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.A couple of things I saw in the polling. First, the number of atheists and agnostics did not grow dramatically; they are still a small share of the population in general.
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%).
This large and growing group of Americans is less religious than the public at large on many conventional measures, including frequency of attendance at religious services and the degree of importance they attach to religion in their lives.
However, a new survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted jointly with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, finds that many of the country's 46 million unaffiliated adults are religious or spiritual in some way. Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious" (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day. In addition, most religiously unaffiliated Americans think that churches and other religious institutions benefit society by strengthening community bonds and aiding the poor.
And second, a characteristic of the "unaffiliateds" is they're decidedly more liberal than the general public.
The religiously unaffiliated are heavily Democratic in their partisanship and liberal in their political ideology. More than six-in-ten describe themselves as Democrats or say they lean toward the Democratic Party (compared with 48% of all registered voters). And there are roughly twice as many self-described liberals (38%) as conservatives (20%) among the religiously unaffiliated. Among voters overall, this balance is reversed.This trend is a wake up call for the church. Both for liberal churches which have embraced the secular values of the culture and resulted in a significant decline in their numbers. They stand for little to nothing. On the other hand, conservative churches which hunker down and further withdraw from cultural engagement will also decline. Both segments are making the wrong response.
Am I concerrned for the church? Concerned for its declining influence in society. And for our society. The less our culture is shaped by Christians values means the more social, cultural and economic breakdown will occur. The founders saw religion, e.g. Christianity and morals which flow from faith, as indispensable for society and our government. With that diminishing influence expect more social chaos and unrest.
I'm reminded of the words of Thomas Jefferson, inscribed on the Jefferson memorial:
God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.Ultimately, the church will get its act together and respond to the challenges of secularism and even paganism. It's done so in the past. All one has to do is read the pages of the book of Acts in the Bible.