Nearly one in five adults in the United States say they have no religious affiliation.
This survey finding, released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, is pretty significant. In 2007, 15.6 percent of adults said they had no religious affiliation, and that number has grown by about 1 percent each year. It hit 19.6 percent in 2012.
Pew said the number of “nones” has a lot to do with age. One-third of adults under age 30 have no religious affiliation, compared with just 10 percent who are 65 and up.
These figures have to be pretty scary for the Religious Right, which tries its darndest to turn churches into cogs in partisan political machines. Perhaps it is this very tactic, however, that has driven younger people away from organized religion.
Pew found 80 percent of adults “never doubt” the existence of God. But that isn’t keeping these Americans from dropping their religious affiliations.
What’s the explanation? A separate poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion found that 67 percent of the unaffiliated believe churches and other religious institutions are too involved with politics.
David Campbell, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame, told NPR that the politicization of churches is likely the reason many folks are leaving organized religion.
“There is considerable evidence suggesting that the 'nones' have actually been caused by politics,” said Campbell, co-author of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. “Many people have pulled away from the religious label due to the mingling of religion and conservative politics.”
So when the Alliance Defending Freedom and its cronies push pastors into partisan politics with stunts like “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” they are also pushing congregants out the door.
And where are they going? To the Religious Right’s dismay, many are lining up with the Democratic Party. Pew found that the majority of the religiously unaffiliated are Democrats or at least lean liberal.
All of this may have the Religious Right running scared, but it could also explain why there has been such a major push in recent years for all sorts of fundamentalist-friendly legislation – from “personhood” bills to gay marriage bans to “religious freedom” amendments that would strip constitutional safeguards.
Religious Right activists may feel that time is running out, and they may be trying to maximize their power while they can. That means we can’t just sit back, look at these numbers and wait for the Religious Right to become extinct. Bad bills that become law now will have an impact far into the future, so we must stop them today.
It’s fantastic to think that the foes of religious freedom could have numbered days, but until the Religious Right is truly gone, we must not take too much comfort in statistics.