Five theories on why the number of religiously unaffiliated is increasing

Why is the Christian share of the U.S. population declining and the number of religiously unaffiliated adults growing? Here are five theories:

More options

The Internet and social media “allow people to find communities that may not be available locally. Somebody in rural North Carolina could go online to practice Wicca (a pagan witchcraft religion) or visit a Hindu temple in India that has a (live) camera. Those are the kind of options that people never had in the 1970s.” – Sean McCloud, professor of religious studies, UNC Charlotte

Better counting

“I think there are a lot more Nones out there. If you scratch below the surface, many of those in the pews are just going through the motions. Now they’re being counted in a way they weren’t before.” – Richard Fortuna, president of Sunday Assembly Charlotte, a secular organization that includes a “Life After Faith” group

Driven by politics

“Another theory out there is that this growth (in Nones) is driven by politics. As religion has become more associated with right-wing politics, you have people who don’t share those politics saying, ‘If that’s religion, I don’t want to be affiliated with that.’ The religiously unaffiliated are, as a group, much more liberal and their support for same-sex marriage is much (higher)” than the overall population. – Greg Smith, associate director of research, Pew Research Center in Washington

Stepping away

“About 40 percent of Americans shift religious groups or denominational groups in their lifetimes. Most don’t stop being Christian, but there is a growing number of people who distance themselves from religion in general. Some of them are believers but not belongers. And the spirituality movement has allowed people to come up with their own spiritual and meditative (practices), drawing from many traditions. And then there are those who, when they see how religion has been so polarized, on the left and right of center, have said, ‘A pox on both your houses.’” – Bill Leonard, former dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem

Searching online

“The Internet has really allowed the flow of information to increase. In the past, if you had questions, you got your answers from parents and pastors. Now that (you) have the ability to personally dig into beliefs, (you are) realizing they aren’t true. … And right at your fingertips, you can find communities, serve, see nature and find your place in this wonderful universe. Traditionally, you served through churches, But there are lots of alternatives now. And because the world is so much more connected, it’s easier to find other people with your values.” – Todd Stiefel, chairman of the Openly Secular campaign and president of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation in Raleigh

Compiled by Tim Funk

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