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The largest religious group in the U.S. -- sort of:

2019-APR: A brief note on
religiously unaffiliated persons:
"NOTAs,"
who are more
commonly called "NONES:"

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The term "NOTA," when used in a religious sense, is an acronym for "None Of The Above." It simply means that the person is "NOT Affiliated" with an organized faith group."

This includes most Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, Deists, freethinkers, secularists, etc., along with those adults who are theists, but simply have no real interest in, or affiliation with, an organized religious group. They might have gone to a service at a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or to a Wiccan circle for a funeral or some other special occasion. But they don't regularly attend at a regular service on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, a Solstice, etc.

Unfortunately, religious information sources and other groups in the media generally use the term "NONEs" to refer to this group." This is an awkward term to use because it is a homophone -- that is, it sounds like another word: "nuns." "NONES" is a particularly inappropriate homophone to use because because "NUNS" is also a religious term. Occasionally, reporters on TV and radio stumble over the word because they recognize that they may be confusing some of their viewers/listeners.

The U.S. General Social Survey (GSC) in 2019 reported that 23.1% of U.S. adults are unaffiliated. This makes the NOTAs/NONEs the largest reported single religious group in the U.S.! -- slightly larger than Roman Catholics at 23% and larger than evangelicals at 22.5. 1

However:

  • The Daily Wire web site made an error when reporting this data. 1 They equated Notas with Atheists, and reported that the poll found Atheists to be the largest religious group in the U.S. While that would certainly capture the interest of their web site's visitors, it is not accurate. Atheists, Theists, and Agnostic have different beliefs about the existence or nonexistence of God. On the other hand, NOTAs/NONEs are different. They simply have no religious affiliation. They are like people whose political affiliation is neither Republican nor Democrat; they are Independents.

  • CNN reported the GSC news more accurately. Their headline stated: "There are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are evangelicals and Catholics, a survey finds." Unfortunately, their article title is slightly ambiguous. It is not clear whether they are comparing the size of all three groups separately, or are comparing Atheists with the total number of evangelicals and Catholics taken together.

  • The GSC reported that the percentage affiliation with the three groups all lie with a half of one percent of each other. This is within the poll's margin of error. Thus, the three groups should be considered equal in numbers, statistically speaking. 2,3 That is, the difference in the GSC results among NOTAs, Roman Catholics, and Atheists is not significant at this time.

  • The percentage of evangelicals reached a peak of almost 30% in 1992 and have been in a steady, slow decline ever since.

  • The percentage of Roman Catholics reached a peak of 26% in 2006 and have been declining since, but at a slower rate than evangelicals.

  • The percentage of NOTAs reached a minimum of 7% in 1991 and then rapidly increased to 23.1 in 2019. 2 Over the next few years, NOTAs will probably continue to increase their "market share" and pull significantly ahead of evangelicals and ahead of of Catholics as well, from a statistical viewpoint.

  • Prof. Ryan Burge, at Eastern Illinois University, who studies religion in the U.S., predicts that by 2029, Evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics will continue at about their 2019 level of 22%. Mainline Protestants, like United Methodists and Catholics, have declined from 30% in 1976, to about 10% at the end of 2019, and will continue to decline, reaching about 5% in 2029. NOTAS, the unaffiliated, will become the predominate religious viewpoint. 4,5

  • Public opinion polls are notoriously unreliable when they ask religious questions. For example, many U.S. polls have found that about 40% of adults say that they regularly attend religious services. However, when researchers "count noses" to find out exactly how many are attending religious services in a given county, they find that the actual number is about 20%. Attendance at religious services is still regarded as a "nice" thing to do, and people want to impress the polling agency. So, many tell a fib. Unfortunately, many sources of religious information quote public polling data as if they are accurate.

  • On the other hand, there is a strong rejection of and opposition to Atheism among many U.S. adults. Atheism is often associated with Communism. Many people feel that when a person has no belief in God, then they have no reason to behave decently. Also, when Atheists are asked what their religion is by a stranger over the phone who "says" they are from a polling agency, they sometimes do not feel that it is safe reveal the truth; and so, they tell a fib. As a result, polls in the past have greatly underestimated the number of Atheists; they reported between 3% and 11%. A university group recently developed a creative method by which polling groups can find an accurate estimate of the number of Atheists without asking those polled to openly reveal their position. They found that 26% of U.S. adults are Atheists.

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Webmaster's note:

"Nota" is one of the two English religious terms that we selected many years ago in the hope that they would enter wide usage. The other one was "Relism" which we changed to "Religism" on the advise of a visitor to our web site. It means bigotry and bias used to oppress or discriminate against others on the basis of their religion. It is similar to racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc. We have had no luck getting NOTA accepted, but a little better luck with Religism.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Michael J. Knowles, "God Help Us: Atheism Becomes Largest Religion In U.S.," Daily Wire, 2019-APR-07, at: https://www.dailywire.com/
  2. "‘Nones’ now as big as evangelicals, Catholics in the US," Religious News Service, 2019-MAR-21. at: https://religionnews.com/
  3. Neil Monahan and Saeed Ahmed, "There are now as many Americans who claim no religion as there are evangelicals and Catholics, a survey finds," CNN, 2019-APR-13, at: https://www.cnn.com/
  4. Aysha Khan, "Where will the next decade take religion? Experts predict the future of faith," Religion News, 2020-JAN-02, at: https://religionnews.com/
  5. Ryan Burge, American Religion in 2030," 2019-OCT-24, Religion in Public, 2019-OCT-24, at: https://religioninpublic.blog/
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Site navigation: Home page16 non-theistic beliefs, ethical groups, etc, here

or Home page > Religious information > Basic data >  here

Copyright 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on: 2019-APR-13
Latest update: 2020-JAN-05
Author: B.A. Robinson
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