The Winds of Religious Influence Are Shifting: The Rise of the Non-Religious in America
As a Latter-day Saint and a Christian, today was a historic day.
For centuries America’s largest religious group has been “Protestant”, but according to findings published today, that is no more.
Earlier today the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life released their latest analytic study titled, Nones on the Rise, now showing that one in five Americans (19.6%) claim no religious identity.
This group, called “Nones,” is now the nation’s second-largest category of faith, behind only the Catholics, and outnumbing the top Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists. This shift will have, and is already showing, significant cultural, religious, and even political changes in our society at large.
Last year, the president of the largest atheist organization in the United States spoke to a group of students organized for the 2011 Secular Student Alliance leadership conference. A focal point of his talk on the future of atheism was the idea of a “sleeping giant,” or what he called the “30 percent under 30”, the nonreligious Americans who would shape the future of our national discourse on religion.
Even though that figure was slightly off – under the most recent survey figures available last year, 25 percent of Americans under 30 were religiously unaffiliated, and only about 7 percent of them identified as atheist or agnostic – the statement was oddly prescient. Indeed, those who identify as religiously unaffiliated is growing rapidly, particularly among people born in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The nonreligious do indeed seem poised to assist in shaping the future of religious discourse, but who are these “Nones” and what exactly do they really believe?
According to Pew,
“In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).”
– “Nones” on the Rise
About 37 percent of the religiously unaffiliated say they’re spiritual but not religious. Many even pray, believe in God, and have regular spiritual routines according to the report. From 2007-2012, the so-called “Nones” have risen from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults. That is staggering growth, the likes of which not even us Mormons can keep up with as the nation’s faster growing religion.
But as society changes, and secularism and succinct socialistic ideologies squirm their way into the footholds of society, I believe we’ll see even larger shift and growth of the “Nones” in coming years.
In the 1960’s two in three Americans called themselves Protestant. Now the Protestant group – both evangelical and mainline – has slid from 53% of the population of the U.S. in 2007, to 48% just five years later.
According to a Washington Post article written earlier today about the survey’s findings,
[The “Nones”] can be found in all educational and income groups, but they skew heavily in one direction politically: 68 percent lean toward the Democratic Party. That makes the “nones,” at 24 percent, the largest Democratic faith constituency, with black Protestants at 16 percent and white mainline Protestants at 14 percent.
By comparison, white evangelicals make up 34 percent of the Republican base.
– One in five Americans reports no religious affiliation, study says; Michelle Boorstein; The Washington Post, 9 October 2012
The Post article goes on to say that “the study presents a stark map of how political and religious polarization have merged in recent decades. Congregations used to be a blend of political affiliations, but that’s generally not the case anymore. Sociologists have shown that Americans are more likely to pick their place of worship by their politics, not vice versa.”
In a society where people choose their religious doctrines according to their political beliefs, instead of the other way around, it is easy to see why Elder Quentin L. Cook spoke directly to the members of the Church who “allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ” this past weekend.
The winds of religious influence are changing. The world and society are changing. The currents of popular opinion are shifting our nation like never before.
As Latter-day Saints we make up just 2% of the general populace of the United States. However, though prophetic mandate the Lord is likewise working in the winds and currents of society, and is now calling younger missionaries than ever before to serve as His ambassadors to the world.
As the youth of the world follow less and less the faith of their forefathers, the youth of Zion are being called upon to shoulder a challenging charge.
Today as the Pew Research Center released their report I felt like standing up and singing happily We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet, because surely the Lord knew what was coming, and what is yet to come in the world in which we live. It is of little wonder that we’ve been counseled so vigorously to more fully convert convert ourselves, strengthen our families, and stand in holy places as the world changes around us.
As a tiny 2% we cannot change society as a whole. Yes, we must stand up and let our voices be heard. Yes, we must defend sacred doctrines, family structure, and our beliefs to the world. But in the end the real question will be, “What did I do to secure my family in Zion?”
I pray that might be a question we will all be able to answer happily when the day comes for an accounting.
To download the complete Nones on the Rise findings to your computer in PDF Format click this link and select “Save as”: Download the Full Report (1.37MB, 80 pages)
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