New Study Finds Most Christian Family Members Don't Want Relatives Marrying Nonreligious People

A new Pew study found that the majority of Christian family members would not be happy if their relative married an atheist.

A bunch of unlovable atheists.

But by all accounts, religious affiliation is decreasing rapidly in American society. Why, with more people growing away from religion, are our relatives still wary of us mating with nonbelievers?

Some say it’s because of the information age and some because of the church’s poor handling of the child abuse scandal or stance on same-sex marriage, but one in four millennials deem themselves non religious. Rhys Williams, Director of Loyola University Chicago’s McNamara Center for the Social Study of Religion, says the group which labels itself “nones” has more than doubled in the past 20 years.

“It is certainly the case that people that are called religious nones is a rapidly growing part of the American population,” he says.

Roger Friedland, a UC Santa Barbara professor who specializes in love and religiosity amongst young people, says that the study makes social scientific sense: people who are religious are most likely to conjoin sex and love and to have an existential view on romantic relationships.

“They tend to not only want to get married, they want to and expect to be with the same person their entire lives,” he says.

Friedland says parents recognize the high divorce rate and want their child to be able to sustain marriages throughout their lives.

“It’s a better shot if you marry a religious boy or girl,” he says. “The relationship between religiosity and love is really strong.“

But the actual amount of people who call themselves atheists is very small, Friedland notes. It’s true: only 2.6 percent of Americans call themselves atheists. Williams says while the number of religious “nones” has been rapidly increasing, the number of people who claim to be actively atheist has increased “maybe one percent.” A majority of Americans say it is necessary to be religious in order to be a moral person-- so though more Americans are claiming they don’t subscribe to a religion, they are not going so far as to put stake in atheism. Williams, who claims being one of those “nones,” says it’s a lack of affiliation rather than a lack of belief. And there’s something slightly untrustworthy and un-American about atheists, he says.

“In the past you wouldn’t be happy to have your child marry a Protestant or a Catholic or a Jew,” Friedland says. “It used to be different religions, now it’s irreligious. That’s a big change in American history.”

“It’s become an accepted wisdom, an unanalyzed presumption that you have to be connected to an actual religion or set of spiritual beliefs in order to be a moral person,” says Friedland.