Pew study: More Americans reject religion, but believers firm in faith

(RNS) Americans as a whole are growing less religious, but those who still consider themselves to belong to a religion are, on average, just as committed to their faiths as they were in the past -- in certain respects even more so.

The 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, released Tuesday (Nov. 3) by the Pew Research Center, also shows that nearly all major religious groups have become more accepting of homosexuality since the first landscape study in 2007. 

Graphic courtesy Pew Research Center

Graphic courtesy Pew Research Center

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The new study may provide some solace to those who bemoan the undeniable rise in America of the "nones" -- people who claim no religious affiliation.

“People who say they have a religion -- which is still the vast majority of the population -- show no discernible dip in levels of observance,” said Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew.

“They report attending religious services as often as they did a few years ago. They pray as often as they did before, and they are just as likely to say that religion plays a very important role in their lives," he continued. "On some measures there are even small increases in their levels of religious practice.”

More religiously affiliated adults, for example, read Scripture regularly and participate in small religious groups than did so seven years ago, according to the survey. And 88 percent of religiously affiliated adults said they prayed daily, weekly or monthly -- the same percentage that reported such regular prayer in the 2007 study.

READ: ‘Chaplains’ documentary follows nontraditional faith companions to battlefield, prison

"We should remember that the United States remains a nation of believers," said Gregory A. Smith, Pew's associate director of research, "with nearly 9 in 10 adults saying they believe in God."

That said, overall, belief in God has ticked down by about 3 percentage points in recent years, driven mainly by growth in the share of “nones” who say they don’t believe in God. But even among Christians -- 98 percent of whom say they believe in God -- fewer believe with absolute certainty: 80 percent in 2007 compared to 76 percent in 2014.

And now 77 percent of adults surveyed describe themselves as religiously affiliated, a decline from the 83 percent who did so in Pew's 2007 landscape study.

Pew researchers attribute these drops to the dying off of older believers, and a growing number of millennials -- those born between 1981 and 1996 -- who claim no religious affiliation.

Graphic courtesy Pew Research Center

Graphic courtesy Pew Research Center

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The researchers also found that as religiosity in America wanes, a more general spirituality is on the rise, with 6 in 10 adults saying they regularly feel a "deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being," up 7 percentage points since 2007. Also increasing: the number of people who experienced a "deep sense of wonder" about the universe, which also jumped 7 percentage points.

These trends make sense, said Andrew Walsh, a historian of American religion at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in that religious affiliation in America today is "increasingly shaped by individual choice and less by inheritance from a family or community."

Though the current social climate, especially for young adults, allows Americans to choose not to affiliate with a religious institution, Walsh said, many "are still spiritual in some ways."

One sign: the proliferation of yoga studios throughout the nation. Most enthusiasts of the meditative practice, which combines breathing and physical postures, are not looking to convert to Hinduism, Walsh said, but they may nevertheless find the activity spiritually gratifying.

Cooperman cautioned, however, against concluding that such spirituality is replacing more traditional kinds of religious experiences, such as attending religious services.

"On the contrary, the people in the survey who express the most spirituality are the people who are the most religious in conventional ways," he said, "and the respondents who are the least attached to traditional religion, including the ‘nones,’ report much lower levels of spiritual experiences."

More striking numbers in the study describe changing Christian attitudes toward gay Americans. Though the new landscape survey is not the first to document such change, it shows in detail how dramatically members of a broad swath of denominations -- even those that officially oppose homosexuality -- have shifted in their views.

The number of evangelical Protestants, for example, who said they agreed that "homosexuality should be accepted by society" jumped 10 percentage points between the 2007 and 2014 studies -- from 26 percent to 36 percentThe increase for Catholics was even steeper, from 58 percent to 70 percent. For historically black Protestant churches, acceptance jumped from 39 percent to 51 percent.

"Despite attempts to paint religious people as monolithically opposed to LGBT rights, that's just not the case and these numbers prove that," said Jay Brown, head of research and education at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the national gay rights group.

"There's growing support of LGBT people and our families, often not in spite of people's religions but because the very foundation of their faith encourages love, acceptance and support for their fellow human beings," he said.

The religiously unaffiliated, however, showed the highest rate of acceptance of gay Americans: 83 percent.

READ: Pope Francis’ trip to Africa draws excitement, trepidation in Kenya

This graph shows views on homosexuality and abortion between 2007 and 2014. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

This graph shows views on homosexuality and abortion between 2007 and 2014. Graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

On abortion, attitudes held steady, as has been the case since the Supreme Court made abortion a constitutional right in 1973. The study shows that 53 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with views within denominations shifting little since the first landscape study.

Other findings from the study include:

  • A minority of Jews -- 40 percent -- and the vast majority of Muslims -- 90 percent -- say they do not eat pork, the consumption of which is forbidden by Jewish and Islamic law. Hinduism does not allow beef to be eaten, and nearly 7 in 10 Hindus (67 percent) say they do not eat it.
  • Nearly 9 in 10 Americans say religious institutions bring people together and strengthen community bonds, and 87 percent say they play an important role in helping the poor and needy.
  • Women are more prayerful than men, with 64 percent saying they pray every day, compared with 46 percent of men.
  • On evolution, more than 62 percent of Americans say humans have evolved over time, while about a third (34 percent) say humans always existed in their present form.
  • Six in 10 adults, and three-quarters of Christians, believe the Bible or other holy Scripture is the Word of God. About 31 percent -- and 39 percent of Christians -- believe it should be interpreted literally.

The 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study interviewed 35,071 Americans, and has a margin of error of plus or minus less than 1 percentage point. The portion of the survey released Tuesday, which focuses on beliefs and practices, is the second of two parts. The first, released in May, found that the nation is significantly less Christian that it was seven years ago.



  1. Which version? Yours, someone else’s? Every single person who believes in a god thinks they KNOW the path to him, including you Fran. Is it that you are right and everyone else is wrong, or maybe, just maybe, you all are wrong?

  2. Religious types badmouth themselves. They don’t need a lot of help from anti-theists (who are a vocal but not widely accepted group).

    Religious types badmouth religion by:
    -Engaging in atrocity in the name of their faith
    -Attacking education in favor of mythology
    -Attacking civil liberties in service of sectarian agendas
    -Hypocritical moral pronouncements for others, but never followed themselves
    -Engaging in emotional extortion for “charity”
    -Avaricious behavior when it comes to money allegedly given for charity.

    Josh Duggar, Bryan Fischer and ISIS do more to hurt the credibility and acceptance of religion than anything Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens has ever said.

  3. There will always be religion. There will always be ythe use of religion for both good and evil.

  4. “A deep sense of peace and wonder” indeed. Well said. That is how I have felt ever since I received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior years ago. His awesome peace and power and presence and wonder have been with me ever since. Jesus is indeed the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Receive Him as Lord and Savior. Turn from sin and follow Him in the power of His Holy Spirit, and you will know His wonder and presence and power and peace in your own life. God Bless

  5. It doesn’t matter, even if 100% of Catholics/Protestants/Jewish think homosexuality should be okay. IT IS STILL a grievous sin condemn-able to eternal damnation. We don’t have the authority to change what is sin and what is not sin. Only God has that authority. And He has made it perfectly clear that homosexual activity is “an abomination”.

  6. B.F- Amen but don’t forget getting drunk,premarital sex,gossip,gambling,
    coveting/ jealousy, being mean are all sins as well. 1 Corinthians 6:9-12.

  7. Tammye: Thank you for your insightful comment. You have no argument from me. Except that there is sin that is greater than other sin. (John 19:11) And in this thread, my comment was only in reference to homosexual activity.

  8. “Except that there is sin that is greater than other sin”

    So saying “Jesus Christ, Godammit!” is the same as mass murder. There is some nice Christian perspective for you.

    This is why people should never take religion seriously as a source of moral thinking.

  9. Larry, you need to read my last post again. You took it from the wrong perspective. I never said, as you put it, “Jesus Christ, Godammit!” is the same as mass murder. I’m not sure how you got that from my post. My perspective was that in the realm of all sins, there are sins that are greater than other sins.

    Also, if you don’t take Jesus Christ as a source of moral thinking, then I fear the fate of your soul at your judgement.

  10. Catholic priests and bishops have subverted social virtue for social “justice”. Social Virtue is based on human nature, doesn’t change and leads to fulfillment. Social “justice” is imposed by power, inconsistent with human nature and leads to misery. Catholics need those informed with the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas to rectify this non-sense.

  11. Not all sins are as egregious as others. Homosexuality, abortion, adultery and murder are “list toppers”, they cannot be compared to gambling or drinking which are more injurious to self than others. (I know, drunk driving, yada, yada and the effect of alcohol on a marriage. I get that – the point is the Sin PER SE.)

  12. jimmychong- Read 1 Corinthians 5…1 Corinthians 6:9-12 and Matthew 7:13-23
    also Luke 13 plus read in Romans 1:18-32 and Luke 13 also Galations 5:12-26.

  13. You are trying to tell me blasphemy is not considered a mortal sin in the Bible?

    How about polytheism? Also described as a mortal sin (and mentioned far more times than homosexuality)

    Under divine moral command, you cannot exist side by side with those who worship many gods like Hindus and Buddhists. You have a holy duty to kill them, their families and people.

    The Bible is a terrible source for moral guidance.

  14. Perhaps you would be so kind to tell me how my sin of homosexuality harms others, apart from the wallets of dominion-oriented so called chrstians.

    But please, list only facts. Making up stuff is simply not allowed. and please, only facts that actually are facts, not hysterical right wing nutjob fairy tales that you tell yourself to scare yourself.

  15. I truthfully think this is a biased survey. There are times when a survey is taken it will be in a certain group of people that have an attitude that will cause the outcome to be biased. What this article says about Catholics obviously is the case I am speaking of. I am a Catholic and know of too many people who are faithful to the teachings of the Church. This article is undermining the truth.

  16. B.F., your comment is nothing but groundless assertions that have been repeated for a few thousand years. Only gullible people will accept such assertions without evidence, and as much as you want to believe it, your Bible does not qualify as evidence. Other religions have holy books to validate them among their believers, and they are all bunk, so why would yours be any different? And, only the gullible will be persuaded by trotting out the fear of “eternal damnation.”

  17. But they all serve to point out the absurdity of all religions. Some do it peacefully.

  18. Earold,

    There is a plethora of religions in the world today. Some of them allegedly are based on God and his Word, the Bible; and others are not, following other gods, other books of instruction, or other lifestyles.

    But many people are distressed by the hypocrisy and harmful teachings of various religions, which is probably a major reason why many have left it and will continue to do so.

    Of course, every religion professes to teach only the truth, just as many politicians profess to say only the truth. But major conflicts and disagreements on teachings, doctrines and laws, etc., arise between all of them.

    However, a remarkable prophecy in the book of Revelation of the Bible actually foretold, not only the modern-day exodus of false religions, but also its complete destruction (chapters 17 and 18). Time will tell which one(s) will prove to be false/untruthful, as well as where the truth can be genuinely found and enjoyed.

  19. “Deep sense of wonder”

    Yeah. It’s called the Hubble Telescope and the poetry of W.H.Auden.
    Religion is anti-human:

    “The kingdom of heaven advances through violence, and violent men take it by force.” – JESUS (Matthew 11:12)

    Find your peace in culture:
    humanity, nature, landscapes, music, art, paintings, literature, theatre, science, philosophy.

    What a disaster to waste any time on Jesus. Absurd.

    “Hate them all” – JESUS (Luke 14:26)

    Horrible nonsense.

  20. @B.F.,

    “IT IS STILL a grievous sin…”

    This is the sort of divisive, hateful stuff which comes only from religion.

    “Kill Homosexuals” – God (Leviticus 20:13)

    Nobody should follow this depravity. Murder like this is primitive and barbaric.

  21. Moral relativism is the only morality worth discussing.
    Morality is doing what is right no matter what you are told.
    Religion is doing what you are told no matter what is right.

    Religion must die off.

  22. Bernardo,

    I don’t like Crossan’s work. He speculates too much. There is no evidence a ‘Q’ ever existed yet he keeps relying on it.
    Jesus is a composite of several myths and stories about the Jewish rebellion against Rome and Nero (who is 666 from Revelation).

    Jesus is just an ancient revenge fantasy.

  23. Here is an article you guys may be interested in:

    “People raised in predominately Christian countries are just told from birth that Jesus lived at that time, and most of us never thought to question that. That’s the only reason why most historians still don’t, unless they’re Christian. Then they believe it on faith as well. But the fact is that there is no historic evidence that Jesus ever existed, and at least some historians now admit that.”

  24. Sue,

    Faith in God and his Word, the Bible, is not a matter of credulity. By studying the Bible, its wisdom becomes apparent and faith grows (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 11:1).

    Biblical archaeology confirms much of the Bible’s historical accuracy. True science harmonizes with the Bible. The following facts were in the Bible long before discovered by secular authorities: The order of stages which the earth passed in development; the earth is round and hangs in space on nothing; and that birds migrate (Genesis, chapter 1; Isaiah 40:22; Job 26:7; Jeremiah 8:7).

    Regarding fulfilled prophecies, Daniel foretold in advance the rise and fall of world powers (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, Anglo-American), and the time the Messiah would come and be put to death (Daniel, chapters 2, 8; 9:24-27).

    Today, other prophecies are being fulfilled that we are in the last days of a wicked era (2 Tim. 3:1-5; Matthew, chapter 24). Such foreknowledge is not within man’s power.

  25. And once again:

    From Professors Crossan and Watts’ book, Who is Jesus.

    “That Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as the Creed states, is as certain as anything historical can ever be.” Details previously presented.

  26. Fran,

    Unfortunately, none of your “thumptations” pass rigorous historic testing. Old time prophets are today called fortune tellers. Same con game though.

  27. Bernardo,

    Fortunately, all of the prophecy about the world powers came true, just as Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar, in advance of their taking place, and in exact order, which prophecy was inspired by God.

    Our present day Anglo-American dual world power (represented by the feet and toes partly of iron and clay of the image Daniel saw), came into existence during the First World War, and will be the last one.

    The difference between the prophets of God in the Bible and the fortune-tellers and other practitioners of spiritism today is that the latter are inspired by Satan, and not God. They are definitely the “real con game” since Satan is the master of that game.

  28. Sue, I cannot retract the statements since what God purposes and plans for mankind, whether any of us humans believe them or not, is guaranteed to happen, just as the sun rises every morning and the moon appears every night. He cannot tell a lie (Titus 1:2).

  29. If ‘sin’ is so bad or undesirable, then why do we do it?

    If we do our own ‘sin’, why can’t others do their own ‘sin’?

    Sin is the breaking of God’s laws we’re told. But what are God’s laws? Where are they? How can anyone know what they are?

    How can we know exactly what are sins and what are not?

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