It’s becoming common knowledge that the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated is growing — and fast. But what maybe isn’t so clear is why.
The Pew Research Center last year sampled more than 1,300 of the religiously unaffiliated, also known as “Nones,” as to why they don’t identify with a religion.
The most common response was that they question a lot of religious teachings. About 60 percent of American Nones — adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” — say the questioning of religious teachings is a very important reason for their lack of affiliation.
The positions taken by churches on social and political issues, which nearly half (49 percent) of respondents cited, was the second-most common answer. (The combined totals add up to more than 100 percent because each question was asked separately from the others.) Others responded that they dislike religious organizations (41 percent), don’t believe in God (37 percent), consider religion irrelevant to them (36 percent) or dislike religious leaders (34 percent).
According to the Pew survey, those who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” gave different reasons for their lack of affiliation.
Almost 90 percent of self-described atheists say their lack of belief in God is a very important reason for their religious identity, compared with 37 percent of agnostics and 21 percent of those in the “nothing in particular” category. Atheists also are more likely than other Nones to say religion is simply “irrelevant” to them (63 percent of atheists, 40 percent of agnostics and 26 percent of adults with no particular religion).
Another survey question asked the Nones which of the six potential statements is the single most important reason they are unaffiliated. Questioning religious teachings was again among the top responses, with a quarter saying it is the most important reason. Slightly less than a quarter of respondents cited lack of belief in God, and 16 percent said the most important reason is that they dislike the positions churches take on social and political issues.