The Nuance of the 'Nones'

Rawpixel /

Rawpixel /

The rising number of people choosing “nothing in particular,“ a subset of the "unaffiliated” label, has raised hackles across the theo-political spectrum, from some fundamentalist evangelicals decrying the de-Christianizing of the nation to more mainline Protestant handwringing over the loss of current and future members from already-struggling denominations.

The problem with this range of views (as far as I’ve read) is that, while certainly broad, it’s pretty shallow. There’s nuance to the “nones.” I can say this with confidence as someone who has drifted across the borders of that category once or twice or every other day. While there are certainly those in the group who don’t care about religion, there are also those with complicated feelings. These are people who still see their lives, maybe all life around them, as uniquely religious. Many have even done the work to interpret such complicated feelings, which is no small task.

Pope Francis Hasn’t Watched TV Since 1990. Here Are Some Key Moments He Missed

Illustration by Tiffany McCallen / RNS

Illustration by Tiffany McCallen / RNS

Pope Francis told an Argentine newspaper on May 25 that he hasn’t watched television since 1990. Think of all he’s missed, not just in terms of popular culture, but also in terms of American Catholicism. Here, in no particular order, are seven television shows the pope might want to catch up on before his September U.S. trip.

New Jersey Priest Fired as Seton Hall Chaplain Comes Out as Gay

Photo via Frances Micklow / The Star-Ledger / RNS

Father Warren Hall gives Mass at Seton Hall on February 14, 2014. Photo via Frances Micklow / The Star-Ledger / RNS

A Catholic priest in New Jersey who says he was dismissed from his campus ministry job over a Facebook post against anti-gay bullying and racism has come out as gay.

The Rev. Warren Hall told Outsports, a magazine for gay athletes, that while he remained committed to his vocation as a priest and to his vow of celibacy, he was not going to hide his sexual orientation.

“I have to be myself,” Hall said.

“I can’t worry what other people think.”

As Nigeria Prepares to Install New President, Female Suicide Bombings Spike

Photo via REUTERS / Afolabi Sotunde / RNS

Nigeria’s President-elect Muhammadu Buhari addresses the media on May 13, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Afolabi Sotunde / RNS

Nigeria’s newly elected president, Muhammadu Buhari, promised during his campaign that he would tackle the militant terrorist group Boko Haram.

On May 29, he will be sworn into office, just as the extremist group is ramping up its use of female suicide bombers.

Buhari, who is Muslim, replaces Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the country’s south. Both Christians and Muslims voted for Buhari in April, convinced he could stop the terrorist rampage.

Nigerians fear violence may escalate if female terrorists are deployed because they can hide explosives under their long Muslim abayas, or gowns.

Pope Francis Urges Couples to ‘Work on Love’ and Take Their Engagement Seriously

Photo via Cathleen Falsani / RNS

Pope Francis officiated the weddings of 20 couples at St. Peter’s Basilica in September 2014. Photo via Cathleen Falsani / RNS

The wedding season is in full swing, and Pope Francis used the occasion on May 27 to warn couples not to marry too quickly, while also reaffirming the Vatican’s opposition to gay nuptials.

Addressing crowds of followers at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff urged couples to take their engagement seriously.

“Betrothal is, in other words, the time in which two people are called to work on love, a shared and profound task,” he said.

India’s Christians Concerned about Growing Attacks on Religious Minorities

Photo via Arielle Dreher / RNS

Women protest in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, after a nun was raped in Kolkata, West Bengal. Photo via Arielle Dreher / RNS

Each day, children on their way to Mount Carmel School pass through gates under the watch of armed security guards, and now city police officers who stop there on government orders after a nearby Catholic convent and school were broken into.

The vandals stole money, tampered with security cameras, and ransacked the principal’s office on Feb. 13.

The crime itself was relatively minor, but it rippled through other Christian schools. The attack was the sixth this year in an ongoing series targeting Christian communities and schools across India.

U.S. Indicts FIFA Officials for Corruption

Photo via AGIF /

The FIFA World Cup trophy is lifted after the 2014 final. Photo via AGIF /

Nine FIFA officials and five business executives were arrested early Wednesday morning by Swiss authorities for “racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with … a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer,” according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

According to the statement, bribes and kickbacks to obtain media marketing rights could amount to well over $150 million. Because many of the charges relate to CONCACAF, the regional confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States, the officials will be extradited to the U.S. on federal corruption charges.


Forget the Numbers. The Big Story Is that Religion Has Lost Social Influence.

Photo via Gregory A. Shemitz / RNS

Photo via Gregory A. Shemitz / RNS

“Religion plays a less important role in American life.” Or maybe, “Religion declines as powerful source of American public authority.”

I doubt those headlines would have garnered the attention the Pew Center recently received with its subtitle “Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population.”

This is no criticism of Pew. It gets full credit for bringing religious demographics to the public’s attention. And the story of Christian decline is an obvious hook, as is the story of the rapidly growing number of “nones,” people with no particular religious affiliation.

But behind the story of Christian decline and the rise of “nones” is a long-standing debate about what religion theorists call “secularization,” the broad process by which religion gradually loses its social influence.

What Might Tomorrow’s Faith Community Look Like?

Photo via MilanB /

Photo via MilanB /

It would be God’s incarnate presence in human life. Not the only presence, but one that many people could enter into. Not so much an institution with structures, rules, and layers of leadership, but rather a dynamic, ever-shifting community that gathered in various ways, ranging from small circles of friends to mass assemblies for special purposes.

It would look outward, unlike other human institutions that look inward. It would see people wanting to draw closer to God. It would see human needs such as grief and tragedy, hunger and hopelessness. It would see key moments in people’s lives, such as partnering and parenting. It would see the ways people hurt each other and the tendency of injustice to become systemic.

Jean Vanier: A Prophet for the 21st Century

Photo via Christopher Bremrose / Flickr

Jean Vanier and a resident of L'Arche named Kathy in L'Arche Bognor in Trosly, France. Photo via Christopher Bremrose / Flickr

The problems of the world can overwhelm us. When we are confronted by the Divine in the cries of human need, we may, like Isaiah, feel unworthy and ill-equipped to respond. However, if we allow this Divine experience to transform our human weakness, we can find the courage and strength to answer that call, as Jean Vanier has, with a bold, “Here I am!” What follows may be more difficult than we can imagine, but we can be confident in the knowledge that the work we do is Holy work.