A new study by the Pew Research Center of the world’s religions found unaffiliated people, or “Nones,” the second-largest religious group in most of the industrialized nations.
While the unaffiliated account for only 16 percent of the world’s population, they make up 48 percent, or nearly half, of the world’s religion.
According to the study, Christians or Muslims make up the largest religious group in nine-in-ten nations. However, “nones” rank second in size in most of the Americas and Europe, as well as in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Christians, on the other hand, are the largest religion in 106 of the 112 countries in which the unaffiliated ranked second — primarily in first-world Western countries. They also make up the second-largest in 43 countries in predominantly Muslim North Africa and the Middle East.
“In many of these nations, including the U.S. and most of Western Europe, ‘nones’ are a substantial minority,” The study states. “They make up a quarter or more of the population in the United Kingdom and Germany, for example.”
The study also states that “nones” are a diverse collection of people that include atheists, agnostics, and “those who have a mix of religious beliefs and practices but do not identify with a particular faith.” However, they also found that those who consider themselves atheists are predominantly white.
“The secularizing West is full of white males,” National Geographic’s Gabe Bullard said. “The general U.S. population is 46 percent male and 66 percent white, but about 68 percent of atheists are men, and 78 percent are white.”
Bullard said Millennials are one of the biggest factors driving secularism in many of the countries Pew researched.
“If the world is at a religious precipice, then we’ve been moving slowly toward it for decades,” Bullard said. In Europe and North America, the unaffiliated tend to be several years younger than the population average.
He points to scientific advancement in not only making the public question God, but also the science connecting those who ask the questions.
“It’s easy to find atheist and agnostic discussion groups online, even if you come from a religious family or community,” Bullard said. “And anyone who wants the companionship that might otherwise come from church can attend a secular Sunday Assembly or one of a plethora of Meetups for humanists, atheists, agnostics, or skeptics.”
According to Bullard, there are a few theories on why more and more people are leaving faith. Bullard suggests that some researchers attribute the growing religious demographic to financial security, “which would explain why European countries with a stronger social safety net are more secular than the United States, where poverty is more common and a medical emergency can bankrupt even the insured.”
“Atheism is also tied to education, measured by academic achievement (atheists in many places tend to have college degrees) or general knowledge of the panoply of beliefs around the world (hence theories that Internet access spurs atheism),” Bullard said.
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