WASHINGTON — 15% of U.S. adults don’t identify with any religious group. That’s 32 million people — and the numbers are growing.
Barry Kosmin, head of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, stopped by here for a program on non-believers and non-believing.
He’s been studying the “none of the abovers.” It’s based on the latest American Religious Identification Survey.
Of those who do not identify with a religious group, only 4% say they are atheists and 6% agnostics. 89% say simply they have no religion.
29% were raised with no religion, and 25% were raised Catholic.
63% are male, 42% have college degrees, and 30% are from the West.
Interestingly, 21% believe in a personal God, and 23% believe in a higher power but not a personal God.
“It’s anti-clericalist,” Kosmin said. “They have no problem with God, but a problem with the local branches.”
Paul Kurtz, long known as the pope of non-believers, joined us to explain and defend “secular humanism.”
He said that the “New Atheism” (as promoted by Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc.) is too negative. Secular humanism, on the other hand, promotes ethics and altruism:
“The point I want to make is you can be moral without religion. You can be moral without belief in God.”
Kurtz said that religion — despite what the polls say — is declining in America, like it has in Europe, Japan, Australia and other regions. “I think that America is basically a secular society and committed to humanist values.”
He added: “So please, religious writers in America, don’t consider secular humanism to be negative.”
Jennifer Michael Hecht, an atheist who has studied the history of non-belief, told us that non-believers have always been around, even if they haven’t gotten much attention in history books.
“There are atheist heroes in the ancient world and in every single century after,” she said.
Hecht suggested that there can be a fine line between belief and non-belief.
“There are a lot of people who are religious who feel love and use the terms they were brought up with,” she said.
She also said that it is an “extraordinary” human practice that many people only go to houses of worships for births, deaths and other defining events — without giving much thought to, or not believing, the basic beliefs involved. “I call it drop-by-and-lie.”