To say that Americans are abandoning religion at an unprecedented rate may be an understatement. Recent data from the Public Religion Research Institute reveals that nearly 20 percent of Americans do not affiliate with any religion. Based on the General Social Survey, the number of Americans who identify as having “no religion” has more than doubled in the last two and a half decades, and this group represents the fastest growing segment off the population. For Americans under the age of 30, the number of religiously unaffiliated goes up to 1 in 3. The fact that so many of these younger Americans are choosing life partners who also identify as religiously unaffiliated raised new questions about how younger generations being raised with no religious affiliation will continue to expand this increasing demographic.
While many may assume that this increasing demographic is due to an explosion of people identifying as atheist, more than two thirds of those who are religiously unaffiliated actually report that they believe in God. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life also reports that forty percent of the unaffiliated report that they are “spiritual” despite the fact that they are not “religious.” Even more shocking is that one-fifth of the unaffiliated report that they pray daily.
As experts try to categorize and explain what this growing unaffiliated demographic believes, it is apparent that articulating their convictions is difficult both because it defies tradition and also because there is no common, standard language to describe it. What is clear is that the unaffiliated also happen to be one of the most politically disengaged segments of the population. This means that as Americans continue in a direction that defies traditional religious and political paradigms, America as a whole must acknowledge and accept that the culture of its population is changing. While it may take time to understand what that change means, denying that it is happening is denying how many Americans are increasingly choosing to identify themselves.