First up from the God Machine this week is a striking shift in the number of Americans who no longer identify themselves as religious -- a trend that may well carry political implications in the near future.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life published these results earlier in the week.
The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public -- and a third of adults under 30 -- are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).
The percentage of Americans who consider themselves atheist, agnostic, or unaffiliated has nearly tripled over the last generation.
In terms of political impact, it's widely recognized that the Republican Party faces serious demographic challenges in the coming years. Americans are increasingly racially and ethnically diverse, and the GOP has become heavily reliant on white male voters to win elections. As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) recently conceded, "The demographics race we're losing badly. We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."
What's less recognized is the trend the Pew Forum is pointing to in this new report: Republicans are losing the race on religious diversity, too. Those Americans who choose no religious identity are the fastest-growing segment of the nation's spiritual landscape, and these voters are overwhelmingly self-identified Democrats and liberals, far more so than the population at large.
Making matters slightly worse for the GOP, they also tend to be much younger than their older, more religious counterparts, with decades of voting ahead of them.
There's not much the Republican Party can do about this in the short term -- it's far too reliant on the religious right movement to serve as a huge chunk of the GOP base -- but it's another long-term challenge that may shape elections in the years ahead.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* "Nuns on the Bus" have hit the road again, launching a 1,000-mile tour of Ohio that will wrap up next week. "As Catholic Sisters, we work together with vulnerable people to enrich their lives and their communities. We want to remind our fellow Ohioans that voting is a chance for all of us to serve our communities and change lives," said Sister Monica McGloin, of Cincinnati, who is organizing the tour with local sisters, including Sister Mary Wendeln and Sister Fran Repka.
* Pennsylvania's House of Representatives approved a resolution this year declaring 2012 the "Year of the Bible," leading to a lawsuit from the Freedom from Religion Foundation. This week, U.S. District Judge Christopher Conner said the resolution was legally permissible, though the federal judge nevertheless chastised lawmakers for passing a measure that was "proselytizing and exclusionary." Conner added that the resolution was "pandering designed to provide a re-election sound bite" and resources would be better used in "meaningful legislative efforts" (thanks to reader R.P. for the tip).
* And Right Wing Watch reported this week that the National Organization for Marriage's religious liaison, William Owens, said the Democratic Party is a "demonic party" that must be stopped. The National Organization for Marriage claims to be non-partisan.