The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life completed a study of religion in America last year. One of their most significant findings was that 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 are religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentage ever in Pew Research Center polling.
The religiously unaffiliated now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6 percent of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14 percent). Much of this growth is occurring as Millennials (those ages 18-22) replace older generations. But generational replacement is not the only factor at play. Generation X’ers and Baby Boomers also have become more religiously unaffiliated in recent years. Interestingly, the overwhelming majority (74 percent) of the “nones” were brought up in a religious tradition.
And yet, many in the world of religion write off the “nones” as disinterested in organized religion, or in finding spiritual communities. Many clergy dismiss the religiously unaffiliated as lost souls unworthy of outreach efforts. This attitude prevails because roughly two-thirds of the unaffiliated (65 percent) say in surveys that religion is either “not too important” or “not at all important” in their life.
But I believe that many of these 40 million Americans simply find our current religious bodies irrelevant in modern times. They find churches of today that harbor hateful attitudes and outmoded orthodoxies. I believe that many of the “nones” will welcome a religious community that preaches hope instead of fear, action instead of creed, and love instead of damnation.
If religion is not relevant to solving the problems of the world, then it is just therapy. If religion does not offer hope for a better world here and now, then it is just a social outlet. If religion does not encourage us to live lives of Love, of fundamental change in the human condition, then it is a collection of fairy tales.
Are you a “none?” Please don’t give up on religion. There are churches dedicated to improving this world, committed to the fight for social justice, equality, and human rights. And there are churches that don’t pretend to have all of the answers, and welcome your questions.