It’s difficult to determine what percentage of the Americans have no particular religious affiliation. The figure ranges from a low of 15% to a high of 37%. If we have to pinpoint one number, the commonly accepted figure is 20%.
We might tend to feel that the preponderance of the unaffiliated are atheists or agnostics. However, that is not true. In a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project, fully 70% of the unaffiliated simply say that they have “no particular religious affiliation” rather than being avowed atheists or agnostics. The figure for atheists is 2.4% and for agnostics, 3.3% of all people.
It’s rather remarkable how much noise a relatively small band of acknowledged atheists and agnostics can create. The noise does not emanate from the atheists and agnostics. They tend to quietly go about their business. Occasionally they seek legal help such as when asking Congress to eliminate the “under God” provision in the Pledge of Allegiance. The noise tends to come from the right wing and religious fundamentalists who take particular affront to someone who is not a believer in their God.
Fox News pundit Dana Perino said she’s “tired” of atheists attempting to remove the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, adding, “if these people really don’t like it, they don’t have to live here.” That’s about as harsh as it gets when a group of American citizens merely want to express their freedom of speech as guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
One of the most interesting dynamics in religion is the large number of people who become dissatisfied with their religion and then stay with their religion anyway, sometimes trying to change it. Others find another religion that suits them. The remaining individuals drop out of the religious “universe” or become atheists or agnostics.
Many Catholics have a difficult time disengaging from their religion. Because there are so many rules and regulations in the church that are hundreds or thousands of years old, modern Catholics have a huge range of issues that they’d like re-examined. These include priesthood for women, equal rights for those in the LGBT community, accepting pre-marital sex, and removing the vows of abstinence for priests and nuns. Most “lapsed Catholics” say that these rules just don’t make sense in the modern world. However many prefer to fight from within to get the rules changed rather than just putting the church behind them and entering another church, becoming non-affiliated, or becoming an atheist or agnostic.
Moving away from the church is also happening in the far-right fundamentalist churches. In a recent article on CNN on-line, Rachel Held Evans discusses many of the modern but largely unsuccessful ways of bringing young people back into the fundamentalist churches. She says:
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving.
Discussing Millenials and herself, Ms. Evans says:
Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.
What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.
Many secular humanists tend to believe that it’s either religion or their way. That’s because seculars tend to believe that all religions share many of the same flaw: incomprehensible stories, rules, and regulations. Why wouldn’t someone want to leave an organized religion for the freedom of being unaffiliated? The fact is that most who leave a religion find another one to their liking. It is indeed a very special person who chooses to be unaffiliated, an atheist, or an agnostic.