James Joyner did a lot of this round-up already, but oh well.
Dan Gilgoff in US News:
If current trends continue, a quarter of Americans are likely to claim “no religion” in 20 years, according to a survey out today by Trinity College. Americans who identify with no religious tradition currently comprise 15 percent of the country, representing the fastest growing segment of the national religious landscape.
While the numbers portend a dramatic change for the American religious scene—”religious nones” accounted for just 8 percent of the population in 1990—the United States is not poised adopt the anti-religious posture of much of secularized Europe.
That’s because American religious nones tend to be religious skeptics as opposed to outright atheists. Fewer than ten percent of those identifying with no religious tradition call themselves atheists or hold atheistic beliefs, according to the new study.
“American nones are kind of agnostic and deistic, so it’s a very American kind of skepticism,” says Barry Kosmin, director of Trinity’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. “It’s a kind of religious indifference that’s not hostile to religion the way they are in France. Franklin and Jefferson would have recognized these people.”
The study estimates that in twenty years, the Nones will make up 25 percent of Americans. The political breakdown is also fascinating.
In 1990, the Nones were mainly Independents but were equally spread among Democrats and Republicans. Today, the proportion of Independents who are Nones has leaped from 12 percent to 21 percent; and the percentage of Democratic Nones has doubled from 6 percent to 16 percent. In stark contrast, the GOP share has fallen from 8 percent to 6 percent. I’d say that’s a function of the GOP becoming an essentially Christianist fundamentalist party; and the Democrats having lots of Irish, Jewish and Asian supporters, who are the strongest groups in the None cohort.
The Nones are not wealthier than average, but they are more male. Almost 20 percent of American men are Nones, compared with 12 percent of women.
61 percent of Nones find evolution convincing, compared with 38 percent of all Americans. And yet they do not dismiss the possibility of a God they do not understand; and refuse to call themselves atheists. This is the fertile ground on which a new Christianity will at some point grow. In the end, the intellectual bankruptcy of the theocon right and Christianist movement counts. Very few people with brains are listening to these people any more. They have discredited Christianity as much as they have tarnished conservatism.
PZ Myers at Science Blogs:
It’s not enough, is all I can say. I suppose it’s good news, but I am disappointed in my fellow Americans. I will not be content until the number is 100%. (OK, 95%. It’s not fair to demand rationality from people who are brain damaged or locked up in asylums.)
The really bizarre news here is the way people are squirming to put a twist to the data to reassure the believers. They’ve got a label for that 15% that isn’t “godless atheist unbelievers”: they are “Nones”. Don’t panic, they say, only 10% of them call themselves “atheists”! They’re mostly agnostics and skeptics of organized religion! You don’t have to stockpile food and ammo, bar the doors and windows, and prepare for the anarchy and evil that would follow if all those people were atheists.
It’s rather annoying. Every article I see on this subject makes this desperate rush to reassure their readers that this growing cohort of Americans aren’t really those goddamned atheists — they’re nice people, unlike those cold-hearted, soulless beasts called atheists, and they aren’t planning to storm your churches and rape the choir boys and boil babies in the baptismal fonts, unlike the scary atheistic monsters. They’re special. And most of all, they aren’t French.
As fascinating and portentous as all this is, the only issue I can think of where religious affiliation might strongly drive the partisan reaction is teaching evolution in schools. Behold:
That’s a staggering divide, with a majority among all U.S. adults saying evolution probably or definitely didn’t happen versus a huge majority among “nones” saying that it probably or definitely did. Exit question: Imagine an America 100 years from now that’s majority non-religious. Imagine it.
I suspect part of the reason that people are reluctant to call themselves “atheists” is a fear of being lumped in with the likes of Myers, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins. Not satisfied to use their considerable brainpower to argue for scientific explanations over supernatural ones, they instead show utter disdain for the overwhelming majority of their fellow citizens who were brought up in a religious tradition and cling to parts of it. “Atheism” in this sense isn’t a mere belief that there is no supernatural overlord controlling our universe but a quasi-religion of its own, with many of the worst traits of organized religion.
Similarly, AllahPundit likes the trend but is baffled by the non-believers who have a “personal god” or otherwise quasi-religious beliefs. But that strikes me as a cultural phenomenon rather than a purely religious one. America is steeped in religious traditions that are followed even by non-believers. Pretty much everyone celebrates Christmas, for example, and even Easter — a more purely religious occasion that doesn’t even result in an extra day off work — has a huge secular buy-in, what with Easter bunnies and the various fun traditions for kids. Not only does Big Business glom onto these occasions but they’re also massive public rituals, as well. The President lights the national Christmas tree. He hosts an Easter egg roll. We reflexively say “Bless you” when people sneeze and take the Lord’s name in vain when we’re angry, regardless whether we believe in said Lord’s existence.
A sizable number of America’s self-described “religious,” even those who attend church with some regularity, aren’t religious in the sense that their 16th Century forebears were. They pick and choose from the teachings of their chosen faith at will, occasionally even choosing a new faith altogether for reasons of “comfort” and convenience. It’s a communal experience from which many draw inspiration and comfort
Michael Merritt at PoliGazette:
One, the number of Catholics is going down, particularly in the Northeast. These people have been exposed to religion, and have likely left the Church due to the scandals that have erupted in years past rather than perhaps a personal disbelief in a diety.
However, I found something else reported by the study to be quite striking.
“Younger Nones are more likely to identify as “agnostic” than are all Nones.”
I’m 23, and I identify this way, despite almost no exposure to religion during my younger years. Then I think back to where I most often seem to find the militant atheists: Among the boomers, or at least, people who are approaching the age group the the boomers are. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are both boomers. Bill Maher and P.Z. Myers are stretching that a bit, but they’re close enough. We know quite well how cantankerous boomers can be. Many of these people were right amongst the activists of the civil rights and Vietnam eras. Coincidence? I think not.