Pew study: ‘Nones’ now the third-largest religious group in the world

Are we becoming a secular society?

It’s a theme I’ve touched on repeatedly in this space, but the idea is intriguing. I like to study history and am fascinated by the trends established by the human race as we evolve.

Dan Royer of Manchester Township reads changes to the Roman Missal during Sunday mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Springettsbury Township in this November 27, 2011 file photo.

In a nutshell, we have evolved over 2,000 years from a world in which religious adherence was seemingly 100 percent (as far as we know) to a largely uniform Christian faith to a world today in which 16 percent of people claim no religious affiliation.

And that number is rising.

According to a new Pew Research Center study, 1.1 billion people have no religious affiliation. This makes the unaffiliated the third-largest religious group worldwide, behind Christians and Muslims, and about equal in size to the world’s Catholic population.

Surveys indicate that many of the unaffiliated hold some religious or spiritual beliefs (such as belief in God or a universal spirit) even though they do not identify with a particular faith.

So over a billion people are rejecting organized religion. What does this say about where we are as a human race? And where we’re going? It’s a pretty overwhelming thought if you let it be. It’s what I’m thinking about today.

Here are some more nuggets from the study:

* The report estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe, representing 84% of the 2010 world population of 6.9 billion.

* Based on analysis of more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers, the study finds 2.2 billion Christians (32% of the world’s population), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (15%), nearly 500 million Buddhists (7%) and 14 million Jews (0.2%) around the world as of 2010.

* More than 400 million people (6%) practice various folk or traditional religions, including African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions.

* An estimated 58 million people – slightly less than 1% of the global population – belong to other religions, including the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism, to mention just a few.

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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