Why America’s ‘nones’ don’t identify with a religion

By Becka A. Alper

growing share of Americans are religiously unaffiliated. We recently asked a representative sample of more than 1,300 of these “nones” why they choose not to identify with a religion. Out of several options included in the survey, the most common reason they give is that they question a lot of religious teachings.

Six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated Americans – adults who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – say the questioning of religious teachings is a very important reason for their lack of affiliation. The second-most-common reason is opposition to the positions taken by churches on social and political issues, cited by 49% of respondents (the survey asked about each of the six options separately). Smaller, but still substantial, shares say they dislike religious organizations (41%), don’t believe in God (37%), consider religion irrelevant to them (36%) or dislike religious leaders (34%).

Those who identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” tend to give different reasons for their lack of affiliation, showing that “nones” are far from a monolithic group. For example, about nine-in-ten self-described atheists (89%) say their lack of belief in God is a very important reason for their religious identity, compared with 37% of agnostics and 21% of those in the “nothing in particular” category. Atheists also are more likely than other “nones” to say religion is simply “irrelevant” to them (63% of atheists vs. 40% of agnostics and 26% of adults with no particular religion).

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