Nonreligious Appear Ambivalent About Their Influence

According to a 2012 report from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in America today, there are about one in five Americans who claim no religious affiliation. Some call themselves atheist or agnostic. Others don’t use a label but do not claim religious belief. These people have recently been collectively dubbed, “the nones”.

In a new nationwide survey conducted this year between March and April, the Pew Forum asked 4,006 adults if the growth of the nonreligious in America is a good or bad thing or if it doesn’t matter. Overall, about half of those surveyed saw the growth of the nones as a bad thing.

Some of the results were predictable. Seventy-eight percent of white, evangelical Protestants stated the growing number of people who are not religious is a bad thing; with the exception of Hispanic Catholics, religious people who were more devoted, as evidenced by their regular involvement in religious services, expressed a greater concern over the rise of the unaffiliated; and younger adults (18-29) appeared less concerned.

There was however, one curious finding. Only 24 percent of nonreligious Americans say their growth is good, nearly as many say it’s bad and 55 percent state that it "doesn't make a difference."

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While there is no definitive reason for these findings, a quick jog around the internet reveals some common themes. Firstly, and unsurprisingly, many Christians are considering this a “win”. They’re suggesting that even the nonreligious know that religion is good for a nation.

The unaffiliated are presenting a slightly different take on the matter. One thought that was frequently repeated in a variety of ways on the Huffington Post facebook wall was the almost subliminal belief, even amongst the nonreligious, that religion and ethics are inextricably linked. In other words, even though a person may see themselves as “good without religion”, they feel more comfortable in a country that is dominated by the religious.

Another take on the matter is that perhaps many people who believe in a god or see themselves as spiritual, but do not consider themselves religious, respond as a “nonbeliever”. There is a large number of nonreligious people who believe in “a higher power” and maintain a spiritual identity. This group continued to confound these types of surveys.

The one number that doesn’t seem to be getting much attention is the 55 percent of nonreligious adults stating that the growth of the unaffiliated in America doesn’t matter. It’s likely that nonreligious people come from a variety of past experiences, including many who were previously religious so perhaps this is less an issue of self-loathing, and more a matter of the nonreligious recognizing that people can play a positive role in society with or without a conviction of faith and that ultimately, attending or not attending church each week, has little to do with how a person positively impacts his/her community.

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