America mirrors global godless trend

For years, we’ve heard how the world is much less religious than America, and that America is a bit of … Continued

For years, we’ve heard how the world is much less religious than America, and that America is a bit of an outlier when it comes to the relationship between economic development of a country and the religiosity of its citizens.

Well, the world has only gotten less religious, and it appears as though America is finally mirroring this godless trend according to two recent Pew surveys. The first survey, released Dec. 17, shows that one of every six people worldwide has no religious affiliation, which makes the “nones” the third-largest religious group worldwide (behind Muslims and Christians) with 16 percent of the global population. This survey is consistent with previous studies on global religiosity, which often find that the number of religious people is about 80-90 percent of the global population.

The second survey is a bit more interesting in that it shows a marked change in religiosity. According to the survey, about 20 percent of the American public has no religious affiliation, making it the second largest “religious” group after Christians. This is a huge development for a country whose nonreligious population during the 1980s was only 5 percent. This change in American religiosity finally puts the country in line with the rest of the developed world, and it is likely to have an enormous impact on our society and government.

The “nones” in America are a powerful group, with nearly 12 percent of the electorate in the 2012 elections identifying as religiously unaffiliated, nearly double the number that participated in the 1980 elections. What’s more, this group is solidly Democratic and socially liberal. Seventy percent of the “nones” voted for President Obama in the 2012 elections, and the “nones” are very supportive of gay marriage and a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health choices.

So what does this all mean for this country and the world at large? Well, as the American nonreligious population continues to grow and unify, politicians will be forced to listen to this influential voting bloc and will finally address the political desires of the nonreligious community. This means that the government’s position on issues like gay marriage, church-state separation, and vouchers for religious schools are likely to reflect the growing nonreligious opinion that faith shouldn’t dictate public policy.

That doesn’t mean that faithful people and faithful representatives can’t act on their values, but it will increasingly make legislators cognizant of the fact that they represent a diverse society, and that it’s inappropriate for them and the government as a whole to endorse a sectarian viewpoint on any serious policy initiative. Politicians will be forced to realize that secular government is the most neutral playing ground for various religious and philosophical viewpoints. That’s because the absence of a faith-based viewpoint isn’t an automatic endorsement of atheism. Rather, as with evolution or with comprehensive sex education, it’s simply an endorsement of the best of modern knowledge.

Looking overseas, as America becomes more like the developed world in relation to religiosity, it’s likely that this country will begin to mirror the secular politics of our global allies. Under such a scenario, the Religious Right will be greatly diminished, and in its place would be groups that demand a tolerant and religion-neutral government. Religious objections to teaching evolution and sexual education in schools won’t be afforded the same weight as they currently receive by government officials. And perhaps most importantly, gone would be the religious litmus test for public office that assumes one must believe in some sort of deity in order to be elected and be representative of the people.

Secular government isn’t a new thing in America, but it is a concept that has been under attack for decades. Now, with changing voter demographics here at home and across the world, it looks like its supporters are well-equipped to defend it in the future.

Roy Speckhardt is executive director of the American Humanist Association.

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  • nanmac

    Thank god for atheists!

  • Paul Gibbons

    Roy – while the 16% number is interesting… the way these surveys are typically done means it under reports atheism…
    In Europe between 5 and 20 percent attend church. Not as many people will check the box ‘atheist’ because of historical, cultural, or emotional reasons. When i first checked it, i glanced over my shoulder surreptitiously!!!

    There is the historical, cultural Christian – who if asked questions such as ‘did God create the world’ or ‘is god omnipotent’ would quickly say no… so they reject almost all of the christian cannon – and don’t attend church – while checking the box…

    So, if a secular world is desirable, as i think it is, then we are in much better shape than Pew suggests AND the US while making progress is still an outlier.

    The more atheists who come out of the closet, the sooner it becomes safe for others to clam that position…

  • Davoud

    The key word is “neutral.” Atheism isn’t a negative position, but a neutral one that is held by rational, open-minded people everywhere. I’m open to believing some amazing things, given sufficient evidence. Darwinian evolution by random mutation and non-random selection over some four billion years is truly amazing to me, yet the evidence is overwhelming and I have to believe it. Let a deity present the tiniest shred of evidence for its existence and I’ll join the investigators. When it reveals itself unequivically (appearing out of thin air and changing this flat, stale water I’ve been sipping for hours into a nice Merlot would be a suggested starting point) then I’ll get serious. Until then, I’ll trust evidence and logic and good sense.

  • Stefan Kotzamanis

    As an Aussie, this pleases me greatly. Not because of my bias in being an avowed atheist, but more because of how behind America is in regards to religiosity when compared to the rest of the developed Western world. It is a truly bizarre, exceptional case in America, and is quite insane that a nation that emphasizes its rights to freedoms so vehemently can be so opposed to secularism.

    Anyway, unless some great tragedy occurs, I can’t see the world’s global trend in the decline of religiosity in reversing.

    I long for the drastic decline of the Tea Party/Radical Right, they are nothing but malign for US politics and society, and truly embarrass your great nation. Cannot wait for American to become as irreligious as Europe/Australia is.

  • Ranmore

    If the Repulican party wants any chance of electoral success in the coming years then a radical re-think will be necessary. Pandering to a diminishing pool of devout, religous conservatives will guarantee failure.

  • DavidJ9

    The GOP doesn’t even pander to those who paid attention to what Jesus taught. They only want the fire-and-brimstone fakes.

  • GordonHide1

    I think you have misunderstood the second survey. Just because people are religiously unafiliated doesn’t mean they are not religious. The number of atheists and agnostics in the US is still well short of numbers in other Western European type countries.

  • cs9243

    The “nones” in America will grow. The 20% of americans who identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated, not all of them may be atheists,they may not belive in any organized religion Less religiosity is not a bad news
    Less religion,better for the country but not a good news for the Republicans.

  • itsthedax

    When you gain understanding of the natural world, you lose the need for a “god of the gaps” to explain natural phenomena. As we learn how religions simply don’t stand up to scrutiny or rational thought, we learn to depend on them less.

  • amelia45

    It seems to me that the mainstream religions have abandoned the modern world, rather than the modern world has abandoned religion. The world has changed – millions more people have more education, access to information and different viewpoints. And science has taught us much about the natural world that contradicts the Bible, perhaps the Koran, … I don’t know about other major religious writings and beliefs.

    While God remains eternal, our understanding of Him and of ourselves has changed. We need our religious thinkers to incorporate this new understanding and awareness into the belief systems of Catholicism, Christianity, Islam – and they are having a hard time doing it.

    I want faith back as a major part of most everyone’s life – that source for finding what is right and good. But, it has to deal with the real world of today – not the world of the past.

  • Rusty Yates

    Have you heard the good news about Jesus? – People are turning away from him in droves.

    This is wonderful news. So many social ills are connected to religion and religiosity. The US may have a chance of winning the Great Christian War on Education after all.

  • Rusty Yates

    We so thank you for leading the way with your stance on the Catholic Church. Hopefully we will follow your excellent example.

  • xexon

    Religion has always been a favorite tool of manipulation by the elite.

    This same formula still writes foreign policy for the United States in regards to the Middle East. Israel specifically. The zionists tapped into the conservative Christian jugular decades ago and have drained us as a nation ever since.

    “But it’s the holy land”.

    Well, that’s the whole selling point, isn’t it? Take that away, Israel is just another apartheid nation in need of a makeover.


  • nkri401

    And praise the lord!

  • dcrswm

    You say that, until Cthulhu shows up……

  • alltheroadrunnin

    The nice thing about getting rid of religions, gods, and all that stuff is that now we can take all of our cues from nature. There is no good or bad in nature, no “evil” as it were. Now, we can merely obey whatever strongmen come up with, for laws of behavior — like Hitler had his, Stalin had his, Pol Pot had his. Those ways are not much different than Spain’s Inquisition. Of couse, Spain’s Inquisition was 500 years ago, while Baal’s furnace for babies was 2,500 years ago.

    Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot’s ways were during my lifetime. One way or another, it doesn’t look like mankind has made any progress, except as Malthus predicted — numbers.

    Is there any argument? Let me hear it.

  • Sadetec

    Well as I’m sure you know, Hitler was a Catholic. (At least a nominal one, although I think the consensus is that he only maintained his links with the church because being on good relation with the Vatican was useful back in the 1930s, even if you had a huge army.)

    Anyway, on to the point…

    In fact both religious and non-religious regimes have committed atrocities over the ages. Typically the non-religious regimes have created a kind of proxy religion by forming a personality cult around a specific individual (Lenin, Kim Jong-il, etc.). What separates good and bad is not religiosity, but stable and effective democracy. Totalitarian regimes have a habit of going bad regardless of what gods they do or don’t subscribe to, only democracies have a good track record of not slaughtering their people.

    Democracy, of course, isn’t to be found in the pages of any Bible. Indeed one has to go back to polytheistic ancient Greece, with their myriad of gods and goddesses, to find its origins.

    What also benefits the populous is education — the statistics show (both in the USA and abroad) that the places with the highest levels of education are also the ones with the lowest crime rates. Of course high levels of education also correlate with low levels of religion — the more educated your population, the more secular they become. This is why some of the countries on Earth where you’re least likely to be the victim of serious crime are in the highly taxed, highly educated, highly secular parts of Europe. At the same time the most dangerous countries on Earth are those with the most powerful and most aggressive forms of religion.

    So, if you want to live a peaceful life, seek out somewhere with a stable democracy and high levels of education (and with it secularism); if you want to live a dangerous life, seek out somewhere with a lot of religion.

  • alltheroadrunnin

    Sadetec — Good try. Yes, the religious cult of leftism has highjacked democracy. That secular belief system is no different than a pope’s — feelings and good intentions, backed up by “statistics/dogmas.” Human nature is human nature, regardless of belief systems and politics. So far, the longest lasting democracy is the USA. Ancient Greece was 70 years, for ancient Rome’s 100 founding families, less than 200 years. Roman rule, when a republic or a dictatorship, was the most religious of all civilizations, even more so than the Islamic ones ever were or are today. Rome lasted 1,000 years under Paganism, another 1,000 years under Roman Catholic popes. That’s a record to beat, education or no. The idea is to be on top, or near it, whatever is going on. All the rest is academic utopianism.

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