About half of Americans see the growing number of people who don't claim a religion as a "bad thing," according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center.
Some 48 percent of Americans said the rise of a nonreligious class – which is about one-fifth of the public, in 2012 – is negative for American society. Only 11 percent of respondents thought it was positive.
"Americans who attend religious services regularly are particularly likely to say that the growing number of people who are not religious is a bad thing for society," writes Pew. And even among nonreligious respondents, only about a quarter said the trend was a good thing.
But Roy Speckhardt, who heads the American Humanist Association, which is made up of both atheists and agnostics, says he sees the poll's findings as good news.
"If you asked a group of Republicans what they thought about the country becoming more Democrat, you'd expect them all to think that was bad," he says. "But you've got 52 percent who say this is a good thing or it doesn't matter. That means more and more people are thinking that not believing in God is an acceptable way to live life, even if it's not how they choose to live their lives." And a more secular American public doesn't always mean a more Godless one. In a December 2011 New York Times op-ed, author and journalist Eric Weiner described Americans with no religious affiliation, or "nones," as "running from organized religion, but by no means running from God."
"We drift spiritually and dabble in everything," Weiner wrote. "[The 'Nones'] are reluctant to claim a religious affiliation because they don't want the political one that comes along with it."
According to the National Opinion Research Center's 2011 General Social Survey, the majority of Americans today disapprove of religious leaders inserting themselves into politics.
At least one member of Congress has chosen not to mix politics and organized religion. Democratic Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who was raised a Mormon, became the first member of Congress this fall who describes herself as religiously unaffiliated. She used the U.S. Constitution in place of a bible to take her oath of office.
In a 2012 Gallup poll, more than 50 percent of respondents for the first time said they would vote for an atheist candidate.