Recent polls show that the number of people in the United States without a religious affiliation has increase from 8% in 2003 to 23% in 2013. Among adults 18-30 the percentage of non-affiliated is even greater - about a third.
Many are asking why but I don't think it's too difficult to understand. The loudest and most politically imposing religious figures are turning people away from religious institutions. For more than a decade they have been fixated on homosexuality, contraception and abortion, while supporting the rich and shunning the poor. The shame is that all religious institutions and followers do not agree with the focus on these things but, until recently, most have been silent.
Over the course of the decade some who remained silent and may have moderately agreed with the theology, are now finding the theology difficult to support as they see outrageous outcomes. The extremist tactics exercised in the name of religion are causing many to question the origin of the need for such tactics. Many are seeing the results as lacking compassion, understanding and insight. The tactics taken and the rhetoric with those tactics is in conflict with the central themes of any of the mainstream religions.
We no longer live in isolation. Many sources of information are at our fingertips. We hear and see stories of real people affected by events around us. If you do not put blinders on and listen to only a narrow stream of sources of information, you learn there is more to the world than your religious institution may like you to know.
I was about 6 or 7 when my best friend went to Catholicism. After a few weeks she announced that we could no longer be friends because I was Protestant. My church taught me to fear Paganism, Judaism, Buddhism and Muslim. If I even learned what they believed I would be tainted. If I practiced Yoga my soul may stripped from me. Paganism was equated with Satanism. Native American teachings were equated with Paganism.
Many like me, are remembering all that, learning something about the world and saying that is all hogwash. If you believe in a God, you have to know deep inside that God is not owned by any single religion. If you have met a Buddhist, a Jew, a Pagan, a Muslim or anyone from any other religion that sincerely seeks God, you can not dismiss them as anti-God. It then becomes difficult to sit in a religious environment that holds those beliefs.
So, an increasing number of people are now non-affiliated. I do not believe that is a good thing. I call myself Unitarian but I would need to drive many miles to be affiliated with like believers. That physical distance defeats some of the purpose for which I would like to be religiously affiliated. A church or temple provides a unique community connection. A believing community of some kind offers support and encouragement for its members. The stronger and more diverse, the greater the rewards for both the members and the community. It can offer multiple skills from many socioeconomic levels that gain from the experience of collective. If these people gather in the spirit of love and compassion to deliver others, and one another, from hardship, the world is a better place.
My prayer is that all religious institutions will re-evaluate their theology - their mission - their values - and become resources for lifting us all to a better way.