Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Who are the "nones"?

Polls suggest that the largest growing religious identity is "none of the above". Andrew Sullivan reflects on the demographics of the "nones".
In 1990, 8 percent of Americans reported that they had no religious beliefs. Twenty years later, that's 15 percent. But when you look at younger Americans, you see that the proportion of "nones" is reaching 22 percent. The 1990s were the boom years for the Nones; and a huge 35 percent of the new Nones are ex-Catholics. No doubt, some of this is a reflection of the sex abuse crisis. But the intellectual collapse of Christianity under the leadership of Protestant fundamentalists and Catholic theocons is surely relevant. The well-deserved inability of literalists to win many converts among educated people is also surely salient. The emergence of the politicized Christianist right - and its assault on Christianity as a freely chosen spiritual process - will surely lead to a continued and accelerating flight from organized religion.

But the Nones are not Ditchkins atheists. They express their position primarily as a form of skepticism and Deism. They are agnostics who do not dismiss the religious life but remain at a cool distance from it. This is, of course, one of the deepest American religious inheritances....

The study estimates that in twenty years, the Nones will make up 25 percent of Americans. .....

61 percent of Nones find evolution convincing, compared with 38 percent of all Americans. And yet they do not dismiss athe possibility of a God they do not understand; and refuse to call themselves atheists. This is the fertile ground on which a new Christianity will at some point grow. In the end, the intellectual bankruptcy of the theocon right and Christianist movement counts. Very few people with brains are listening to these people any more. They have discredited Christianity as much as they have tarnished conservatism.

As Terry Martin would no doubt note, THERE is your ground for evangelizing. And the liberal Episco-blogosphere is a pretty cool group of evangelists -- if I were inclined to believe in God, if rather than being an atheist, I were vaguely deistic or agnostic, it would be hard to resist you. ;-)

The original report is here (pdf). You can read a summary here and commentary from USNews here

12 comments:

Erp said...

He should have actually written that the nones aren't all atheists though I have a hard time trying to figure out what theistic nones think they are.

New Hampshire had the second highest percentage of nones so perhaps Gene Robinson has some sowing to do.:-)

IT said...

I think by definition a theistic "none" is not an atheist, erp. Agnostic, some of them. I've read elsewhere that many young "nones" are vaguely spiritual seekers who are turned off by the politicking of mainstream faiths.

ruidh said...

There's nothing new about the Nones. They have been growing as an identifiable group since the end of WWII. In many cases, Nones were once members of Christian denominations who were embers because it was socially expected. As social expectations changed, these people found other things to do with their time.

These are the people who self-identify as "spiritual" but not religious. They don't actually believe anything and have little knowledge of what Faith is and why they need it.

I've been evangelizing to Nones for 30 years largely without success. They don't like having to be anywhere at the same time every week.

They are a real tough nut to crack.

Erp said...

But where does that leave people like IT and me?

Personally I suspect that the category 'Nones' is a bit of a hodgepodge.

IT said...

Oh, Erp, of course it is: everyone from disaffected Catholics, to vaguely mushy spiritual, to thoughtful agnostic, to defnite atheist.

brian said...

I am a none; I was raised nominal Mainline protestant. I don't go to church because I don't see the point of it. It's interesting that people are still involved, but you're kidding yourselves if you think that more than a tiny minority of nones are just waiting for a chat over a cup of free trade coffee to get us to go back.
We can be ethical without church. We know this now. Unless we're really into dressing up or lighting candles, church seems pretty pointless. 95% of us are certainly aware of the differences between fundygelicals and others who go to church; it's the whole topic of religion, the idea of supernatural claims, that seems both silly and irrelevant to us.

IT said...

Yes, brian---like you. I was raised in church( Catholic) and am now an atheist: don't do the big guy in the sky at all. On the other hand, the "nones" also encompass a lot of people who define as deists of one flavor or another, many of whom are more "turned off" of much mainstream religion than dismissive of the superantural. They might "come back".

Erp said...

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the Pew report which found that 1% of Catholics and mainline Protestants don't believe in God or a universal spirit and 21% of self described atheists do. 26% of mainline Protestants believe in an impersonal god (29% of Catholics and 13% of Evangelicals). 6% of atheists believe in a personal god (some atheists seem to have a very odd idea about atheism).

The 'nones' of that report which included atheists, agnostics, secular unaffiliated and religious unaffiliated had 22% not believing n God and 28% believing in a personal God (another 35% believed in an impersonal God/force)

IT said...

Obviously some people are using "atheist" to mean "a-religionist".

JCF said...

I was raised in church( Catholic) and am now an atheist: don't do the big guy in the sky at all.

I suppose I would be belaboring the point to say that I (Episcopalian Lifer) don't "do the big guy in the sky" either?

One reason I'm so drawn to the Via Negativa (found in so many forms of mysticism, East & West), is that it is far, FAR easier to say what (this funny, gutteral word, in English) G-O-D is not, rather than what G-O-D is.

By all means (to borrow a saying from the Buddhists): if you meet "big guy in the sky" on the road, KILL HIM! ;-/

Erp said...

By all means (to borrow a saying from the Buddhists): if you meet "big guy in the sky" on the road, KILL HIM! ;-/

Unfortunately some Christians get very upset when we atheists do that.

JCF said...

Well, somebody "gets very upset" over damn near everything these days. Practice nonviolence.