The percentage of Americans claiming no religious affiliation has been growing steadily over the last decade, and currently stands around twenty percent. This represents a significant weakening in the hold of organized religion on American culture. So, is this a good thing?

I say yes! Of course, claiming no religious affiliation does not necessarily make you an atheist, but that’s okay. It’s not really religion per se that bothers me, but organized religion. Disorganized religion seems a lot less pernicious. So I see this particular trend as an unambiguous good.

Unsurprisingly, though, that puts me in the minority. According to a recent Pew survey, forty-eight percent of adults view the decline of organized religion as a bad thing. An additional thirty-nine percent think it makes no difference. Just eleven percent think it is a good thing.

The surprising part is that nineteen percent of the unaffiliated think the decline is a bad thing. A whopping fifty-five percent think it makes no difference, while a mere twenty-four percent think it is a good thing.

Of course, the results vary depending on the religious affiliation of the respondents. It really doesn’t much matter, though, whether you think it is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s happening regardless. I suppose it’s always possible there will be another great awakening, but I doubt it. Once people lose their interest in religious institutions, it’s hard to get them back.

Comments

  1. #1 MNb
    July 4, 2013

    You’re discussing two related but still different topics and that makes your standpoint confusing.
    1. The decline of organized religion.
    Yes, that’s a good thing. I have heard too many stories about how church controlled the lives of their members in The Netherlands only 60 years ago to think otherwise.

    2. Rise of the nones.
    Here I’m indifferent. What matters to me is not so much what people believe or not but how they put it in practice.

  2. #2 deepak shetty
    July 5, 2013

    The surprising part is that nineteen percent of the unaffiliated think the decline is a bad thing.
    Not really – we already know of some atheists / agnostics who think religion is a good thing because it provides comfort/solace/community though they themselves dont need religion for that- the common masses do.

    A whopping fifty-five percent think it makes no difference,
    Add me to that. Identifying as a non believer tells me nothing else about that person. If the rise in the “nones” correlated to a rise in the social causes that I agreed, then I’d move into the good thing category. But as the various “gates” have shown there isn’t a correlation.

  3. #3 Lenoxus
    July 5, 2013

    we already know of some atheists / agnostics who think religion is a good thing because it provides comfort/solace/community though they themselves dont need religion for that- the common masses do.

    It’s kind of interesting that the reverse sort of person doesn’t seem to exist – a theist who believes religion is bad for humanity. You might ask such a theist “Why believe, then?” and they would reply “Huh? The existence of God is a simple fact. The resultant massive evidence for God only makes things worse, by further encouraging people to engage in the bad aspects of religion (the persecution, wars, supression of ideas, and so on). If everyone were an atheist, they’d be quite incorrect, but at least we could be united in common cause rather than divided by our faiths. People like me can handle the truth of theism, stare it in the face without going crazy with power-worship, but not the masses.”

    Presumably, of course, this person would not believe that atheists go to Hell. I wonder how much that is a favtor in Americans saying that decreased religiosity is bad.

  4. #4 G
    California USA
    July 8, 2013

    Re. Lenoxus @ #3: Those odd creatures do exist, they are a subspecies of mystic, whose approach to religion is personal and yet highly abstract, and they have little or no use for organized religion. For that matter there are strong hints of these ideas in some threads of Deism.

    I would raise a skeptical question or two with regard to “unaffiliated” in the surveys. There is a plurality of American Christianity that uses the term “non-denominational” as a code-word for extreme religious right views. These are the folks who support radical anti-abortion laws, anti-gay laws, and obscurantism in the public schools; some of them support overt terrorist groups such as Operation Rescue.

    So before we interpret what’s meant by “no affiliation,” we should ask how the variable was operationalized in the surveys, and whether there was enough specificity to parse out the “non-denominationals” from the “unaffiliated.”

  5. #5 deepak shetty
    July 8, 2013

    It’s kind of interesting that the reverse sort of person doesn’t seem to exist
    Yes – I guess the closest equivalent would be some strands of eastern religious philosophy (multiple paths to truth, or belief in personal god or the Buddhist don’t accept religious authority)

  6. #7 GetReal
    Texas
    July 11, 2013

    Anything that requires deluded, irrational, illogical thinking, the suspension of critical thinking, is premised around magic and the supernatural, and allows a mindset that allows you to believe “ANYTHING” for the sake of appeasing your emotions, is something all minds should avoid.

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    July 13, 2013

    This is the right blog for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually would want

  8. [...] had the Nones at 15%. However, a biannual poll called the General Social Survey, probably the one discussed at Evolutionblog recently, and treated in more detail here, had the Nones up at 20% – up from 8% in 1990. [...]

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