“I think there are a lot of nones who miss singing in the choir, who would love to go into a building and hear a moving speech, but the minute someone starts talking about the Bible they check out. It no longer feels applicable to them. That’s a big challenge to the church.”
A quarter of U.S. adults do not affiliate with any religion, a new study shows — an all-time high in a nation where large swaths of Americans are losing faith.
But while these so-called “nones” outnumber any religious denomination, they are not voting as a bloc, and may have little collective influence on the upcoming presidential election.
The rapid growth of the religiously unaffiliated, charted in a survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute on Sept. 22, is raising eyebrows even among those who follow trends in American religiosity.
The recently released Pew Research Center Report has revealed that Christianity within the United States is on the decline. Christians are freaking out and the fear mongering has begun — many seeing it as an apocalyptic sign of the moral downfall of our secular society coinciding with a theological weakening caused by “liberalism.”
Everyone seems to have an explanation of the data, and among Christians, the infighting has already begun, with most denominations rationalizing their growth, decline, or stagnancy by offering the same explanation: We’re theologically sound and remaining faithful to God while everyone else is getting it wrong.
What Christians must understand — and accept — about these statistics is that religious data about a country doesn’t accurately reflect its corporate actions pertaining to following Christ.
A couple years ago, a survey found that one in five Americans don’t identify with any religion. For Americans under 30, the number was far higher – more like one third. This report is being cited constantly throughout the religious-nonprofit world. In many quarters, there seems to be a deep sense of shock at the decline in religious membership.
Me? I’m not surprised at all. What does surprise me is our failure to see that affiliation with a traditional, God-centered religion is no longer the primary way that many Americans express their deeply rooted need for faith. We humans are relentlessly religious animals, and post-modern America is no exception. We’re just embracing a different kind of faith.
The American workplace, like the rest of U.S. society, is becoming more religiously diverse and that is raising concerns about employer accommodations for believers — and increasing the odds for uncomfortable moments around the water cooler.
Yet one potential flashpoint among workers does not involve new immigrant faiths but rather two indigenous communities: white evangelicals and unaffiliated Americans who constitute one of the fastest-growing segments of the population.
A major factor contributing to workplace conflict, according to a survey released on Friday, is that evangelicals — whose religious identity is tied to sharing their beliefs — are much more likely to talk about their faith at work than other religious and nonreligious groups.
I’ve experienced some strange extremes lately. First, I attended – and spoke at – the Subverting the Norm conference in Springfield, Mo., where we took some time to consider how, if at all, so-called “radical theology” could exist within today’s religious systems. Then I got home and found my latest TIME Magazine, with a cover story titled “The Latino Reformation,” which reveals what most within Protestantism have known for some time: formerly Catholic Latino Christians are dramatically reshaping the face of the American Christian landscape.
Interestingly, there is little-to-no overlap between these two groups – a point which was made clear to me by the fact that there were very few people of color in attendance at Subverting the Norm. One comment, from an African-American woman who was there, was that the very focus of the conference (on academic, esoteric questions of theology and philosophy) assumed the kind of privilege still dominated by middle-class white males. Put another way: while we’re busy navel-gazing and discussing the meaning of Nietzsche’s “death of God,” non-Anglo religious leaders were busy dealing with real-world problems right in front of them.
This Easter, Teresa MacBain will mark an anniversary that’s uncommon for an ordained minister — her first year as an atheist.
Last March, MacBain, now 45, stood at a podium before hundreds of people in a Maryland hotel ballroom at the national convention of American Atheists and told them that, after a lifetime as a Christian and 15 years as a pulpit pastor, she had lost her faith.
Her coming out was national news, and she expected it would cost her her position as pastor of a United Methodist church, and she expected she might lose some friends and family members. In the last year, she has lost all those things.
But there have been gains, too, including a new career, the embrace of a new community that she had been taught to distrust and a newfound sense of confidence.
I’ve been reading with interest about the “nones” and the increasing number of people who identify themselves as SBNR — spiritual but not religious. Though I try not to get sucked down Internet rabbit holes, I have to admit this one’s got my number. I think it’s because I identify with both groups in some real ways.
Like many people I know, I stand in the gap.
As a Catholic Christian, I’ve watched countless friends and neighbors walk out of the church. Some linger at the door on their way out with a wistful look, wishing things could be different. Others hit the ground running and never look back. I understand both exit strategies and have been tempted to join them, but I haven’t, not yet. I am spiritual, but also still religious, albeit reluctantly so at times.
As much as I appreciate the conversations that are going on, we “religious” aren’t going to change anyone’s minds by talking about it, by beating our breasts, or wringing our hands. The “nones” aren’t going to walk back into church, because someone tells them they should, or because it would be good for them. Shoulds are rarely effective with adults and if churches were actually good for them, in some tangible way, the “nones” would still be there in the first place.
I think the only way for churches to reverse the exodus of the “nones” is by becoming different churches.
There has been much speculation about “the nones,” the increasing number of people who do not identify with any particular religious denomination. The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, shows that nearly one-fifth of all Americans and nearly one-third of young people under 30 are unaffiliated with a particular religion or denomination. There have been varying reactions. As Mark Tooley points out, this isn’t necessarily a crisis of faith in America; many “nones” still profess to believe in God or some ultimate being. The rise of the “nones” could then be pointing to a crisis in denominational loyalty.
There are also those who wish to eschew the label of religious all together, seeing it as increasingly connected to political conservatism, homophobia, and sexism (according to the poll, a “none” is more likely to vote Democratic and affirm the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage).
In one of an ongoing series of blog posts entitled “Meet the Nones," Alyssa Bain writes, “I am more and more hesitant to label myself Christian as I see traditional denominations come to the spotlight for being closely affiliated with so-called right-wing politics. Instead, I distance myself.”
I write today to add my two cents. The truth is for most of my life I was a “none." I’ve only been a professing Christian for a very short time and I was not raised in any particular religious tradition at all. Though I identify as Eastern Orthodox and have been going to Orthodox services for over a year now as a catechumen, I have not been formally received into the church and still await my baptism and chrismation (I have never been baptized in any denomination, even as an infant).
Monday night, I hit a new low. During the last presidential debate, I found myself arguing via Facebook about faith and politics … with a fellow pastor’s wife. Let’s just say, I managed to break each of Eugene Cho’s 10 commandments with my snark.
She who shall not be named suggested that anyone willing to support a certain candidate must be blind, stupid, or foolish. When I made it clear that I have prayed and reviewed the facts and would be supporting said candidate, I was told that my “prayers must not be backed by the Word of God.” I was then lambasted for my so-called "unbiblical" views. Oh, no she didn’t!
Aside from feeling personally attacked, I was more frustrated that this kind of bad theology remains in the church. It’s no wonder that more and more people of faith are identifying as the “nones”— or none of the above when it comes to religious beliefs. Who wants to be associated with Christianity — Protestant, Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, etc. — and the Church when they are often dominated by such judgmental people who dare to speak for God?
Editor's Note: Anne Marie Roderick tells her story of why she's NOT part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study .
It’s not surprising that a third of my peers say they are religiously unaffiliated. Our religious lives are too complex these days to fit in neat boxes with one-word labels. I may be a “Christian,” but does that mean that I am like other Christians? Not necessarily.
There is sometimes more truth in being a “none” — in stating what we are not — rather than trying to pin down exactly what we are. But, I choose to affiliate anyway. Here’s why I am not a “none:"
Editor's Note: Alyssa Bain tells her story of why she's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study .
Last weekend I watched Sister Act (both of them, actually) with some friends (who also happen to be nuns)
I am not a nun. I am not a novice. I am not Catholic. Some days I wonder if I am even Christian.
According to a recent study by the Pew Forum, I actually just might be a “none.”
The research is out, and it seems that my generation is stumping the world as the generation that, for whatever reason, refuses to label itself.
Personally, I’ve been having trouble with labeling myself for quite some time. Lutheran. Non-denominational. Methodist. Universalist. Evangelical. Protestant.
But none of them quite fit right. The problem with labels is that there are always exceptions. Nothing is black and white. The label “none” lumps together atheists, agnostics, and, well, me. I am not an atheist. I might be kind of agnostic, but there really is just something about that Jesus guy.
Editor's Note: Kevin Gonzaga tells his story of why he's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study .
Three years ago when I arrived at seminary to pursue my calling to fulltime pastoral ministry, one would probably have struggled to find someone in my generation more committed to the ministry and vitality of the local church.
While imperfect, I believed the church was the best hope of the world, and it was better to stay and work toward change than abandon the church and look for greener pastures. A year and a half later, I wrote a blog post explaining that I was no longer a Christian. I fear that this would only deepen the stereotype that seminary is a place where people lose their faith, so I should explain.
The truth is I am one of growing number of people who choose not to affiliate with any organized religion. I am a “none,” and my journey to “none” started a long before I left for seminary. My disillusionment with, and eventual abandonment of, Christianity did not center around one traumatic event that shattered my faith, but rather it was something that coalesced from numerous experiences over a long time.
It really started when I began studying the scriptures for myself in college. I was shocked to find many things I had been taught by the Church were wrong, were not in the Bible, or were even contrary to what the scriptures actually taught.
PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly has launched a new mini-series on the rise of the unaffiliated. Go HERE to read more about this week's epidsode.
The Pew Forum recently released a new study, “Nones on the Rise.” This was not about my friends called the “Nuns On The Bus,” who just did a tour around the country focusing on social justice. Rather, It details the concerning trend of those in our country who have given up on religion altogether.
Social scientists tell us that adults, especially young adults, are increasingly disconnected from our established religious traditions. “Nones,” the Pew forum calls them, have grown from 15 percent of U.S. adults to 20 percent in only five years. One-in-three adults under 30 check the religious affiliation box, “None of the above” or “Unaffiliated.” Despite the fact that 68 percent of nones believe in God, only 5 percent of them attend church once or more a week, and 22 percent attend monthly/yearly. (Learn more about this group in our blog series Meet the Nones.)
But the focus on the next generation is not all bad news. On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of moderating a diverse panel of seven young evangelicals. Each had unique experiences and backgrounds. Some self-identified as liberal, while others self-identified as conservative. But those political ideologies could not separate their core evangelical principles.
Editor's Note: Megan Monaghan Rivas tells her story of why she's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.
There are never really two kinds of people in the world. But for purposes of this post, I’ll posit that there are two kinds of “nones” in the world – “nones” who would be part of a church if they could just find the right one, and “nones” who have no desire to be part of a church even if it matched them perfectly. I place myself in the latter category.
Like many “nones,” I started out as a “some.” I was reared in the Roman Catholic Church and educated in Catholic schools. As luck and the development curve would have it, just after confirmation (at age 14) I started finding out things about the church that I could not stand up and be counted for. The church’s policies concerning women and homosexuals seemed to me to stand in deliberate polar opposition to the Gospel message. And the church is not known for willingness to change from the inside. I didn’t have another 2,000 years to wait. My first “adult” move in the church was to leave it.
Except for presidential candidates and some parts of the Bible Belt, the days when church membership was necessary for social acceptance are long gone. Many Americans view religion as suspect or superfluous or both.
In fact, the latest data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life say that a record-high one in five Americans -- and one in three adults under age 30 -- are religiously unaffiliated.
So why did all 1,500 seats sell out for a debate I moderated a few months ago entitled “Has Science Refuted Religion?” at the California Institute of Technology? Why should the brilliant minds of the Caltech community even care, especially since skeptics, rather than true believers, made up the majority of the audience?
As the dean of a theology school, the question is of high interest to me, and I think I know the answer.