by David Linker, The Week, 5/15/15.
(Based on Pew Research)…The future of religion in America depends to a considerable extent on the future spiritual disposition of the “nones” — the religiously unaffiliated Americans who describe themselves as atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular.” Their remarkably rapid growth — up from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent of the population in just seven years — is closely connected to the fact that more than one third (36 percent) of the so-called Millennial generation declines to affiliate with any religion. As elderly Americans, who are far more religious, die off, they are being replaced, demographically, by what seems to be the most secular generation in American history.
It’s clear that these young people have little interest in taking part in religious traditions or institutions. But are they truly godless? And will their lack of faith persist as they age?
The answers to those questions are what will determine the shape of America’s religious, cultural, and moral character over the coming decades.
Teasing out the answers with any confidence will require more polling. But the current Pew poll can get us started — and point pollsters in the direction of the kinds of questions they need to start asking the religiously unaffiliated.
Pew helpfully breaks the nones down into three groups:
* Those who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic. (25 percent in 2007; 31 percent in 2014.)
* Those who claim to be “nothing in particular” and consider religion either not at all important or not very important. (Steady at 39 percent from 2007 to 2014.)
* Those who claim to be “nothing in particular” but nonetheless consider religion to be somewhat or very important. (36 percent in 2007; 30 percent in 2014.)..