Losing Religion, Keeping the Faith: Religious 'Nones' Aren't as Godless as You Think

It turns out that the religiously unaffiliated aren't as faithless as they've been portrayed.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

It turns out that the explosion in the number of Americans who identify with no religious tradition doesn't mean there's been an explosion in faithlessness.

In fact, a new Pew survey finds that most Americans who were raised in religiously unaffiliated homes now belong to one religious tradition or another. And only a distinct minority of those who've left organized religion say that modern science has disproved religion, as many atheists believe.

While the religiously unaffiliated are the fastest growing segment of the American faith landscape, they also have pretty low retention rates.

Here's the top of my piece about rethinking "religious nones", which originally ran in U.S. News Weekly:

Signs abound that more Americans are leaving Christianity and embracing a secular worldview. The cover of Newsweek recently proclaimed "The End of Christian America." Books like The God Delusion and God Is Not Great have topped bestseller lists. David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association, which is working to organize nonbelievers into a national movement, says, "Our membership has doubled in the last five years—and we've been around since 1941. We're at an all-time high."

Polls have reinforced the anecdotal evidence. A Trinity College report last month found that Americans who decline to associate with any religion now constitute the fastest-growing segment of the national religious landscape. They represent 15 percent of the adult population, up from 8 percent in 1990.

But all that may be misleading. A survey out this week from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life challenges the conventional portrait of America's unchurched as a burgeoning society of proud secularists, atheists, and agnostics. Yes, the religiously unaffiliated are the fastest-growing religious group, the survey reports, accounting for nearly 1 in 6 Americans. But it turns out that the unaffiliated are much less antagonistic toward religion than previously thought.

The new Pew survey finds that most Americans who were raised in religiously unaffiliated homes now belong to one religious tradition or another. And only a distinct minority of those who've left organized religion say that modern science has disproved religion, as many atheists believe. "There's this naive secularization theory that says when somebody becomes unaffiliated, they stay there because they've become adults and found that religion is silly," says Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion professor who analyzed the Pew survey. "But it turns out that you call them back the next year and they've joined a Lutheran church. They were just looking for the right fit."

Read the full piece here.

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