Americans Increasingly “Spiritual But Not Religious”

This week Pew Research Center created quite a stir by releasing the findings of a study it conducted earlier this year. Among other things, researchers found Americans increasingly identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”

The study asked participants two key questions: “Do you think of yourself as a religious person, or not?” and “Do you think of yourself as a spiritual person, or not?”

Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed indicated they are spiritual but not religious — which is up from 19% in 2012.

What is striking about the results is that a large number of these people still identify with a religion or denomination. A full 35% of those who claim to be spiritual but not religious also identify as Protestant, and 17% attend services at least weekly.

So what is behind these numbers?

Most seem to agree that Americans probably are withdrawing from religion, but still hold views shaped by religion. For example, they might still believe in God, but don’t attend church any more.

Another possibility to keep in mind, however, is that many people — particularly Evangelical Christians — have a negative view of the word “religion.”

For some, the word “religion” conjures up images of meaningless rituals. For them, going to church is not a religious activity; it’s a deeply personal, spiritual one.

That may be part of the reason why so many people who attend services weekly (or more) would still identify themselves as non-religious.

And let’s not forget that although the number is declining, nearly half of those surveyed still identified themselves as both spiritual and religious. As we wrote a few years ago, weekly church attendance today is roughly on par with where it was in the 1940s.

The numbers may not be encouraging, but they certainly aren’t the death knell of Christianity, either.