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The world’s fastest growing religion isn’t actually a religion

There are nuns and then there are “nones”. Do you know the difference?

One way to differentiate between the two groups would be to note that the first is shrinking while the latter is growing in numbers.

Still lost?

I don’t blame you, it’s also the first time that I hear about so-called “nones” – they’re the ones without any religion. According to Pew, religious nones are those who describe themselves religiously as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular”.

If you count yourself amongst this group you are a member of the fastest-growing religion, I mean non-religion, in the world.

A recent global survey conducted by Pew shows that nones are the second largest religious group in North America and most of Europe. In the United States, nones make up almost a quarter of the population.

The study came in conjunction with Nat. Geo’s new television series “The Story of God” starring Morgan Freeman and which travels the world chronicling religious beliefs practiced by different cultures.

In the past decade, U.S. nones have overtaken Catholics, mainline Protestants, and all followers of non-Christian faiths.

Remarkably, they make up the largest “religious group” in seven countries and territories.

What’s more, they also are the second-largest group in roughly half (48%) of the world’s nations.

The world is not about to become Godless soon, though.

The religiously unaffiliated are expected to continue to increase as a share of the population in much of Europe and North America, but they are projected to shrink as a percentage of the global population. This will be due to the faster growth in the world population.

Source: Pew Research Center

Atheists are just as complicated as believers

All religions are known for sprouting numerous different branches and sects. The unaffiliated, or nones, are no less a complicated group.

PEW reports that some are avowed atheists and others who describe themselves as atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit. At the same time, some people who identify with a religion (e.g., say they are Protestant, Catholic or Jewish) also say they do not believe in God. Still others are agnostic. And many more simply don’t care to state a preference.

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Really complicated

As a demographic, all atheists are not covered by the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary: a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods, as 8% of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in God or a universal spirit; 2% say they are “absolutely certain” about the existence of God or a universal spirit. Then there are many people who fit the dictionary definition of “atheist” but do not call themselves atheists.

About 3 % of Americans say they are atheists, and 9% say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit.

In all fairness though, religion or no religion, trying to put what you believe in into words is difficult for most of us, because it’s all guess work. We simply do not know. The fact that both atheists and believers have so many different ideas about what God is or isn’t, speaks to the fact that as humans we are stuck with our limited perspective and we are simply at a loss for words to express something that we have no direct knowledge of.

Why do people become atheists?

There are many reasons for moving away from religion and faith in God. One is the untold human suffering that has resulted from religious conflict over the ages. Many people reject the idea of a god as they reason that God wouldn’t allow such human suffering and if He would they wouldn’t want to have anything to with Him.

Another is the growing impact of scientific research findings and hand in hand with that the greater numbers of people being educated and able to assimilate these findings.

It’s also true that religion, as it has been practiced traditionally, hasn’t always managed to stay relevant, so people simply have stopped participating.

Others have observed that financial security plays a role, which can be seen from European countries that offer stronger social security and are also more secular.

Does the increase in nones mean we can expect a decline in morality as well? Is moral behaviour possible without belief in God?

Americans don’t think so. The most recent Pew study found that more than half of U.S. adults (56%) say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values.

Check out Morgan Freeman’s “The Story of God” below.

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Written by Clifton Kopp

Welcome to my writings on Ideapod! I'm a bit of a "polymath" in that I like writing about many different things. Often I'm learning from the process of writing. I hope you enjoy, and please leave a comment on one of my articles.

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