Is the importance of organized religion in American life diminishing? A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that nearly one-fifth of all U.S. adults, including over 30% of adults age 30 and under, now list their religious affiliation as "none."
Data from Pew Research's report, "Nones" on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation, indicates that the number of adult Americans who identify themselves as not being connected with any religion has grown from just over 15% to just under 20% in the last five years alone.
Among the religious "Nones" are more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics representing nearly 6% of the U.S. public, and 33 million people - 14% of the public -- who say they have no particular religious affiliation.
However, the report shows that many of the 46 million people not affiliated with an organized religion still describe themselves as being "religious or spiritual in some way." Almost 68% of the "nones" say they believe in God, and 58% say they "often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth." Overall, 37% say they are "spiritual" but not "religious," and 21% report praying daily. In addition, most of the "nones" responded that they felt that churches and religion in general strengthen communities and help the poor.
According to report, a vast majority of the religiously unaffiliated say they are not looking for a religion they feel fits them.
The tendency to abandon organized religion is particularly strong among younger people, as 32% of the religiously unaffiliated are between 18 and 29 years old, compared to 15% of those ages 50 to 64 and only 5% of those 65 and older.
Why is it Happening? In the opinion of Pew's analysts, an overwhelming majority of the "nones" have abandoned traditional religion because they feel religious organizations have too many inflexible rules and are too focused on power, money and politics.
For example, the Pew report cites research conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, showing that many young adults feel that organized religion has become too deeply involved with conservative politics - the "religious right."
Backing up that thesis, Pew points to the book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Robert Putnam of Harvard University and David Campbell of Notre Dame, in which the authors suggest that stance of many organized religions on politically-charged issues like abortion, gay rights and same-sex marriage have caused many young Americans to view religion as "judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical, and too political."