General Question

Paradox's avatar

Is the United States becoming more secular?

Asked by Paradox (2570points) October 24th, 2010

According to Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, more people are abandoning organized religion. I guess what I’m asking is atheism really growing in America according to your own opinion? Do you think the majority of people who are abandoning their default religions are really turning to atheism or are more former religionists turning to deism, agnosticism or spirituality (without religious dogma).

I want to keep the answers to where we think America is heading in the near or distant future and why you think so. This is not a debate about theism vs atheism. Here is a video from Fox News with Ellen Johnson debating several other people on this issue. It’s about a little under 8 minutes long. I struggled on deciding whether to put this question in general or social since it is somewhat of varied question but I didn’t want it to veer off topic.

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22 Answers

roundsquare's avatar

Purely anecdotal:
I don’t think people are dropping out of organized religion en masse. There might be some drop but I don’t think its huge.
I do think people are more vocal about not belonging to an organized religion. Its become more accepted to be “spiritual” so I think people who were before are sort of “coming out” now.
But, it does appear to me that Christianity (and possibly other religions) is slowly adapting and allowing a wider range of what counts. My evidence of this is the wider variety of churches around. Also, I seem to hear a lot more people saying “I’m Christian, but I don’t believe in xyz from the bible.” One might consider that a contradiction, but from the point of view of what people call themselves, it counts.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
thekoukoureport's avatar

I believe that there is no question that we are. Churches are shutting down, consolodating their parish’s. Less people in church, less money in the plate, and more people living free. YaY humans.

Corey_D's avatar

We are, but we have a long way to go. I’ll be happy when the idea of an Atheist being elected president isn’t absurd or laughable but something that people consider possible.

crisw's avatar

Yes. The more socially developed, educated and compassionate a country becomes, the more atheistic it becomes. The Scandinvian countries, for example, have some of the highest rates of atheism in the world. Every reputable survey that I have seen, by the Pew Trust and others, shows the atheism rate in the US growing.

In addition, it is much more socially acceptable (at least in some areas) to be an “out” atheist in the US today than ever before.

ETpro's avatar

Yes, from 1990 to 2008, the ARIS study finds self identified atheists and agnostics have grown in number in the US by just over 200%.

laureth's avatar

I think there’s not just one thing going on here. Many still consider themselves Christian, but are turning away from churches because they’re sick of the politics. Many are also split on what sort of nature God has and that could make them see believers in radically different versions of God as being “not real believers.” And I also believe that evangelism itself is changing in a kind of generational shift away from one interpretation of what Jesus wants to another version. All of these are religious shifts, but whether or not it’s a shift away from Christianity is open to interpretation.

Also, more Wiccans.

But yes, I agree, there is a shift away from Christianity.

marinelife's avatar

The numbers are small overall:

“According to the latest American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of more than 54,000 adults, between 2001 and 2008 the number willing to identify themselves as atheist and agnostic has gone from under 2 million to 3.6 million.” May 2009 Source

Mamradpivo's avatar

Possibly, but the backlash from the religionists is getting louder and stronger. I say we have another generation of so-called ‘culture war’ to go before the angry people start dying off. Sadly, they’ll all be on Medicare while screaming at the top of their lungs about socialized medicine.

BarnacleBill's avatar

I listened to an interesting discussion with Dr. Greg Graffin (of Bad Religion) on naturalism and faith. His perspective is that the concept of “faith” has been appropriated by religious perspectives, when really it’s applicable to many things, such as science. The belief that organisms have evolved and continue to evolve is in itself a belief system.

Nullo's avatar

It would certainly seem so, unfortunately.

Ivan's avatar

It would certainly seem so, fortunately.

ETpro's avatar

@marinelife The overall change in religious makeup the ARIS study shows from 1990 to 2008 is substantial. While the adult population of the US grew 30.1% in that time, the total number of those calling themselves Christian grew only 14.8%. That represents a 10.2% loss of the percentage of the total population calling themselves Christian in that 18 year period. In the same time period, non-Christian religions grew just 0.5% while the group called None/ No religion, including agnostics and atheists, grew by 6.8% and the group that said they did not know or wouldn’t reply grew by 2.9%. That would appear to be a significant trend to me.

YARNLADY's avatar

It could be several reasons; as people face lower income, they cut back on the least necessary expenses such as supporting an expensive religion. This doesn’t mean they leave religion, but just the church oriented one. I have several blog contacts who are running home-based religious gatherings, which they carry over to their blog.

The other issue is religious scandals have driven many people from the organized church to more informal private/personal Bible classes. There are several websites devoted to people who want to pursue their religion in private.

And, people are just fed up with superstition and are simply turning away from it.

marinelife's avatar

@ETpro In 2009, the population of the US was 305 million. Compared to that, 3.6 million atheists and agnostics is a tiny number.

ETpro's avatar

@marinelife Read whatever you are looking for into the statistics. I am just reporting what ARIS found.

desiree333's avatar

YES. Maybe Americans should do the Charles Taylor, and go back to their Judeo-Christian values.

Nullo's avatar

@desiree333 Google does not provide any apparently useful information on Charles Taylors who were not the 22nd President of Liberia. Perhaps you could elaborate?

@YARNLADY Church isn’t expensive. o_o Pew rent went out of vogue a few centuries back, and while some churches might charge a membership fee, they don’t require you to be a member. There is no obligation to tithe, either, or at least there shouldn’t be. Heck, the Scriptural backing for tithes stipulates 1/10th of the ‘increase,’ or return on investment. Most people just earn money working for someone else.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Nullo Without regular donations, churches quickly go out of business. There are several churches for sale here in my town right now because of it.

Paradox's avatar

@laureth One thing I wanted to point out here (and according to the video as well) is that it is usually mentioned how atheists face discrimination. What many people do not seem to realise is the fact that individuals with Pagan, Wiccan, Gnostic, Spiritualists beliefs (among others) are also severly discriminated against as well.

I know full well that my nonreligious theist beliefs are not very popular with my more conservative Christian colleagues to say the least. I don’t consider myself new age or pagan but netherless my beliefs are not popular. Another thing to mention here is that many people (such as myself) who are in between the two extremes of atheism and a popular religion can’t find any allies among either camp here.

@ETpro Yeah I agree here. It does seem organized religion is finally starting to lose it’s momemtum so I suspect you will find more religious extremist websites threatening people with eternal hell if they do not accept their interpretation of the Bible. The religionists will not go down without a fight that’s for sure.

I personally believe secularism is growing. I still do not see the majority of Americans completly abandoning a belief in God but I think you will see more nonreligious theists, spirituality, eastern religious concepts, new age and agnosticism become more popular than anything else, maybe even deism here as well. Let us not forget the growing Muslim movement as well in America. Maybe something more so-called secularists need to be more concerned about as well while concetrating on bashing their default religions.

laureth's avatar

@Paradox – I used to be Wiccan. :) You’re preaching to the proverbial choir.

mattbrowne's avatar

I think the gap is widening. More and more passionate atheists and more and more religious nutcases.

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