as memberships in various non-sectarian organization. This is an indication that those who choose not to believe have grown resistant to being victims of discrimination by the factions of the Christian community who identify as "fundamentalists." This includes a large majority of the politically conservative.

Those who profess no religion are growing restless at being the least least trusted group of people in the country, and the push-back against the religious right was inevitable. This has been the case with most groups who have been marginalized for long periods of time.  The very actions of the religious right have actually been a boon to the propagation of the numbers that are reflected in the above referenced survey. The ease at which comments, speeches, sermons, etc., gain wide exposure on the Internet, particularly in high-profile blogs and YouTube channels, has had a profound effect. The more acerbic and discriminatory rhetoric has not just alienated other believers, but has been instrumental in the increase of activism. This includes a more determined focus on social justice issues, as well as addressing constitutional violations of the First Amendment's separation clause.

Mainstream and progressive believers are now allying with unbelievers, thereby increasing the number of people who claim "no religion." These numbers are likely to dramatically increase in the years to come. When the rhetoric of the religious right reaches the point of saturation, it will result in even more people who are still lurking in anonymity to decide the safety of the closet is no longer an option. The desire to speak out and be counted will become irresistible to a wider spectrum of society, and this is why we are not only seeing a rise in the 'no religion' crowd, but also a rise in activism. A free society will bear only so much division before a paradigm change starts.

Dennis Diderot's,  a French philosopher, art critic, and writer, who was a prominent person during the Enlightenment, once stated,

“Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”

Religion is becoming a more and more fractured institution as denominations split into smaller sects and cults. As well, their messages are decreasing in relevance in a post-modern world. Many feel that religion has had its chance, and it has failed. With increasing regularity, the scientific community is not only debunking long-held religious beliefs, but is now exploring things like morality and ethics. Cognitive dissonance can carry a belief system only so long. Many who might have given up, thinking our species doomed to oblivion by a religious finger pushing that big red button may now have a  renewed hope that we just might get out of this alive.

About Al Stefanelli

Al is a retired author, writer and journalist. His books include "Free Thoughts - A Collection Of Essays By An American Atheist" and "A Voice Of Reason In An Unreasonable World - The Rise Of Atheism On Planet Earth." Al began writing in 1985, starting with the New York Times. In 1993 he joined a McClatchy newspaper, writing a weekly column for ten years. His writing continues to be widely distributed on the Internet and in print. He also produced and hosted a weekly syndicated radio broadcast from 1995 to 1998, and his work won a North Carolina Journalism award in 1998. Al is the former Georgia State Director for American Atheists, Inc., and served on the Board of Directors for "The Clergy Project." He is also a former Southern Baptist Pastor, having served two churches and as pulpit supply for three counties. Currently, he writes part time for The God Discussion, co-hosts the Internet radio programs, "The God Discussion Show" and "Reap Sow Radio." Al lives in the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City, GA.
  • Clive Tooth

    This article seems to be very poorly written and needs the attention of an editor. Let us look at the second sentence:

    "Overall, the numbers of persons who don't go to church or who are involved in religious organizations is rapidly gaining ground."

    "Overall" does not add much to the sense of the sentence.
    "numbers" should be "number".
    "persons" is a pseudo-intellectual term – "people" would be better.
    "don't" is primarily a form used in speech – "do not" should be used in written material.
    The sentence seems to be saying that the number of people "involved in religious organizations" is increasing, which I assume is not the case.
    Anyway, a person going to church is automatically "involved in a religious organization" so the "going to church" part could be simply left out.
    "gaining ground" is wrong, it should be "increasing". The "number" cannot gain ground, but it can increase.

    So, the sentence would have been better expressed as:
    "The number of people who are not involved in religious organizations is rapidly increasing."

    • Deborah_B

      I didn't have a problem with the sentence … but even if I did, I think there is a greater message.

  • Deborah_B

    I think you hit the nail on the head with fundamentalism. I certainly can't speak for all of the "nones," but of those who I know who are still believers but not churchgoers, there are a number of factors (1) biblical legalism (or fundamentalism); (2) church politics (i.e., the power struggles within the church); and (3) politics in the church (the 'Champion the Vote' and other encroachments of political messages over spiritual messages delivered from the pulpit). I don't see science playing so much of a role with the believers who are non-churchgoers, but I do see it have a great influence with the non-believers.

    You're right on about mainstream and/or progressive believers starting to align with the non-believers as activists in the face of fundamentalism. From a female's perspective, the "legitimate rape" and similar statements are fueling this movement. Young earth creationism vs. care of the environment, the anti-gay hate and other social issues that fundamentalists push are also playing a role in people getting weary of organized religion.

  • Sheri

    Another excellend article, Al. I fall into the category of leaving organized religion because of the religious right. I now claim no party affiliation and am leaning closer to Atheism all the time, although I have a strong thread of spiritualism that remains in me. It's my belief that the current crop of radical right wing Republicans will send many conservatives looking for alternatives. And when they do, there will be many liberals (like me) waiitng with open arms.

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  • Mandy

    I was intrigued by the article. I myself do not attend church or any organized religious gatherings of any sort. I have tried. Pressure from family made it impossible not to. I DO believe. What I have found out from experience is that when attending any sort of organized religion, what you have to believe is what they tell you. Ever since I have been a child, I have had different, feelings, thoughts or beliefs, whatever you want to call them. I always felt wrong or bad, by trying to accept what I was told was the right and ONLY way to believe, think and feel. I was pushed out of churches later in life because I couldn't and wouldn't conform the way they wanted. I have realized I am not a "bad" person because I wouldn't do what I was told, in fact I have never felt better or free. I am not saying religion is wrong, it helps some people. For myself, I feel better not being yelled at, being told I am going to hell because I have not accepted Jesus Christ as my "personal saviour". It's funny, Jesus and I have a great relationship. I finally seem to understand my personal belief system better now than ever before. It seems to me if all organized religion was not so controlling, demeaning and unrelentlessly self righteous, pews wouldn't be as empty as they are now, in fact they might begin filling up.

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