September 23, 2014

Is religion’s declining influence good or bad? Those without religious affiliation are divided

We’ve known for some time that the number of Americans who say they have no religion has been growing. But while this group does not identify with a specific religious tradition or denomination, the “nones” are not uniformly against religion having a role in society, a new Pew Research Center survey finds.

Most View Religion's Waning Influence as Negative DevelopmentWe asked all respondents whether religion is gaining or losing influence in American life, and 72% of U.S. adults (including 70% of the religiously unaffiliated) said religion is losing influence. We then asked whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, and, not surprisingly, “nones” were much more likely than other major religious groups to say that the declining influence of religion in American life is a good thing.

The results, however, were not completely one-sided. In fact, religiously unaffiliated people who perceive religion’s influence as declining were split on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. About a third of “nones” overall (34%) said it is good that religion is losing influence, while a similar share (30%) said this is bad.

“Nones” include atheists and agnostics as well as people who have no religion in particular. Among only atheists and agnostics, half (50%) see religion’s influence as declining and see this as a good thing, while only 12% say it’s a bad thing. But among those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” 37% say religion’s declining influence is a bad thing and 27% say it’s a good thing.

On other questions, too, sizable minorities of religiously unaffiliated people expressed sentiments supportive of religion in public life and politics. For instance, about three-in-ten “nones” (29%) said it is important for members of Congress to have strong religious beliefs. And a similar share (32%) said churches should express their views on social and political questions.

While it’s difficult to pin down the reasons behind these opinions, they reaffirm the notion that not all religiously unaffiliated people are hostile toward or opposed to religion. In fact, we found in 2012 that 14% of “nones” said religion is very important in their lives, and another 19% said it is somewhat important. About two-thirds of the unaffiliated (68%) believe in God – 30% said they’re “absolutely certain” about God’s existence – and 21% reported praying daily.

Only one-in-ten people whose religion is “nothing in particular” said they are looking for a religion that is right for them, but there appears to be a significant subset of Americans who are comfortable with religion having a role in their life even without having an official religious affiliation.

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Affiliation, Religiously Unaffiliated

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Enrico R. Lackner3 years ago

    Oooooh. A Study about Religious Views made by the “Religion and Public Life Project” – how unexpressebly trustworthy…

  2. Muthyavan.3 years ago

    If an analysis based on time line is worked out regarding the influence of religion on society. It has gradually eroded in the last one hundred years. When at the beginning 19 th century, it was a practise most people attend places for prayers. Present day prayers and worshipers places are not well attended mostly by younger generations. This is a gradual eroding system which is slowly taking place. Many states in the world have gone out from practicing any religion in the state level. It does not reflect at all, as if the international society has become more cruel or violent. But the history has established societies have become more peacefull and corporatized in the last one hundread years. Therefore eroding of religious practice is not detrimental anyway to modern societies.

  3. Sam3 years ago

    The founding fathers were far less religious than you make them out to be. They were no more nor no less moral than we. They were merely human beings with all the good and bad habits and attitudes that we share with them. Morality, such as you uphold as missing in the present day, is and was a myth. For all the profession of belief in a higher power, we remain the same. What has changed is some few nations and communities no longer punish people who refuse to follow the mythology. One only has to read history to see the truth. Even the citizens of ancient Athens blamed Socrates for the decline of morals and the loss of belief in the Gods by the youth and others of the day. You might even say Socrates died for our sins.

  4. Sam3 years ago

    Religion should be out of our lives. In fact, religion is one of THE most negative and destructive influences on humanity.

  5. Sandy Hines3 years ago

    I am one of the people who think declining formal religion is a good thing. It is divisive and
    causes strife,wars {as in the middle east} and in general is not inclusive of all humanity
    I think most people like me believe in a higher power. I have love and compassion for all
    humanity, I meditate, I believe in the power of prayer and try to be loving and kind and
    do no harm to any living thing or our precious earth. I do not need a formal religion to do that

  6. Richard Robinson3 years ago

    I do not understand how any reasoning person can be aware of the current turmoil in the MidEast and still think that religious involvement in politics can be a good thing.

  7. Blake Newell3 years ago

    As the economic health of the US declines, I see a corresponding decline in our grasp on moral values.
    The founders were, for the most part, more concerned with the nation than they were for their own well-being. And, yes, many of them made the ultimate sacrifice, as they had pledged to God they would do. Today, people limit their concern to approximately arm’s length (dependent on where their debit card is carried), and their morals have shrunk by the same percentage. Where we once worked to assure our grandchildren of a chance to prosper, not just survive, many people now choose to “party hearty”, eat the fruits of their labors (if, indeed, they work at all), and abort the unborn to avoid any dependents they may feel obligated to care for. They forget that we all will answer to Him who rules over all.

    1. Unanimous Decision3 years ago

      Him? Who?

    2. jeefray3 years ago

      Please, the Founders were concerned with the nation? The Founders formed a nation but were they completely moral? They had no problem killing Englishmen and Native Americans. I also think that reducing Americans to vague generalities of “good behavior” is immoral. The fact that people party was wonderfully demonstrated by George Washington, who bought gallons of booze every year for personal consumption. Americans work hard and play hard. Those who pine for the good old days are usually imagining things, like good old days. Using Fox news talking points for everything you dislike, shows that you are even less likely to know what is actually going on around you in the world. Your invisible friend demands that you behave, love your neighbor and judge not! So get busy with that and less busy with things about which you have less understanding.

    3. DrT Happy3 years ago

      See that is what YOU believe. Now look up the definition of BELIEVE

    4. Johnny3 years ago

      Religion is man made nothing more.

  8. Stephen DuMont3 years ago

    this is a badly worded question. many christians have a special definition of religion that allows them to say they are not religious but have a relationship with God. even though they go to church almost every day.

    1. Peter3 years ago

      Those would be the 30% who say that they’re unaffiliated but also think that the wane of religious influence is a bad thing.