F Rosa Rubicondior: The 'Nones' Take The Lead in USA

Sunday 14 April 2019

The 'Nones' Take The Lead in USA

'Black Protestant' and 'Jewish' subsumed into 'Other faiths' to give 'Other affiliation'
'No religion' includes Atheists, Agnostics and spiritual but not affiliated to any religion.
Survey: As many Americans claim no religion as there are evangelicals, Catholics - CNN.

The 'nones' are winning.

Within a few days of one another, we have two major opinion surveys by respected organisation, both showing a huge and growing movement away from religious belief, especially Christianity, towards having no religion. Last week we saw a 46% increase in no belief in the UK between 2011 and 2018 and now we hear that the largest single demographic in the USA is the 'none', who have overtaken the Catholics and evangelicals for the first time.

This latter survey was released last month but has only just found it way into the mainstream news media.

This meteoric rise in the nones in the USA began in the early 1990s and has seem a 266% increase since 1991. Although slightly ahead, statistically, there is nothing to choose between the three groups now, but at current rates of growth, the nones will be in a clear lead in four to six years time. Back in the early 1990s, nones were bottom of the list at about 7%. Now they are top at 23.1%.

Evangelicals have fallen from an early 1990s peak of 30% to just under 22.5% and Catholics have fallen 3% in four years to 23% as the sexual abuse scandal intensifies. 'Mainline' Protestant staged a small but statistically insignificant rally last year but are now at just 11%, their decline having been inexorable since the 1970s when they were the largest group, more than 10% ahead of evangelicals.

It is clear that the major shift in belief amongst Americans has come from across the board as all religious groups have declined since the 1970s. There may have been movement between them but the overall trend has been towards non-belief. There has also been a major change in demographics within some religious groups. For example, Catholics have become predominantly Hispanic as the lost of non-Hispanic Catholics to nones and evangelicals has been offset by Hispanic immigration.

From these figures it is clear that something significant began in the early 1990's and again in about 2004 when after plateauing for a few years, the nones again resumed a steep increase in numbers. It is not immediately clear what this is but Nick Fish, president of American Atheists believes the Internet is partly responsible, providing a place for non-believers to find each other and take courage from the fact that they are not alone. If so, this suggests a cohort of 'closet' nones now finding support when they 'come out'.

Another way to look at this correlation between growth in access to the Internet and the growth in nones is that fair-minded people are now being exposed to the dishonesty, hypocrisy, judgemental arrogance, ignorance and deliberate disinformation that religious groups use to proselytise and recruit, especially into the extreme fundamentalist cults.

And of course we have a new generation of Americans now exposed to the wealth of information and objective scientific and historical information the Internet has made available. As more and more people come over to the 'nones' the parochialism that sustains the myth that religious belief is essential to maintain a law-abiding society will be exposed as false. Any claim Christian denomination can make for their influence on public policies and interference in public life to be justified as representative of the majority will go and demands for increased secularisation of American politics will grow.

But on that latter point, despite this growth in rejection of organized religion, and despite Congress being the most diverse ever, as the Pew Research table on the right show, there is not a single openly Atheist Representative or Senator in Congress and Christians are vastly over-represented at over 88%. The Congressional Freethought caucus contains just 10 members. Never before has such a significant demographic group been so poorly represented. Excluding the largest demographic group from representation can only increase the distance between the people and their elected representatives and increase the mistrust of politicians.

The 'nones' are winning in the USA and, as other surveys have shown, 'none' as an expression of non-affiliation to any religious group is often a transitional position on the way to Atheism or Agnosticism, as any social benefits derived from affiliation is lost and religion become both less important and more available for scrutiny. Freed from group pressure, and feeling free to question and scrutinise, many people move quickly to open disbelief.

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  1. The "nones" (actually not a unified group, but a conglomeration of separate, diverse groups, including atheists, agnostics, unaffiliated believers (including those who cannot find a sufficiently extreme sect), and those whose religious beliefs don't fit into the pigeon-holes provided by the survey (e.g. Wicca, Gaia, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Jains)) narrative based on the small-sample (2348 responses) GSS/NORC survey is being over-hyped by Burge, who is a Baptist pastor associated with a right-wing blog that promotes religion ( https://religioninpublic.blog/contributors/ ).

    The GSS/NORC survey shows 4.6% atheists and 6.4% agnostics ( https://gssdataexplorer.norc.org/variables/1076/vshow ) with a margin of error of about 1.5% due to the small sample size. The roughly concurrent large-sample (59,587 responses) CCES survey ( https://cces.gov.harvard.edu/ ) found atheists and agnostics at 6.8% each. The 2014 large-sample (35,071 responses) ( https://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/ ) found 3.1% atheists and 4.0% agnostics. The Pew Research study report discusses the GSS and other surveys in Appendix C, which explains how methodology, wording of questions, etc. affect results. All of these results are a far cry from the "23%" number being hyped.

    Some outlets have conflated "nones" with "atheists" to invoke fear among those already suffering from the delusion that Christians are somehow being persecuted by vast hordes of secular humanists (e.g. https://neonnettle.com/news/7070-atheism-becomes-largest-religion-in-america ). Others, also conflating "nones" with "atheists", are prematurely celebrating an imagined end of religion (e.g. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2019/04/were-number-one-the-non-religious-take-the-lead/ ). The two (possibly intentionally on the part of some hyping the "nones" figure) work to energize those pushing Project Blitz ( https://www.salon.com/2019/04/13/the-plot-against-america-inside-the-christian-right-plan-to-remodel-the-nation/ ) initiatives to attempt to establish a Dominionist theocracy while simultaneously lulling atheists and agnostics into inaction.

    Burge has also been pushing an interpretation of CCES data to try to convince religious believers, including those currently on "the left" to embrace the Republican party, and his message has also unfortunately been promoted even among atheists ( https://friendlyatheist.patheos.com/2019/04/12/since-2008-most-u-s-religious-groups-have-shifted-to-the-political-right/ [ there is a link to Burge's site there ]).

    Mainstream media has been bamboozled by such coverage; note the fine print under the graphic "'Black Protestant' and 'Jewish' subsumed into 'Other faiths' to give 'Other affiliation' 'No religion' includes Atheists, Agnostics and spiritual but not affiliated to any religion." It is incorrect to claim religious believers as "No religion" as shown in the graphic. Note also the bizarre capitalization (probably copied from Burge, who does so); there is no reason to capitalize "atheists" or "agnostics" as neither is a proper name.

    1. Nevertheless, the demographic change and increasing rejection of organized religion in the USA is unmistakeable and unarguable, no matter the motive of the person reporting the data. Having put the 'fine print' under CNN chart for clarity, yes I am aware of it. I am also aware that this device, which simplified the chart, was not bu Burge but by CNN. Burge's chart, shown in the emebbeded Twitter tweet, keeps these groups separate.

      The actual data, for those with the right analytical software, is available at: http://gss.norc.org/getthedata/Pages/Home.aspx

    2. I capitalise 'Atheist' for the same reason 'Christian' is capitalised. I'm sorry if that upsets you. Having never heard of Burge until yesterday, you can rest assured he doesn't teach me basic English grammar.

    3. The full GSS data isn't available without jumping through some hoops, but all but geographical/location data is available via the GSS Data Explorer without requiring any software other than a web browser, and which shows the question, the multiple-choice responses, and the breakdown of responses (over many years). I have included in my earlier comment a link to the "confidence in the existence of god" question, which clearly separates atheists, agnostics, and believers; the "religious preference" question (which provides no separate atheist or agnostic options) is at https://gssdataexplorer.norc.org/variables/287/vshow.

    4. I'm afraid you'll need to take up the availability of the data with GSS. Is bickering about that the only way you can cope with this news that the 'nones' now outnumber any other single demographic? With them forecast to take a clear lead in 4-6 years, you maybe need to get used to the idea.

  2. Good, especially as the US have lagged behind the rest of 'the West' when it comes to none belief. They still have a way to go considering that the likes of northwest Europe and New Zealand are virtually secular societies.


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