The number of Americans who do not adhere to religious identity is increasing
Nathalie Charles, even in her mid teens, felt unwelcome in her Baptist congregation, with her conservative views on immigration, gender and sexuality. So she left.
âI just don’t feel gelified by my vision of what God is and what God can be,â said Charles, an 18-year-old of Haitian descent who identifies as gay and is now a student of first year at Princeton University.
“It was not a very loving or stimulating environment for anyone’s faith.”
After leaving her church in New Jersey three years ago, she identified herself as an atheist, then agnostic, before embracing a spiritual but not a religious life. In her dorm, she mixes rituals on an altar, chanting Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu mantras and paying homage to her ancestors as she meditates and prays.
Charles’s path places him among those with no religious affiliation – the fastest growing group in polls asking Americans about their religious identity. They describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular”.
According to a survey published Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, this group – commonly known as the “nuns” – now constitutes 29% of American adults. This represents an increase from 23% in 2016 and 19% in 2011.
âIf the unaffiliated were a religion, they would be the largest religious group in the United States,â said Elizabeth Drescher, an adjunct professor at the University of Santa Clara who has written a book on the spiritual life of the nuns.
People with no religious affiliation were once concentrated in urban and coastal areas, but now live across the United States, representing a diversity of ages, ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds, Drescher said.
Even in their personal philosophies, non-Americans vary widely, according to a recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. For example, 30 percent say they feel a connection to God or a higher power, and 19 percent say religion is of some importance to them even though they have no religious affiliation.
About 12 percent describe themselves as religious and spiritual and 28 percent as spiritual but not religious. More than half describe themselves as neither.
According to the AP-NORC poll, nearly 60 percent of non-residents say religion was at least important enough to their families when they were growing up. He found that 30 percent of the uninitiated meditate and 26 percent pray privately at least a few times a month, while smaller numbers periodically consult a religious or spiritual leader.
âThere are people who actually practice, either in a particular religious tradition that we would recognize, or in several religious traditions,â said Drescher. “They are not interested in officially belonging to these communities or identifying themselves as someone of this religion.”
In recent years, the prevalence of nuns in the United States has been roughly comparable to that in Western Europe – but overall Americans remain more religious, with higher rates of daily prayer and prayer. belief in God as described in the Bible. According to a 2018 Pew poll, about two-thirds of American Christians prayed daily, compared to 6% in Britain and 9% in Germany.
Much of the growth of nuns in the United States has come at the expense of the Protestant population in the United States, according to the new Pew survey. He said 40 percent of American adults are Protestant today, up from 50 percent ten years ago.
Among the former Protestants is Shianda Simmons, 36, of Lakeland, Florida, who began identifying as an atheist in 2013.
She grew up as a Baptist and attended church regularly; she says she left mainly because of the unequal treatment of women by the church.
Not everyone in her family knows that she has given up on religion, and some of those who do know her find it difficult to come to terms with her, Simmons said.
âThere are some people I can’t say I’m an atheist,â she said. âIt took me away from my family. “
Likewise, in the beauty store that she owns, she feels that she should keep her atheism “hidden” from customers, lest they go elsewhere.
Like Simmons, Mandisa Thomas is a black atheist – an identity that can be difficult in many African American communities where churches are a powerful force. Thomas sang in a church choir as a child, but was not brought up as a Christian.
âWithin the black community, we face ostracism,â said Thomas, who lives near Atlanta and founded Black Nonbelievers, a support group, in 2011. âThere’s this idea that to somehow you reject your blackness when you reject religion, that atheism is something white people do.
Another advocate for the nays is Kevin Bolling, who grew up in a military family and served as a Catholic altar boy. In college, he began to question the role of the church and became appalled at his stance on sexuality after declaring his homosexuality.
He is now the executive director of the Secular Student Alliance, which has more than 200 branches in colleges and schools across the country. The chapters, he said, serve as havens for lay students or those who question their faith.
âI think this generation may be the first generation to be predominantly non-religious versus majority religious,â he said.
Being a Catholic was also a big part of Ashley Taylor’s education – she became a choir servant at age 9. Now 30, she identifies as having no religious affiliation.
âIt just means finding meaning and maybe even spirituality without practicing religionâ¦. draw from whatever makes sense to me or from whatever matches my values, âshe said.
Her faith gave her strength when she got cancer at age 11, she said, but she also felt that growing up Catholic had a negative impact on her emotional and sexual development and delayed his revelation as a homosexual.
Eventually, Taylor discovered the Sunday Assembly, which provided him with a congregational-like community but in a secular fashion, offering activities such as songs, book clubs, and quiz nights. She is now Chair of the Sunday Assembly Pittsburgh Board of Directors.
âThey’re not trying to tell you what’s true,â Taylor said. âThere is always a spirit of curiosity, questioning and openness.
For some, like 70-year-old Zayne Marston of Shelburne, Massachusetts, their spiritual journey continues to evolve over the decades.
Growing up near Boston, Marston attended a congregational church with his family – he remembers studying the Bible, church-sponsored dances, itchy flannel pants as he attended church services. Sunday.
In high school and college, he âdrifted awayâ from Christian beliefs and, in his thirties, began a serious and lasting journey in spirituality while in rehab to combat his alcoholism.
âSpirituality is a journey based on the soul in the heart, relinquishing the will of one’s ego to a higher will. ” he said. âWe are looking for our own answers, beyond the programming we received growing up. “
His path has been difficult at times – his wife’s death from rapidly growing cancer, financial problems leading to the loss of his home – but he says his spiritual practice has replaced his anxieties with “sweet joy” and a desire to help others.
He previously worked as a landscaper and real estate appraiser, and now runs a school for teaching qigong, a practice originating in China that combines slow, relaxed movements with breathing and meditation exercises.
âAs a child, I thought of God on a throne, with a white beard, judging, but that totally changed,â Marston said. “My higher power is the universeâ¦ It’s always there for me, if I can get out of my ego.”
The AP-NORC survey of 1,083 adults was conducted from October 21 to 25 using a sample designed to be representative of the American population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Pew survey was conducted with 3,937 respondents from May 29 to August 25. Its margin of error for the entire sample of respondents is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
Story by Luis Andres Henao, Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu and David Crary. Associated Press editor Mariam Fam contributed to this report.