Charles, an 18 year-old from Haitian descent, said that "I don't feel like it gelled with what God is and can be." He is currently a Princeton University freshman.
"It was not a loving or nurturing environment for someone’s faith."
She left her New Jersey church three year ago and identified as an atheist, then as an agnostic before adopting a spiritual, but not religious, life. She blends rituals at an alter, chanting Buddhist, Taoist, and Hindu mantras, and paying homage her ancestors while she prays and meditates.
Charles's path places her among the religiously nonaffiliated, the fastest growing group in American surveys about religious identity. They identify themselves as atheists or agnostics, and "nothing in specific."
Pew Research Center released Tuesday's survey showing that this group, commonly called the "nones", now makes up 29% of American adults. This is an increase from 23% in 2016 or 19% in 2011. Elizabeth Drescher, an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University, said that if the unaffiliated were to be a religion, they would make up the largest religious group in America. She also wrote a book on the spiritual lives and experiences of the nones.
Drescher stated that the religiously unaffiliated used to be concentrated in coastal cities, but they now live all over the country, representing a variety of ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.
According to a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, America's nos differ greatly in their personal philosophies. 33% say they feel a connection to God, or some higher power. 19% also believe religion is important to them, even though they don't have any religious affiliation.
Around 12% identify themselves as spiritual and religious, and 28% as spiritual and not religious. More than half of those who describe themselves as neither are not religious.
According to the APNORC poll, nearly 60% of all non-believers believe that religion was important to their family when they were children. The poll found that 33% of all respondents meditate, 26% pray in private at least once a month, and a smaller number consult with a spiritual or religious leader periodically.
Drescher stated that "there are people who actually practice, whether in a particular faith tradition we would recognize or in multiple faith traditions." They don't want to be formally a part of those communities or identify as a member of that religion.
The U.S. has seen a similar increase in the number of the nones to Western Europe in recent years. However, Americans are still more religious than Western Europe, with a higher rate of prayer and belief in God, as described in the Bible. A 2018 Pew survey found that nearly two-thirds (or 65%) of Americans are Christians who pray daily. This compares to just 6% in Britain and 9% for Germany.
According to a new Pew survey, the growth of the nones has occurred largely at the expense the U.S. Protestant population. The survey found that 40% of U.S. adults now identify as Protestants, compared to 50% a decade ago.
Shianda Simmons (36), a former Protestant, is one of the ex-protestants. She was born in Lakeland, Florida and began to identify as an atheist when she was 13.
She was raised as a Baptist, and she attended church often. However, she claims that she left the church because it did not treat women equally.
Simmons stated that not everyone in Simmons' family is aware she has abandoned religion. Simmons also said that some people have difficulty accepting it.
She said, "There are some people I can't believe that I am atheist." "It has caused me to draw away from my loved ones."
She feels the same way about her beauty shop, where she believes she must keep her atheism secretive from customers, in fear that they might go somewhere else.
Mandisa Thomas, like Simmons, is a Black atheist. This identity can prove difficult in many African American communities where church power is strong. Thomas was raised Christian, although she sang in a church choir as a child.
Thomas, who lives in Atlanta and started Black Nonbelievers, an advocacy group, in 2011. "There is the idea that you somehow reject your blackness if you reject religion. That atheism, however, is something that white people do."
Kevin Bolling is another advocate for the nos. He grew up in a military household and was an altar boy for Roman Catholics. After coming out, Bolling began to question the role of the church in college and became disillusioned about its sexuality position.
Now he is the executive director of The Secular Student Alliance. It has over 200 branches at schools and colleges across the country. He said that the chapters are a haven for students of all faiths and those who question their faith.
He said, "I believe this generation could be the first to be majority nonreligious rather than majority religious."
Ashley Taylor was raised Catholic and became an altar server at the age of 9. She is now 30 and is unaffiliated with any religious organization.
It's about finding meaning and perhaps even spirituality without following a religion ..... She said that she draws from whatever makes sense for her or fits with my values.
She said that her faith helped her overcome cancer at 11 years old. However, she feels her growing up Catholic has negatively impacted her sexual and emotional development and prevented her from coming out as queer.
Taylor eventually discovered Sunday Assembly. It provided Taylor with a community-like environment but in a secular manner, and offered activities like singing, book clubs, and trivia nights. Sunday Assembly Pittsburgh is her board president.
Taylor said, "They are not trying to tell what is true." Taylor said, "There is always an open spirit of curiosity, questioning, and openness."
Some nones, like Zayne Marston, 70, of Shelburne (Massachusetts), continue their spiritual journey over the decades.
Marston grew up in Boston and attended Congregational Church with his family. He remembers attending Bible study, church-sponsored dances and the itchy sensation of his flannel pants while attending Sunday services.
He "drifted" away from Christian beliefs in high school and college and began a long-lasting spiritual journey in his 30s while in rehab for his alcoholism.
He said, "Spirituality can be described as a soul-based journey to the heart, surrendering one’s ego will and embracing a higher will." "We are looking for our own answers beyond what we were taught growing up."
Although his path was not easy at times, he claims that his spiritual practice has given him a gentle joy and inspired him to help others.
He has previously been a landscape designer, real estate appraiser and now teaches qigong. This practice originated in China and combines slow, relaxed movements with breathing exercises and meditation.
Marston stated, "As a child, I used to imagine God sitting on a throne with a white hair, passing judgement, but that has completely changed." "My higher power... The universe is always there for me, if my ego doesn't get in the way."
The AP-NORC poll was conducted between Oct. 21-25 with 1,083 adults. It used a representative sample of the U.S. populace. All respondents have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Pew surveyed 3,937 people between May 29 and Aug. 25, 2007. The margin of error for the entire sample of respondents is +/- 2.1 percentage points.