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New Study Says America Is Slowly Getting Less Religious and More Tolerant

A massive new survey from Pew found that America is inching toward godlessness.
Photo via Flickr user Bradley Gordon

Related: No God? No Problem

A new Pew Research Center survey released Tuesday shows that the US is ever so slightly inching toward godlessness, with the percentage of nonbelievers growing and more young people willing to turn their backs on their parents' religion.

For the second installment of the Religious Landscape Study—the first one was conducted in 2007—Pew called over 35,000 US adults to get a snapshot of religious life in America. The results weren't surprising: This is still an intensely religious country, with 89 percent of adults professing a belief in a deity (it was 92 percent in 2007). The number of believers hasn't dropped, nor have they really become any less observant.

The section of the population that believes with absolute certainty that there is a god, however, has declined from 71 to 63 percent. And the "nones," a demographic of religiously unaffiliated people that's been getting an increasing amount of attention over the past few years, has grown and also become more willing to admit to not believing in a god. Millennials are more likely not to belong to a religion and don't appear to be getting more pious as they age. As a result, the country is getting a bit less godly, though this isn't a result of religious people losing their faith. "As the overall U.S. population has grown, there are now many more nonreligious people than was the case just a few years ago," reports the survey.

Of course, the US is still far more religious than Europe, and Christianity still dominates private and public life in huge swaths of the country—even if there are more self-identified atheists and agnostics out there, they are massively outnumbered.

Beyond the headline-friendly findings about young people turning their backs on God, the Pew report is remarkably feel-good. Christians have become much more tolerant of homosexuality, with 54 percent of all Christians saying that gay people should be accepted by society, compared to 44 percent in 2007. (That trend holds steady across all denominations, including Mormons and evangelicals.) And 46 percent of Americans feel a "deep sense of wonder about the universe" at least once a week (up from 39 percent in 2007), which is just a fantastic thing to ask people.