Last Friday, Cathy Grossman, USA Today's eagle-eyed veteran religion reporter, scooped the rest of the world by reporting that, according to the Pew Research Center, the proportion of Nones in the American adult population has now reached 19 percent. Among those she scooped was Pew itself.
To come up with the story, Grossman had to bury into Pew's new survey of the religious identities of Asian-Americans, which the 19 percent figure for comparison's sake. According to them, twenty-six percent of Asian Americans identify with no religion. But it's been well known for some time that they are the least religious of all American ethnic groups. Indeed, our 2008 ARIS survey counted 29 percent of them as Nones. But the ARIS showed Nones at just 15 percent of the population as a whole. Aggregating the regular surveys of the General Social Survey has yielded a figure of 18 percent. Pew's 19 percent--obtained by aggregating a set of its 2011 surveys is the highest number yet.
Pew is not usually one to hide its light under a bushel, but in this case it ran true to form. For one thing, it has always preferred to call Nones "unaffiliated," as if those who say they have no religion are merely unattached to a religious organization. But there are many unattached Americans who nonetheless identify with a particular religious tradition. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that my Pew friends, who think religion is a good thing, are just plain averse to reporting its slide.
They're serious folks, of course, and don't appreciate being tweaked. But they really had a bit of news here, and as Dragnet types devoted to just the facts, ma'am, they should have rolled this fact out with bells and whistles, rather than letting Cathy do it.