The religiously unaffiliated are the “religious Rorschach” in the battle over America’s religious identity, argues PRRI’s Dan Cox in a new article for the University of Virginia’s Religion and Its Publics:
In the U.S. today, few social groups of this size and significance have been subject to such strongly contested characterizations. Unaffiliated Americans have long served as a religious Rorschach in the battle between those who believe that America’s national character is fundamentally religious and those who look forward to a long-awaited secular future. The devout tend to view the unaffiliated as troubled seekers, searching for a more authentic religious experience; while the country’s growing minority of atheists—a group that is potentially much larger than originally thought—claim the unaffiliated for their camp, heralding the trend as a sign that America is finally shedding its religious commitments.
As it turns out, both characterizations miss the mark. Unaffiliated Americans are not necessarily nonbelievers. Self-identified atheists make up a only of minority unaffiliated people—most hold on to some type of belief in a higher power, even as they reject institutional religion. However, there is no uniform conception of God among the unaffiliated. Only 22 percent believe in an anthropomorphic God, while 37 percent imagine God to be some type of impersonal force in the universe. What’s more, unaffiliated Americans express considerable skepticism about the existence of God: a majority (53 percent) report that they sometimes doubt whether God exists.
Read the entire article on the Religion and Its Publics site.