The Public Religion Research Institute says that 25% of the nation is non-religious, but we know a lot of people don’t come right out and say that. Maybe they’re afraid of calling themselves atheists because of the stigma attached to the word. So they go with “non-religious.” But if that’s still too much, the thinking goes, then you can call yourself “spiritual but not religious.”
It’s a strange euphemism. It’s meaningless, yet worthy of mockery. I guess it means you believe there’s something out there, something supernatural in the world that you can’t quite define, but the organized religions of the world miss the mark. Many religious people might say the phrase applies to those who want to accept there’s something more to the universe but don’t want to abide by the rules and regulations of the various religions.
To me, it sounds like you just can’t make up your damn mind. Or you just don’t want anyone getting mad at you. Either way, while the phrase is in widespread use, we don’t actually know how many people use it.
PRRI just released a survey delving into that issue and what they found is that the phrase applies to fewer than 1 in 5 Americans. That’s still way too high for my tastes, though I suppose we should be glad it’s not higher.
The largest single segment PRRI looked at? The 31% of Americans who are neither spiritual nor religious. Our people. (Well done, one-third of the country. You got the answer right.)
In general, spirituality and religiosity are highly associated with one another. People who are highly spiritual are, on average, also highly religious. Conversely, those who are not that spiritual tend to be not that religious. Among all Americans, the two largest groups include those who are both spiritual and religious and those who are neither. Overall, about one-third (31%) of Americans are neither spiritual nor religious, meaning that they do not feel particularly spiritual and religion is not a central part of their lives, while nearly as many (29%) Americans are both spiritual and religious.
It gets far more interesting when you break the numbers down by different demographics.
Among the religiously “Unaffiliated”? Two-thirds of us want nothing to do with religion (obviously) or spirituality… Another 29% love being spiritual.
(Side note: 9% of white evangelicals say they’re not religious. What the hell is going on in their minds…? They must be the people who claim to be followers of Jesus but not Christian, whatever that means.)
There are substantial differences in patterns of spirituality and religiosity by race and ethnicity. Black Americans are unique for their strong religiosity. Roughly three-quarters of black Americans are spiritual and religious (38%) or not spiritual but religious (36%). Only eight percent are spiritual but not religious. In contrast, about one in five Hispanic (21%) and white Americans (18%) are spiritual but not religious. White Americans (36%) are considerably more likely than Hispanic (21%) and black Americans (17%) to identify as neither spiritual nor religious.
There are additional breakdowns on PRRI’s website.
More than anything, it suggests that organized religion is slowly losing its grip on society. Some people are ready to escape the confines of religion but they’re not yet ready to abandon irrational religious thinking entirely. We have to help them make that transition.