As with many things related to how we define ourselves, the religious traditions we grew up in and around have a big impact on the religious choices we make as adults — and the religious choices we don’t make. Stepping aside all of the discussion of if particular religions are good or bad for the world, or for individual people, even the numbers themselves are particularly interesting.
The Pew Research Center has had a long-ongoing study of both nation-specific and worldwide religious trends, and while you can dig through the UNData demographics statistics database, I would suggest setting aside an entire afternoon for that – at the minimum.
Worldwide, religion is still going strong – very strong. In 2015, those reporting no religious affiliation — which includes those that are atheists, yes, but also includes those that consider themselves spiritual or religious, without any specific affiliation to an organized religion — accounted for 16% of the world population.
In that same year, Christianity accounted for just over 31 percent of world population, Muslims 24%, and Hindus 15%.
Taking into account birth rates, conversion patterns, and other available data, the Pew Research Center estimates that somewhere between 2030 and 2035, Muslims will overtake Christians as the world’s most prominent religious affiliation.
Though this is the worldwide pattern, it certainly is not the pattern in individual countries. In the US and in much of Europe, those reporting no religious affiliation at all has been steadily — though very very slowly increasing, In the US, it is around 23 percent of adults who are religiously unaffiliated.
In the UK, the numbers are even more stark – in 2017, 53 percent of the residents of the UK reported themselves as having no religious affiliation, which went up by a full five percent from a similar survey just two years before.
Then again, none of these surveys have any kind of box to tick for the phrase “spiritual but not religious” or “not religious, but spiritually practicing,” which is a phrase being used more often to differentiate from this historically synonymous terms.