Monday, October 15, 2012

Thinking about the Growing Number of Nones

By Gary Berg-Cross

“’Nones’ on the Rise” was the title of the recent Pew Forum poll on Religion and Public Life. The simple statistics was that 1-in-5 adults surveyed had no religious affiliation. Even more ( third of adults) of respondents under 30 report having no religious affiliated today. Room for the Secular Student Alliance to grow. These are the highest percentages ever found in Pew Research Center polling and one can see a trend. The Christian Post summarized the implication as: “The Latest Pew Survey: Christianity Losing, Secularism Winning.” Those identifying with Protestantism was down 5%. What’s the turn off?  Perhaps not a deep study of religion’s tenets but a practical disgust. Most of the unaffiliated say religious organizations are too concerned with money, power, politics and rules. But there are lots of buts. Sure the 20% of adults (46 million or so) include some atheists.  More than 13 million of Americans are self-described atheists and agnostics. But that is only about 6% of the U.S. public. One may be a None and not an atheist.  One might fancy crystals.  Only 12 percent of the "nones" identify themselves as atheist. The largest category (13.9 percent) of the religiously unaffiliated are those who say they are "nothing in particular." What are the rest? What does the survey tells us about the Nones?    “Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day.”
Just because organized religion isn’t important to nones doesn’t mean that ideas of meaning and belonging traditionally identified with religion isn’t important.

But only 10% report that they are actively looking for a religion “just right” for them. It seems that modern society has unhooked some folks from the traditional and organized religion.  Maybe they can find meaning and community elsewhere. There is a range of substitutes and perhaps a friendly community of Humanists would be one. It might be nice to include them in our conversations and see if free inquiry, critical thinking, an appreciation for science , humanist principles/values and healthy skepticism have some appeal. People like Chris Stedman, Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard is already reaching out with some plans from his point of view for a national discussion on religion. We might want to broaden that a bit and hope for some more assimilation into the secular community.

We know something about None’s political leanings too:

“the religiously unaffiliated are an increasingly important segment of the electorate. In the 2008 presidential election, they voted as heavily for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants did for John McCain. More than six-in-ten religiously unaffiliated registered voters are Democrats (39%) or lean toward the Democratic Party (24%). They are about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72%) and same-sex marriage (73%). In the last five years, the unaffiliated have risen from 17% to 24% of all registered voters who are Democrats or lean Democratic.”

Another trend to consider.

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Pew Poll:

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