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New survey of U.S. finds religious affiliation decreasing

23 percent now say they believe but don’t belong

By Ivan Legaspi –

Most people in the United States consider themselves religious, but a growing number say they are not affiliated with a specific religion, according to a new survey.

The Pew Research survey found that 23 percent of respondents were religiously unaffiliated in 2014, a major increase from 16 percent in 2007. This increase was attributed to the move of younger people away from organized religion. The growing number of Millennials (young adults who are in their 20s and 30s) who say they are not affiliated with any faith is dramatically changing the religious landscape in the United States.

Of the older Millennials (those born from 1981 to 1989) fewer than half (only about 44 percent) place high importance on religion, a significant shift from previous generations. The drop in affiliation for organized religion is more noticeable among the younger members of the Millennial generation. Of the  adults born after 1990, only 38 percent say religion plays a very important role in their lives, in sharp contrast with 67 percent of those who were born before 1945. However, the research group states this trend may be due to people who become more religious as they grow older.

Still, the survey showed that three out of every four people in the United States say they belong to an organized religion, mostly identifying as Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu and Mormon.

While the United States is becoming less religious, those who say they are affiliated with a specific religion have shown higher religiosity levels. Today, 43 percent of those who are religiously affiliated  say they weekly read scripture, an increase, by 3 percentage points, from 2007 figures. Twenty-six percent say they proselytize at least once a week, up from 23 percent. The survey showed more women (64 percent) than men (46 percent) pray every day.

The religiously unaffiliated are now the single biggest group represented in the Democratic Party, compared with Catholics, mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and those who belong to the historically black Protestant religious tradition. The religiously unaffiliated are also increasing in the Republican Party, although at a much slower rate compared with their Democratic counterparts, and they are still a distinct minority.

Although these individuals consider themselves as less religiously observant than the identified religious in the United States, a majority of them profess believing in God. Overall, almost nine out of 10 (89 percent) say they believe in God, making the United States more inclined religiously compared with other advanced industrial countries. A 2002 Pew Global Attitudes Project survey earlier echoed this finding: Six in ten (59%) Americans said religion played a very crucial role in their lives, almost twice the percentage of self-avowed religious Canadians (30%), and an even higher rate compared with Western Europe and Japan.

Despite the reduction of overall religiosity in the United States (which is defined as attending services, praying and believing in God), a kind of spirituality is on the rise. According to the survey, those who say they regularly feel spiritual well-being and peace increased from 52 percent to 59 percent.

The Pew Research Center’s survey interviewed 35,000 people. The 2014 Religious Landscape Study was released after an initial analysis in May that studied the changing overall religious composition in the United States. The new report focuses on beliefs and practices.

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