Oct 6, 2023 - World

The world's departure from organized religion

Illustration of a stained glass window stylized as an EXIT sign.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There's a global, fast-growing population of people without a religion. That's according to a new AP-NORC Poll.

Why it matters: Religion has long been a powerful force in society, touching politics, art and daily life. The rise of nonbelievers and people with no religious affiliation is diminishing its influence.

By the numbers: 3 in 10 U.S. adults said they had no religious affiliation.

  • About half of them identify as atheist or agnostic, and the other half say their religion is "nothing in particular."

The shift away from religion is even starker among younger adults, with 43% of 18- to 29-year-old Americans responding "none," when asked which religion they follow.

  • But fewer than 20% of U.S. adults over 60 are "nones."

The trend is gaining momentum across the world, AP reports from several countries:

  • In Japan, 70% of people in Japan say they have nonreligious feelings.
  • Nearly 80% of Italians say they're Catholic. But most view it as a tradition, with fewer than 20% attending services weekly.
  • Israel, a country with about 7 million Jews, is remarkably nonreligious: Just 33% said they practiced "traditional" religious worship. Conflict between secular and ultra-religious Israelis has grown in recent years.

Yes, but: Public rejection of religion is harder for nonbelievers in many other countries.

  • In India, which has a long history of nonreligious movements, most atheists keep quiet about religion.
  • In some areas, like northern Nigeria, it can even be risky and even dangerous to be publicly atheist or agnostic, AP notes.

The bottom line: Organized religion remains a key source of community for many Americans, with two-thirds of U.S. adults identifying as Christian, according to Pew Research Center.

  • As recently as the 1990s, that share was 90%.
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