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Is Growth of Atheist and Non-Religious Americans Good -- or Bad -- for the Nation?

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The proportion of Americans claiming no faith allegiance has grown in recent years. The impact of this demographic change is, of course, being fiercely debated. While atheists and agnostics would generally praise the social development, people of faith likely see it as a move in the wrong direction, especially when it comes to potential moral ramifications.

A new study from the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that nearly half of the U.S. believes that having "more people who are not religious" is bad for the nation. That said, 39 percent claim that the decrease doesn't make much of a difference -- and an additional 11 percent claim that it it actually a good development for American society.

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Demographic changes, as Pew notes, are likely impacting these results. While having no religious affiliation doesn't mean that someone is an atheist, the growth of this cohort generally yields, at the least, the notion that there are fewer adherents who hold strongly to religious sentiment. The research firm explains:

In recent years, Pew Research surveys have found evidence of a gradual decline in religious commitment in the U.S. public as a whole. For example, there has been a modest uptick over the past decade in the share of U.S. adults who say they seldom or never attend religious services. The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion also has grown in recent years; indeed, about one-fifth of the public overall – and a third of adults under age 30 – are religiously unaffiliated as of 2012. Fully a third of U.S. adults say they do not consider themselves a “religious person.” And two-thirds of Americans – affiliated and unaffiliated alike – say religion is losing its influence in Americans’ lives.

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There are also notable differences in this measure when it comes to divergent faith groups. Among white evangelicals (78 percent), black Protestants (64 percent) and white, non-Hispanic Catholics (56 percent), the notion that there's an increase in non-religious people is seen as a "bad thing."

But the majority of people who are unaffiliated with a faith (55 percent), believe that this change makes no difference, with 24 percent even venturing to say that it is a "good thing" for America.

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The results are based on a survey that Pew conducted with 4,006 adults from March 21 through April 8 of this year. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.1 percentage points. Read the complete results on Pew's website (breakdowns for gender and age are also available).


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