Does Record Number of Religious ‘Nones’ Mean Decline of Religiosity?

Does Record Number of Religious ‘Nones’ Mean Decline of Religiosity?

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“ ‘Nones’ On the Rise,” released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in affiliation with PBS’ Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, gives the sense that we can see what’s really going on across the American religious landscape and understand it. The following data points from the report, for instance, seem to make clear that America is growing less and less religious:

  • Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population (19.6%) is religiously unaffiliated—the highest percentage tracked in Pew polling;
  • While Nones are most likely to be found among Millennials (32%), GenXers (21%) and Baby Boomers (15%) have likewise grown among the population of Nones;
  • Fewer than half (48%) of American adults say they are Protestant—the first time self-identified Protestants have fallen below 50% in Pew surveys;
  • More than two-thirds of Nones (68%) believe in God, with more than half (51%) praying on a regular basis;
  • Two-thirds of those surveyed (66%) say religion is losing its influence in American life, with more than half citing an excessive focus on rules (51%) and an inappropriate concern with money and power (51%).

But do such data really tell us much about American religiosity—about religion as it is lived in the United States today? A number of what I would see as problems in the Pew report suggest to me that our growing fixation with religion-by-the-numbers may be distracting us from richer, more nuanced understandings of American religious practice.

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