United States Becoming More Secular

A just-published study by the American Religious Identification Survey found that14.1% of Americans or 29,481,000 people identify as atheist, humanist, agnostic or non-religious (see pages 12-13, SO sorry about the PDF).

Additionally, nearly 40% of those who identified as Christian stated that neither they themselves nor members of their families belonged to or attended a church or religious institution. The difference between “identification as” and “affiliation with” [a religious institution] is very pronounced: people call themselves Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim… but don’t attend Church/Temple/Mosque. The association is more a state of mind than actual state of being.

Can we now, then dispense with the meme that “we are a Christian nation”? That in fact, we are a nation of people, many of whom identify when asked as Christian, but have no actual ties to any Christian church?

I take this as a particularly encouraging sign. What was previously seen as an impenetrable wall now seems no more than smoke and mirrors. Church membership is declining. Atheism and humanism is markedly on the rise. Reason is making headway in public schools and government. It does lead me to wonder, however, just how accurate a certain survey was. You know the one. It shows atheists as being the least trusted group in the U.S. With close to one fifth of the U.S. atheist/agnostic or non-religious….just how accurate is that statement?


32 responses to “United States Becoming More Secular

  1. As a Buddhist, the last time I went to a temple was months ago.

    Seems to be less and less frequent each year, and I don’t think I really miss it either. As much as it pains me to say this, temple has been turned into a fashion show. Everyone goes there to criticise and gossip about everyone else, so what’s the point?

    If people really cared as much about what they purport to believe in, we wouldn’t have half the problems we do today.

    The fact of the matter is that religious people tend create answers first and then try to manipulate reality to fit those answers. Those with a finely tuned BS detector is, of course, less likely to be persuaded.

    I barely identify myself as a theist these days anyway.

  2. Pingback: United States Becoming More Secular « Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptic blogs of the day

  3. Hi, eksith. Thank you for the comment.

    I’m sorry your temple has reduced to the way you describe it; I really am. I do think that “spiritual” is the way most people would describe themselves, but the religion is part of their cultural identity.

  4. Yeah…more atheism….and we are getting better morals these days too right? So good to see America heading in the right direction.

  5. leftcoastlibrul

    Well, yes, Dennis, I think laws based on religious superstition SHOULD be struck down. And…funny thing… “We’re going in the wrong direction/kids these days/there’s been a breakdown of morals!” has actually been going around since there was cuniform writing. In fact, a tablet was just found by archaeologists saying that exact thing. Gimme a bit, I’ll find it for you.

    (Yes, more atheism. It’s an ATHEIST BLOG. I just throw other stuff in from time to time because one can’t talk about atheism constantly)

  6. I guess the one thing that bothers me is how 40 years ago 5% of kids were born outside of having 2 committed parents…now over 40% are. That is a real problem. And if you look at the data about dropout rates, emotional issues, violence issues, etc…children without two parents are significantly more likely to have bad outcomes. It isn’t even close. I just wish we would take care of our kids better.

  7. leftcoastlibrul

    I wish we would, too, but I think you’re romanticizing some. There’s a big difference between having two parents and having “two committed parents.” Getting married because you had to was a pretty big thing up until recently. There’s a large percentage of baby boomers who report they were physically hit (spanked, switched, beaten, etc.) as children. I don’t consider that taking good care of them.

    In addition, just because a couple isn’t married doesn’t mean they aren’t committed to their children. The darling man and I aren’t married, but our kids are our #1 priority. They’re all teenagers.

    We have, as a species, a consistent trait to look back in nostalgia and insist that “things were better then.” It isn’t true. No matter which decade you look at, there was always social unrest. There was always “moral downfall,” or a breakdown in our nation’s young people or something threatening the social structure.

    Violent crime has dropped consistently over the past decade, by the way. Where are you getting your numbers? Just because a child now lives in a single parent family does not mean they were born into one.

  8. Wow, is somebody being presumptious? Just because people are waking up and finding out that belonging to a church does not equate one to being a Christain. Many believers attend either a home church or a non-denomenational service.
    Hmm, I wonder what the numbers would be for Atheist leaving their religion?

  9. Atheism simply means a lack of belief. Someone who doesn’t have a religion.

    Hence the term : A-Theism. Opposite of theism.

    Any additional attributes you give it to present your dissatisfaction with those who identify as atheists, is your problem.

  10. A gospel without God or a god ipso facto is still a religion! A religion without a god but a religion none the less. Denying the existence of God is not proof there is no god.

  11. A religion without God or a god ipso facto is still a religion. Just because you deny the existence of God is not valid scientific proof that God does not exist.

  12. I’m not an atheist.
    Merely pointing out what atheism is…

  13. So am I! Atheism is a religion, a godless religion.

  14. A religion without a god!!!

  15. Click here to go to MSNBC
    A recent MSNBC poll which refutes the above article.

  16. You’re twisting reality to fit your view of the world. The definition of “athiest” will not change no matter how hard you try to redefine it. The folks at Webster are uninterested in your petty squabble with these people.

    Moreover the poll option explicitly states “The motto has historical and patriotic significance”.

    As does “E Pluribus Unum”, “Novus ordo seclorum”, and the Eye of Providence (inherited from the Eye of Horus from the Egyptians). These things represent historical artifacts that defined the founding of the nation and the culture in which it was raised. It’s not about religion.

    Those who are able to discern the fantasy of religious influence in the creation of the nation from reality of history, answered “yes”.

    For the record:

    Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.

    – Thomas Jefferson

    … And my conversation with you is over.

  17. Correction… I meant to say, answered “No”.
    My point is that it does not represent religion in the founding of the nation. And so the phrase has no effect in the seperation of church and state.

  18. Good points, eksith. Also bearing in mind that “in God we trust” was not even put on the money til the 1950’s.

    We are a secular nation with a religious populace.

    Beartracks~ Let’s think about this logically. What are the things that define a religion? Tenets. What are the tenets of a religion? What are the tenets of atheism, beyond not believing in any gods? There are none. There are people who believe conspiracy theories…does that mean that’s their religion? A religious belief does not automatically translate to religion. A lack of belief does not translate to religion.

    As I’ve said before: atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.

  19. LCL said: “in God we trust” was not even put on the money til the 1950’s.

    Not true! I have coins dating to 1890’s with the slogan “in God we trust”. Infact, the motto first appeared on a United States coin in 1864. cite

  20. “Also bearing in mind that “in God we trust” was not even put on the money til the 1950’s. ”

    I think you are referring to the “under God” that was added to the pledge of allegiance.

    The Congress passed the Act of April 22, 1864. This legislation changed the composition of the one-cent coin and authorized the minting of the two-cent coin. The Mint Director was directed to develop the designs for these coins for final approval of the Secretary. IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin.

    Here is background:

    Another Act of Congress passed on March 3, 1865. It allowed the Mint Director, with the Secretary’s approval, to place the motto on all gold and silver coins that “shall admit the inscription thereon.” Under the Act, the motto was placed on the gold double-eagle coin, the gold eagle coin, and the gold half-eagle coin. It was also placed on the silver dollar coin, the half-dollar coin and the quarter-dollar coin, and on the nickel three-cent coin beginning in 1866. Later, Congress passed the Coinage Act of February 12, 1873. It also said that the Secretary “may cause the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to be inscribed on such coins as shall admit of such motto.”


  21. Supreme Court Ruling:

    Epperson vs. Arkansas 1968…

    “Government in our Democracy, state and national, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, [393 U.S. 97, 104] and practice. It must not be hostile to any religion or the advocacy of no religion; and it may not aid, foster or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even the militant opposite. The First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and non-religion.”

    To remove either the 10 Commandments or the slogan “In God We Trust” would be the advocacy of “no religion” and in violation of the Supreme Court Ruling!

  22. If, as you say there’s no God, then why do you care if our country puts the motto “In God We Trust” on our flag, coins or federal buildings. By claiming that the 10 Commandments should be taken down are you saying that:
    Lying should be legal?
    Killing should be legal?
    Sex with anyone should be legal?
    Children should dishonor their parents?
    Stealing should be legal?

    Honestly, what’s wrong with the above questions?

  23. What, you mean aside from the fact that they’re taking the “Slippery Slope” fallacy to its most absurd point? Or the fact that they have nothing whatever to do with the country becoming more secular after a hard religious swing? Or the fact that children “Dishonoring their parents” isn’t against the law?

    It’s an hysterical knee jerk reaction to automatically assume that the government refusing to bow to frothing religious nuts will automatically lead to a moral breakdown. Government is not in charge of teaching children morality. Parents are. Not that today’s parents are any different from parents of the past when it comes to avoidance of uncomfortable topics because they don’t know how to talk with their kids. If only we oculd make parenting classes compulsory….

    Interestingly, it is all the “red” religious states that have a higher divorce rate, a higher unwed mother rate, a higher crime rate, and a higher rate of STD’s : Cite. If this hand wringing over someone not thinking of the children continues, though, I suppose I can’t expect the facts to be looked at.

    I care that the country that claims secular government puts “god” on their money, because they are supposed to be above religion. The people can (and will) be as religious as they like; the government needs to pull back from the dangerous swing it has taken toward theocracy. And it is, for which I am extremely grateful.

    Retraction: Thank you to Beartracks for giving a citation of the “In God We Trust” motto; I appreciate the correction.

  24. I cannot comment as to the divorce rate being higher in the red states vs the blue states.

    There are religious motto’s on money and government buildings yet there is also non-religious quotes on govenment buildings and such, therefore creating a balance in government.

    I reiterate, To remove either the 10 Commandments or the slogan “In God We Trust” would be the advocacy of “no religion” and in violation of the Supreme Court Ruling!

  25. “Interestingly, it is all the “red” religious states that have a higher divorce rate, a higher unwed mother rate, a higher crime rate, and a higher rate of STD’s”

    If you look deeper in the statistics, these issues above are centered around urban, often black, Democrat although religious populations in the south.

    Crime rate overall is lower in red counties. I believe that is a more accurate measure.

    • The per capita rate of violent crime in red states is 421 per 100,000 … In blue states, it’s 372 per 100,000 … The per capita rate of murder and non-negligent manslaughter in Louisiana is 13 per 100,000 … In Maine, it’s 1.2 per 100,000 … As of 2000, 37 states had statewide policies or procedures to address domestic violence … All 13 that didn’t were red states … The 5 states with the highest rates of alcohol dependence or abuse are red states … The 5 states with the highest rates of alcohol dependence or abuse among 12- to 17-year-olds are also red states … The per capita rate of methamphetamine-lab seizures in California is 2 per 100,000 … In Arkansas, it’s 20 per 100,000 … The number of meth-lab seizures in red states increased by 38 percent from 1999 to 2003 … In the same time frame, it decreased by 38 percent in blue states.

      As to your racist comment, Dennis: kindly provide a citation that blacks are the reason for all the crime in the red states. Although I would prefer you keep such bigoted comments out of my blog.

      IF the courthouses and federal/state buildings ALSO had Muslim/Pagan/Jewish/Hindi/atheist plaques and messages? THEN it would be equally representative. Beartracks, are you a Constitutional attorney? If not, could you please tell me where you got this interesting interpretation? What congressperson/Constitutional historian came up with the idea that religion MUST play a part in government? The constitution explicitly states that the U.S. Government must NOT espouse one religion over another. Nowhere does it say the government cannot espouse non religion, unless atheism can be proven to be a recognized religion. Which it cannot.

  26. Um, Our forefathers! There are plenty of religous symbols on these historical landmarks Link

    According to US Court of Appeals on May 13, 1997 declared Atheism a religion. Link
    The Supreme Court has said that a religion need not be based on a belief in the existence of a supreme being. In the 1961 case of Torcaso v. Watkins, the Court described “secular humanism” as a religion. A footnote in Torcaso v. Watkins refers to Secular Humanism (capitalized) as a religion. Link

  27. An Atheist perspective on the court ruling:

    The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, referring to some of their previous decisions, stated:

    “The Establishment Clause also prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another without a legitimate secular reason.”

    “(‘[T]he First Amendment does not allow a state to make it easier for adherents of one faith to practice their religion than for adherents of another faith to practice their religion, unless there is a secular justification for the difference in treatment.’); Berger v. Rensselaer Cent. Sch. Corp., 982 F.2d 1160, 1168-69 (7th Cir. 1993)”
    Despite the controversy, this is just good law. It protects everyone equally, ensuring that favoritism is not afforded to any one set of beliefs at the expense of another – even if one group is a majority.

    The Court, in this case, properly recognized that Mr. Kaufman’s right to form a group with people who shared similar beliefs was a protected right. Unless the prison system had excluded all gatherings with regard to religion, prohibiting a group of atheists to gather is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

    As we’ve seen, and despite the “shock” headlines to the contrary, they didn’t declare that atheism was a religion, they declared that atheism was afforded equal protection with religions under the Establishment Clause.

    In the end, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law and ensured that Religious Freedom is a concept that applies to everyone equally. Apart from the reference to an atheist “code of ethics”, I don’t think anyone could reasonably ask for a better decision. Link

  28. In the end, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law and ensured that Religious Freedom is a concept that applies to everyone equally.

    Not just for Atheist’s!!

  29. If you dont attend a church, temple or mosque, it doesnt mean that you are less religious or the world’s becoming more secular because although you dont attend these religious organisations, people pray, read and remember god at home. so by not attending churches or mosques doesnt make you less religious.

  30. leftcoastlibrul

    Thanks for the reply.

    If you’ll read back over my comments, you’ll see that I didn’t claim that not going to a religious instituion=secular. I said the number of secular people in this country is increasing, and it is. I provided a citation which shows that.

    In addition, I noted that ‘affiliated with’ and ‘identifies as’ are two different things.

    That said: I think you will find that those who attend services are more likely to be religious in their daily actions than those who do not, so I’m going to have to disagree with your premise.

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