The rising rate of religious non-affiliation, particularly among the young, has inspired thoughtful discussions about the problems with churches, or alternatively, the problem with Millennials. In his latest column for the Huffington Post Religion, PRRI Research Director Daniel Cox explored an overlooked part of this important trend: the increasing number of Americans being raised without religion. The piece sparked a lively debate among readers about how growing up in a religious, or nonreligious, household affected their beliefs later in life.
The comments from people who left religion were of a significantly different tenor than those who were raised without religion.
“Catholic schools seem to be atheist factories. Everyone I knew that went to Catholic school in my town left religion as soon as they left school.”
Another comment was similar: “At my school we gathered after graduation from grade school to burn our uniforms…. I doubt there were many Catholic schools of my era whose students didn’t feel more liberated than graduated.”
Unlike many of those who disaffiliated from religion, the perspective of those who grew up without religion was less overtly hostile.
“I wasn’t raised in a religious family. My mother who raised me never spoke about religion at all. I went to a few friends’ Christian churches when I was growing up and it didn’t make sense at all…I finally came to the conclusion that I don’t need any of these belief systems to live a good life and be happy.”
Other comments noted that those raised without religion were more disinterested or apathetic than angry.
“The growth of atheism is likely to be most persistent among people who did not grow up with religion and are largely indifferent to it. These people are likely to be puzzled as to why people want to be religious in the first place.”
“Most discussions of atheism seem to focus on people who have left religion…who grew up religious and left either in anger or frustration. And religious arguments against atheists still seem to be focused on this idea of people who are angry with God or religion. But this has more to do with what makes a good hook for a story. People who are simply not religious and don’t see any reason why they would be don’t make for a good hook. The are not likely to be the loudest voice in the debates.”
Another comment identified the potential difficulty of engaging Americans who have never been religious: “I love religion and want to see it flourish. But the kinds of stories that strike a chord with the lapsed don’t appeal to people who haven’t had any religion to lapse from in the first place.”
Although they do not attract as much attention, Americans who are raised without religion are becoming an increasingly important part of the unaffiliated. Thirteen percent of Millennials were raised in non-religious households, compared to five percent of Baby Boomers. Americans who are raised in unaffiliated households are also likely to remain unaffiliated as adults, as our Graphic of the Week shows.