Leaving Religion Is an Equal Opportunity Endeavor

For years we’ve heard about how American Christians are leaving their religion. Numerous studies have shown the growing numbers of people who have left Christianity for another faith or for no faith at all, a trend which is especially prevalent in millennials and younger generations in general. And as more people leave their faith traditions, the number of open atheists, humanists, and nontheists has risen almost at a 1-to-1 ratio.

But what hasn’t made the news as often is the number of Americans leaving Islam, a phenomenon addressed in a new Pew study. According to Pew researchers Besheer Mohamed and Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac, “About a quarter of adults who were raised Muslim (23 percent) no longer identify as members of the faith, roughly on par with the share of Americans who were raised Christian and no longer identify with Christianity (22 percent).”

This is a fascinating find, as it suggests that the prevalent trend of Americans leaving their faith traditions is a comprehensive phenomenon that affects not just mainstream Christian denominations but other faiths as well. It is important to note that Mohamed and Sciupac also found that “the share of American-Muslim adults who are converts to Islam also is about one-quarter (23 percent)”, which means that for now Islam is largely replacing the believers it loses every year (unlike Christianity, which loses more believers than it converts every year). Still, nearly 55 percent of former Muslims now identify as not having a religion or as being openly atheist, which only further strengthens the nontheist movement in general.

Even with the relatively healthy replacement rate of Islamic converts, this study should be concerning to Muslim leaders who wish to see their faith grow, and not merely maintain its position and membership.

The reasons for leaving Islam are also fascinating and share remarkable parallels with the reasons Christians are leaving their faith. According to the new study, “A quarter cited issues with religion and faith in general, saying that they dislike organized religion (12 percent), that they do not believe in God (8 percent), or that they are just not religious (5 percent).” A similar study done of Christians who left their faith also shows that “One-in-five express an opposition to organized religion in general. This share includes some who do not like the hierarchical nature of religious groups, several people who think religion is too much like a business and others who mention clergy sexual abuse scandals as reasons for their stance.”

The fact that nearly a quarter of former Muslims and Christians left their respective faiths because of problems with organized religion in general (and not because of any particular scriptural disagreement) shows an underlying cultural phenomenon that exists regardless of a person’s particular religious beliefs: organized religion is increasingly unpopular, and adherents of those organized religions are leaving their respective faiths for nontheism.

Whether or not this trend will continue remains to be seen, but one can reasonably assume that for now the number of nontheists will continue to grow, and people of all faiths are more and more likely to leave their religion than ever before.