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Pew survey finds record number of religious “nones” in US

Empty pews at Mass

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J-P Mauro - published on 01/29/24

The data suggests that many religious "nones" are open to belief in God, but their poor outlook on religious institutions must be overcome.
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A new survey from Pew Research is examining the portion of the US population that identifies as religious “nones.” The data, largely drawn during the summer of 2023, suggests that over a quarter of the US population (28%) are now religiously unaffiliated, making them one of the largest religious demographics in the nation.

A prior Aleteia report cited the record high number of US “nones,” as recorded in 2018, at 26%.

The report begins by defining religious “nones,” which includes those who responded that they are atheist, agnostic, or have no particular religious affiliation. When broken down, the largest portion of “nones” (63%) claimed no religion in particular, 20% called themselves agnostic, and 17% called themselves atheist. 

Doubt, no time, no need …

When the survey asked religious “nones” why they were nonreligious, the most prevalent answer was doubt or skepticism about the teachings of religious institutions (67%), followed by reservations that have come about by questioning religious teachings (60%).

Furthermore, 44% cited a lack of time for organized religion, and another 40% cited the lack of need for it. Only 32% of “nones,” however, responded that they did not believe in God. 

The report made it clear that the defining factor of a religious “none” is found in their outlook towards organized religion, rather than God.

Thirteen percent of “nones” said they actually do believe in the biblical description of God, with a further 56% citing their belief in a higher power of some sort. Some religious “nones,” albeit very few (3%), continue to attend some form of religious service at least once per month, with another 7% going at least once per year. The vast majority, however, 90%, said they seldom or never go. 

In responses reflective of those “nones” who said they believe in a higher power, a large portion of them (49%) consider themselves to be “spiritual,” even if not “religious.” While this number is far from the nearly 8-in-10 (79%) of religiously affiliated respondents who say they’re spiritual, it suggests that “nones” are still open to faith, even if they have reservations about organized religion. 

More harm than good?

While it is possible more “nones” are open to religion than previously thought, religious institutions will need to overcome the bleak perspectives before this group can be drawn back to the faith.

A plurality of “nones,” (43%) said that organized religion causes more harm than good, with only slightly fewer (41%) saying they do equal harm and good. Only 14% of “nones” felt that religion causes more good than harm. 

In a final question, the “nones” suggested that religion is not necessary to promote good and moral decision making. A huge majority (83%) said “the desire not to hurt people” is key to deciding right from wrong, with 82% citing logic and reason as a deciding factor.

A further 69% said it feels good to do the right thing, and 60% said the desire to stay out of trouble will lead to the right decisions. Only 13% said that religious beliefs would guide them to the right decision.

Read more results at Pew Research Center.

FaithSpiritualityUnited States
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