Freethought Today · August 2017

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Nonreligious seem to be gaining worldwide

It seems that more and more surveys and polls are showing that the nonreligious are becoming a major "religious" group, in many cases even larger than any given religious denomination.

The following are several recent examples of how this promising trend is shaking out in the United States and around the world.

College freshmen less religious than ever

Data from a nationwide religion survey shows first-year college students who list their affiliation as "None" has skyrocketed.

The number of college students with no religious affiliation has tripled in the last 30 years, from 10 percent in 1986 to 31 percent in 2016, according to data from the CIRP Freshman Survey. Over the same period, the number who attended religious services dropped from 85 percent to 69 percent.

These trends provide a snapshot of the current generation of young adults; they also provide a preview of rapid secularization in the United States over the next 30 years.

Since 1966, the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) has surveyed incoming college students about their backgrounds, beliefs, and attitudes, including questions about their religious preference and attendance at religious services. In 2016, they surveyed more than 137,000 first-time students at 184 colleges and universities in the United States.

Most of this growth comes at the expense of Catholicism, which dropped from 32 percent to 23 percent, and mainstream Protestant denominations including Baptists (from 17 percent to 7 percent), and Methodists (from 9 percent to 3 percent). At the same time, the number of students choosing "Other Christian" increased from 5 percent to 13 percent.

The fraction of "Nones" is higher at universities (36 percent) than at four-year colleges (26 percent), mostly because more colleges than universities are religiously affiliated. Not surprisingly, religious colleges are more religious, with only 17 percent Nones; and historically black colleges even more so, with 11 percent Nones.
Starting in 2015, the CIRP survey includes "Agnostic" and "Atheist" in the list of religious preferences, along with "None." In 2016, the breakdown of students with no religious affiliation is 8.5 percent agnostic, 6.4 percent atheist, and 16 percent None, with all three categories up slightly since 2015.

Men are more likely than women to identify as agnostic (10 percent vs. 8 percent) or atheist (8 percent vs. 5 percent).

Canadians: Religion does more harm than good

Just over half of Canadian respondents say they believe religion does more harm than good in the world, according to a new survey.

The Ipsos poll, conducted for Global News, showed that 51 percent of respondents agreed with the above statement.

"There's a lot that's happening in the world right now in the name of religion," Sean Simpson, vice president of Ipsos Affairs, said. "Of course, ISIL is the primary example that's using religion to justify what they're doing."

Simpson explained that the number is rising; when Ipsos asked the same question in 2011, 44 percent of respondents agreed.

"But I think we hear about these incidents more often, not just because they may be happening more often but because of the information age.

"We've got 24-hour news cycles and social media and Twitter where we hear about every incident so it's not surprising to me that a growing number of Canadians believe it does more harm than good."

What he did find surprising was that Quebec, once considered to be Canada's most religious province, is now the most secular.
Compared to the rest of Canada, those from Quebec are significantly more likely than residents of other provinces to feel religion does more harm than good (62 percent).

Plurality of Australians identify as nonreligious

After decades of rapid growth, the number of Australians marking "no religion" on their census forms has for the first time surpassed Catholicism as the most common answer to a prompt in the country's 2016 census, according to data. If all Christian denominations are considered together, they would make up just over half of respondents.

The number of respondents who identified as nonreligious — 30.1 percent — almost doubled from 15.5 percent in 2001. Less than 1 percent identified that way in 1966, the year Australia lifted its "White Australia Policy," which opened up immigration to non-Europeans and kicked off broader demographic changes. Australia's population has also more than doubled since then.

The trend away from religiosity in Australia is likely to continue, as the bulk of growth in the category, perhaps unsurprisingly, is in the 18-34 age bracket. Those older than 65 were the most likely to identify as religious — and Christian in particular, as non-Christian religious groups tend to find representation in younger immigrant populations.

Survey: Majority of British is nonreligious

The 34th annual British Social Attitudes Survey has shown that nonreligious people represent a clear majority of British people in 2017, accounting for 53 percent of the population. This is a new high for the nonreligious population, which was previously estimated at 51 percent in 2014.

The result is consistent with other recent polls which ask the questions "Do you consider yourself to have a religion?" and "If so, which one?," which will typically find that nonreligious British represent roughly half the population.

The strength of the British Social Attitudes Survey's result, in particular, is that it has asked the same question every year for several decades, creating a real-time picture of how attitudes to religion in Britain have changed with demographic shifts.

Most noticeable is the distinction between the views of younger age cohorts and older age cohorts; a majority of older Britons have strong religious identities that are not widely shared by their children and grandchildren.

Most in Czech Republic don't believe in God

The vast majority of adults in Central and Eastern Europe identify with a religious group and believe in God, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 18 countries in the region. But those in the Czech Republic are an exception. A majority of the population there is religiously unaffiliated and does not believe in God.
More than seven in 10 Czechs (72 percent) do not identify with a religious group, including 46 percent who describe their religion as "nothing in particular" and an additional 25 percent who say "atheist" describes their religious identity.

When it comes to religious belief — as opposed to religious identity — 66 percent of Czechs say they do not believe in God, compared with just 29 percent who do. (While a lack of affiliation and a lack of belief may seem to go hand in hand, that is not always the case. In the U.S., for example, a majority of religiously unaffiliated adults — 61 percent — say they believe in God.)

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