Percentage of Non-Religious Plateaus


I saw a Gallup survey in the news this week that was very encouraging and extraordinary. According to this Gallup poll of some 350,000 interviews, they report that the percentage of the US population that believes that it is non-religious or responds to questions by saying they have no religion is now plateauing. It has been increasing in past years but now this past year it seems to have reached a peak – just under 18% and is leveling off. I find that to be extremely encouraging and I hope that it is indicative of the fact that perhaps the New Atheism has finally run out of steam in pop culture and that perhaps the tide is beginning to turn. This is something that those of us who are concerned about American culture and are working in apologetics are very exercised about and so I was very glad to see this reported in the Gallup poll.

One of the interesting things about the breakdown of the numbers was that the segment of the American population that most identifies as non-religious is Asians, of all people. Now, insofar as the label “Asian” indicates people who have a background in the Far East, in the Orient, it struck me that these folks would come out of a culture and background which would be largely Buddhist, Shinto, or Marxist (in the case of China, for example). In which case, it would be hardly surprising that they would not be theists. So, in saying that they have no religion, this would not be indicative of people who have lost their Christian faith. These folks never had Christian faith and so this would not represent a kind of decline in American Christianity.

Instead, I think that this represents a tremendous opportunity to us as Americans. It means that there is a mission field which is coming to our own doorstep from Asia – people who come out of non-Christian backgrounds and with whom we now have the opportunity to share the Gospel without investing thousands of dollars and man hours going to their country. In particular, when I was at Purdue, I learned that Purdue University has the highest number of Chinese students of any American university studying there – over 8,000 students from China are at Purdue studying. And many of them are open to the Gospel. I met two young girls – university students – one from a Muslim background, one from a non-Christian background, both from China who have become Christians while at Purdue University. They had questions about who God is and what he is like. They were so sweet, they were so teachable and so open. When I would share with them some truth about God, their faces would just light up and they would say “Ooooo” and they would exclaim just in amazement about how God is. So it was a thrill to share with them.

So these statistics don’t bear their interpretation on their face. When you hear that the percentage of the people in the United States who claim to be non-religious is increasing, that doesn’t give you the full story. You need to look into the statistics. When you do, I think that there can be signs for encouragement.

I also noted that those who classify themselves as “no religion” also include anyone who refuses to answer the question or says they don’t know. So, “don’t knows” and “don’t ask me” are also included as having no religion which is kind of misleading. In addition to that, many of those who say they have no religion, what they mean is, they are not a Baptist, or a Catholic, or a Methodist, or a Presbyterian. But in fact if you ask them about what they believe, they may be really very spiritual. They may believe in God, they may pray, they may even attend a non-denominational church. But people are shunning these denominational labels. When you ask whether or not you believe in God, it turns out that those who are actually atheists remain a small percent of the population – 2 or 3 percent. This has not shown appreciable growth.

So while I don’t want to minimize the challenge posed by increasing secularization in the United States, nevertheless, there are signs of improvement and reasons for optimism, I think.[1]

[1] Total Running Time: 5:10 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)