When 1 in 5 Americans Don't Belong to a Religion, is God Dead in 2013?


Is God dead in 2013? At the very least, organized religions are facing a radical change.

Forget the hype and believe the stats. Religious affiliation is falling, and more Americans than ever label themselves as “nones” (answer surveys as “no affiliation”).

According to the Pew Forum, “The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.”

Why the change? Many millennials (ages 18-30)  are eligible for polling for the first time over the last five years, replacing older generations who are dying. Thirty-four percent of millennials polled claim “no affiliation,” compared to less than 10% of the Greatest Generation.

Simultaneously, all age groups are decreasingly religious by about 4% since 2007. Also, the vast majority (92%) of “nones” were raised in religious households.

This means that people of all ages are actively rejecting religious affiliation. Interviews and statistical research confirm that top two reasons for rejecting religion are 1) the politicization of religion (churches supporting candidates, polarization over Israel), and 2) distrust of religious institutions (sex and fraud scandals).

These two reasons mix with a third cause for rejecting religion: it is simply not necessary. In previous decades religious organizations were cornerstones of community life. These days, Americans find community online (through PolicyMic, for example) or in other personal settings like coffee shops or civic organizations. As religious participation became harder and harder to justify due to the scandal and polarizing politics, people of all ages simply find their community elsewhere. For millennials who grew up with the internet, the transition is obvious.

However, a decrease in religious participation does not mean that God is dead. First off, the study of Global Religious Participation (the often-quoted “1 in 6 unaffiliated” study) is deeply skewed because it includes secular countries like North Korea and China.

Also, religious participation tends to increase with age, so we 20-somethings are likely to find religion later in life. The American population will heavily favor those over 65 in the next decade, which has historically been a religious set.

And here’s the key point: non-religious does not mean non-believer. Ninety-three percent of Americans believe in a God, including 73% of the “nones.” Forty-two percent of “nones” pray. Most "nones" (55%) describe themselves as either “religious” or “spiritual but not religious” (which is the fastest-growing segment).

So no, God is not dead in 2013, but religious organizations are facing radical changes going forward. It’s about time.

Andy Morgan tracks the future of religion at his blog, Millennial Faith.