Vast Numbers of people are quitting Religion

Remains of the long abandoned Elgin Cathedral

For this latest insight I am leaning upon two polls, and not just one …

Spoiler alert, if you lean towards rationalism, then both are really good news. If however you have a personality that is more inclined to lean into faith, then both will indeed be very depressing.

Often pollsters will ask you to simply tick a box. The goal is to associate all your other answers with a religious label. Common responses will be Catholic, Baptist, Nothing in particular, Jewish, etc…

There is a bit of a rather obvious problem with such a basic approach.

If a certain percentage tick “Catholic”, then what does that actually tell you?

Many might identify as “Catholic” because that is how they were brought up. Their parents were Catholic and dragged them kicking and screaming to Mass each week. Perhaps they also attended a Catholic school. What it will not tell you is what that identity label actually now means. Do they still attend mass, and if so, is that weekly, or monthly, or simply when visiting family, or perhaps just for Easter, Christmas, and First Communion for Nieces and Nephews. Do they actually believe any of it at all?

Rinse and repeat for all other variations of belief and non-belief.

The point is this – the two new polls now give us some good insights into what is really going on out there. Instead of asking people for a bland label Gallup asked about actual religious practise – do you attend and if so how frequently. PRRI also asked those that had quit, why they did that, what triggered them into walking away.

Some of the insights you can probably guess, and some are rather surprising, so let’s get into both by taking each in turn.

Gallup Church Attendance insights

When asked how frequently they attended a religious service, this is the latest data …

Yes, 2% of Atheists attend a religious service on a weekly basis. It’s not too hard to understand why. They will most probably accompany a parent or a spouse who is religious and simply goes to be with them.

While the above is now, what makes this far more interesting is to compare the latest data with the historical record …

Apart from Judaism and also Islam, right across the board there are vast numbers of people, literally millions, who are gradually letting go of religion.

We tend to think of the US as a very religious nation, but its not.

Big Surprise: A majority of US adults, 56%, do not attend a religious service on a weekly or even a monthly basis.

A far more interesting question to ponder over is to wonder where this is going. Have we reached the bottom, or will this religious decline continue downwards?

Gallup answers that with the following observation …

Church attendance will likely continue to decline in the future, given younger Americans’ weaker attachments to religion.

Specifically, more 18- to 29-year-olds, 35%, say they have no religious preference than identify with any specific faith, such as Protestant/nondenominational Christian (32%) or Catholic (19%). Additionally, young adults, both those with and without a religious preference, are much less likely to attend religious services — 22% attend regularly, eight points below the national average.

The other question to wonder about is to ask why it is like this, what has caused this vast on-going shift away from religion?

To address that we can turn to the PRRI poll.

Religious Change in America

The big ticket item here is that the only “religious” group that is growing and increasing their numbers are the non-religious …

Those polled were also asked why they left their previous faith and became religiously unaffiliated.

You can most probably guess many of the answers, but no speculation needed, we have actual answers.

OK, so let’s now see what the reveal is. Here are the top 6 reasons given for both 2016 and also the data collected in 2023 …

As you can see, some of the key factors that have led to vast numbers of people walking away from religion has been the appalling utterly immoral and deeply unethical behaviour by the religious – sexual abuse, deep hostility to the gay community, leaning into politics, etc…

If asked to speculate, you might indeed guess at much of this, but no guessing required because we have the numbers and they confirm that much of the decline is very much self-inflicted. Nobody did this to the churches, instead they did this to themselves.

In other words, the very best argument against being religious has been made by the actual words and deeds of the religious communities themselves.

In other deeply shocking “Well duh” news, we might now also perhaps learn that the rumour that the Pope is Catholic just might be true, and also apparently bears really do leave deposits within wooded areas of the landscape.

Well OK, one last revelation

Slice and dice the reasons by other things such as age or political leanings and you find the percentages greatly alter … like this …

There are a few more “Well duh” insights there. For example, of those that are gay and have quit religion, 73% cite the bigotry and hostility towards gay people being the reason they got out of religion.

However, notice also that the younger people are, the more inclined they are to cite such bigotry as the reason they quit religion (the orange dot above). 60% for 18-29 vs 35% for the 65+. Rather obviously as time marches forward, those older people that pass will take with them their tolerance for bigotry. They will be replaced by those that quite rightly consider such bigotry to be the deal breaker for participating in religion.

Now that does indeed point towards a brighter and far better future.

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