Meet the “Nones”: “We may not believe in God, but we hope to one day”

Here’s a different take on religion and American culture from someone who professes no faith, but is still searching:

For a nation of talkers and self-confessors, we are terrible when it comes to talking about God. The discourse has been co-opted by the True Believers, on one hand, and Angry Atheists on the other. What about the rest of us?

The rest of us, it turns out, constitute the nation’s fastest-growing religious demographic. We are the Nones, the roughly 12 percent of people who say they have no religious affiliation at all. The percentage is even higher among young people; at least a quarter are Nones.

Apparently, a growing number of Americans are running from organized religion, but by no means running from God. On average 93 percent of those surveyed say they believe in God or a higher power; this holds true for most Nones — just 7 percent of whom describe themselves as atheists, according to a survey by Trinity College.

Nones are the undecided of the religious world. We drift spiritually and dabble in everything from Sufism to Kabbalah to, yes, Catholicism and Judaism.

Why the rise of the Nones? David Campbell and Robert Putnam, of the University of Notre Dame and the Harvard Kennedy School, respectively, think politics is to blame. Their idea is that we’ve mixed politics and religion so completely that many simply opt out of both; apparently they are reluctant to claim a religious affiliation because they don’t want the political one that comes along with it.

We are more religiously polarized than ever. In my secular, urban and urbane world, God is rarely spoken of, except in mocking, derisive tones. It is acceptable to cite the latest academic study on, say, happiness or, even better, whip out a brain scan, but God? He is for suckers, and Republicans.

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17 responses to “Meet the “Nones”: “We may not believe in God, but we hope to one day””

  1. Greg:

    I do not buy the NYT and only rarely do I download any of their articles (although I do scan their web-site daily). I followed your link and downloaded this one to read it completely. This is the quotation — which you did not print — that moved me deeply:

    “For others, myself included, it’s a time to shake our heads over the sad state of our national conversation about God, and wish there were another way.”

    I could not agree more here. It is the bitterness of the political conversations — many of which are loaded with religious and self-serving justifications — that are driving folks away from organized religion. That very topic was covered in a book by Greg Carey, the pastor of a United Methodist “mega-church” I drive by on a fairly regular basis. Try this HuffPost link for the details.

    Only the very best of blessings. . . it’s Sunday and I have work to do!

  2. And so the Archbishop of Dublin say s leave. Commenters on that article support him and then people wonder why the nones exist? The lack of simple charity and acceptance that is displayed by so many drives people to nonehood. The conversations about God turn into my understanding is better than yours, which turns to politics and the war is on.
    I know many nones, and myself am on the verge of becoming one because of the caustic exchanges I read and hear. The political circus that has invaded religion, the catholic church included drives a wedge between man and religion, but not faith. The attempt to find the right term from this document or the other to bolster while at the same time demean others is offensive and does indeed cause me, at least, to question why I bother with the catholic church.
    While I am off to grade final exams and the like.

  3. Absolutely — the mixing of politics with religion is a main reason and possibly THE main reason for “nones”.

  4. “……..God? He is for suckers, and Republicans.”……………….
    No. Organized religion is for suckers and Republicans. Putting one’s faith in men who pretend to speak in God’s voice is for suckers. Falling in line for “religious authorities” who have an obvious interest in controlling follower’s wallets, bodies and minds is for suckers and Republicans.

  5. Every once in a while, I have to tell my Fr. Christopher story. Fr. Christopher was a monk in his late 50’s who was his monastery’s liturgist and taught the college course on sacraments of initiation. He had had a heart attack, and it was believed to be just a matter of time before he had another, probably fatal, one.

    It was a few years after Vatican II. One day in class he said something along the lines of, “You join the monastery and you figure as long as you obey your abbot and follow the rules, you’ve got it made. Then, as you’re approaching the end, you learn it’s all about love, and you find yourself wondering if you’ve made the grade.”

  6. Agree. I continue to be utterly appalled at how political agendas infect American Catholic comboxes. The political agenda comes first and the Church is distorted through that wobbly, dirty glass, whether it’s right or left. Commenters are Catholic until the Pope says something they disagree with and then the political ideology asserts itself. I’ve pretty much had enough of Catholic blogs because of the poison that is spewed, generally around political issues. What on earth would someone who’s not a Catholic think of us!

  7. People are running away from organized religion because they are running away from all organized social structures that place specific expectations of personal responsibility on individuals as a condition for the status of membership. Read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Bowling Alone.” How can anyone be surprised by the self-proclaiming of one more nondenominational denomination wanting it all for nothing? Reading all this is like listening to someone talk themselves into deciding on something they’re ambivalent about. Really, who can care? The early Christians died for something they believed in fervently, not a lie they kept among themselves even unto death. Every ‘None’ and every crypto-Protestant, igno- and somno-Catholic and eveyone else for that matter needs to find out if Christ has kept all his promises so far.

  8. I don’t understand- why would someone find out at the end that it is all about love? Isnt it love that draws someone there to begin with? Like the Little Flower, and St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Why would someone become a monk if it doesnt start with falling in love with Jesus?

  9. Naturgesetz… your Fr. Christopher sounds as if he might have spent some time on Mt. Athos with some of our beloved Eastern Orthodox Christian monastics! It is indeed a l l a b o u t l o v e, and it’s tough to get there without deep metanoia (“repentance”, if you will), radical humility, and the Grace of God. Of course the “nones” are alienated – you won’t find this kind of Christian witness in the Western media. Too much noise, too much clamoring for attention, too much pride and self-assurance. The people in whom you find the real thing don’t advertise. Keep seeking in the quiet, humble places. God bless you, Natur, and all who read and write these blogs, even the poisonous ones. Everyone trying their best to find God – His love, His beauty, His infinite Joy.

  10. There was an whole different mindset when Fr. Christopher was growing up (and when I was, a generation later). In the pre-Vatican II days, the emphasis was all on obeying the Commandments and the laws of the Church — avoiding sin.

    And even now we see people commenting on blogs who seems to consider themselves good Catholics, for whom the most important thing seems to be Canon Law.

    In these mindsets, what God wants, more than anything else, is for us to obey the rules. And one became a monk to become especially holy by following the monastic vows of stability, obedience, and conversion.

    What Fr. Christopher came to realize, in the wake of Vatican II, is that without love — genuine, practical, concrete love — obedience to rules is empty pharisaism.

  11. Many might be surprised that I would like nothing more than a government that is walled off from religion but one that will not allow the government or government courts to attack religious freedom as in our founding documents.

    It is interesting to note when a lot of this mixing of religion and politics supposedly started. One should note that it started with our birth as colonies where people who wanted to practice their religion free of government interference came here so they could gain that religious freedom. They settled in different locations and began to spread out. What they all seemed to agree on was that they wanted no central government telling them what to believe, when and where to pray, or in fact have anything to do with their religion. What they also agreed on was that our rights did not come to us from government, but from God, our Creator.
    When the attacks started by the courts using as a basis a private letter from Jefferson as if it defined almost a totally opposite meaning to the actual text, the war on religion began.
    As a result of these attacks, in 1954 we added One nation “UNDER GOD” to our pledge to the nation. It was added because some were attacking the religious foundation and religious protection in the Constitution. That campaign was led by the Catholic Knights of Columbus.
    Once the courts had a crack, they continued to find new words or meanings to get the end results they wanted even when the words were not actually there. It worked well for the first lie. With this came legal abortions, ongoing attacks on prayer and faith values, legalization and normalization of sodomy and other acts even as the states voted overwhelmingly to prohibit this from becoming law, and other ongoing assults. With these attacks, many voters started to see if their represenatives would hold firm and stop this assult on their religious freedoms. Thus we have religion and politics mixing because the freedom of religion, so clearly seen as needing protection by the founders, began to occur. Had the courts blocked these assults saying the courts were prevented from acting based on the Constitution they swore to uphold, any changes would have required a constitutional amendment. The local people would have determined what prayer they were going to have if any in their schools while insuring that no one was being forced into prayer or forced into a religion. Abortion would have remained a decision to be made on a local level.

    Folks need to understand that it was the failure to uphold the Constitution that got us into this mess which is why many favor judges who see the text of the constitution and make sure that it is followed. You want to complain about this mess. You need to support those who call for stopping judges from legislating from the bench. It is why we gave lifetime appointments to unelected people. They were supposed to be the final arbitor, not the legislation which we do elect.

    Henry blasts the Republican Party above showing the first post that is showing any political bias. He knows that the Republican Party has been trying to appoint judges to do just that with some serious errors a time or two, for a long time. Nothing riles people up more than taking away their rights and to do so with lies and distortions makes them even madder. It is why many in the evangelical south turned to the Republican Party over the last 40 years and it represents the real southern strategy. The sad fact is that many Catholics still hold on to the party that is helping to end religious freedom, the Democrats. Of course many of those who do also dissent from actual Catholic teaching as well and also that of many evangelicals. It is what has created the divide and putting the genie back in the bottle will require changes in judges to make the changes to the original meaning of religious freedom as envisioned so wisely by the founders.

  12. So when the people walked away from Christ saying his teaching was too hard, out of love did he chase them and say come back, those are just laws and love is all that matters? Did he tell the rich young man who walked away sad because of the rules Jesus laid out to come back and do whatever he wanted because love was all that mattered?

    When a mom has a set of rules that she demands her children follow, does she not love them? Love in fact often demands rules. God gave us the ten “commandments” which were not the 10 “suggestions.” When a child of yours in on drugs, does giving them more drugs make you loving? Is church teaching to love the sinner but hate the sin not loving as when we teach that homosexuals need to lead celebate lives and not to engage in what we call grave disorder?

    When did St Therese the Little Flower teach that the canon law should be ignored? When did Pope John Paul II or Benedict XVI say that canon law did not matter and yet both teach love. Love means we do what the Church teaches us to do as best possible out of love for Christ and His Church. We are called to stop our pride and in humility accept that as Catholics we are part of One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church giving our obedience to Church teaching where it is required as a core belief.

    I am so tired of hearing that if we point out serious error we are not loving. Does it seem that we would be better off simply standing back and allowing the drug addict to continue down the wrong path? When you see others you love in trouble, you are called to help. The drug addict does not seem to like to hear anything that requires them to leave their drugs and pay the price for changing their lives. They can get quite angry and mean and often to suggest that if the person loved them, they would accept their behavior and help them find more drugs. I find the same is true if you suggest that supporting a party who is directly responsible in keeping abortion legal and funded from which 54 million babies have paid the price that you are attacked in the same mean and angry way. Now we hear that religion should not be involved. Was that same argument used to stop the movement to stop slavery or to fight for the end of lynching? Yes, it was, but those who were involved in the slavery and lynching. They often talked about separating religion and government and that faith had no role in telling the other than they could not have slaves, beat them, sell them, or do whatever else they wanted.

    I know folks hate to hear this that want to support the party of death, but that is history folks and it is fact that cannot be denied unless like the drug addict, you are in denial and want to keep that evil in place. The pro life movement is gaining traction every year, especially with the young and thus the growing anger to keep these religious types from having a role in government. That is why we see this anger. We are starting to point out that the party of death was also the party of slavery and lynching and the KKK and it makes them mean and angry.

  13. Thanks, John.

    I never heard that Fr. Christopher spent any time at an Eastern Orthodox monastery. It is pleasing to think that our traditions are converging on this point.

  14. I have, over the years, drifted into being a None then back to church. The first time was as a student at Notre Dame, when I saw no evidence that religion was giving me truth based on facts. All I was told was that the scriptures were ancient stories told by those humans who had “discovered” “good rules” for behavior, but the miracles described were only the product of simple, superstitious minds. This was a problem for me, since it seemed to me to make the stories less trustworthy if they were not in fact completely truthful when directly describing some sign Jesus did, for example. Later on, I have realized that what I was hearing was modernist heresy and not genuine Christian teaching. No wonder I had a problem with it! At that time I was also trying to see what my eternal end would be, and hearing that the stories of the Gospels were exaggerated myths and that nothing like what they promised actually happened in modern times led me to sincerely doubt the eternal life promised in those same Gospels. Needless to say, this was extremely depressing!

    I stopped being a None for the simple reason that God intervened in my life in ways that I could recognize. This led to a number of things: 1) God proving to me that He does exist through the use of almost daily locutions over several months that proved helpful and insightful to others in ways that would have been impossible for me to know otherwise. These ceased long ago, but they served a purpose in building my faith. 2) An opening of my eyes to the scriptures and a desire to study them. 3) Through studying the scriptures coming to a realization of the truth of the Catholic faith. 4) Through the scriptures learning of the Divine Promise of protection against the gates of hell (dogmatic error being one of those gates) for His church founded on Peter (and thereby on Peter’s rightful successors).

    Having experienced God’s intervention in my life in the preceding manner, I am now saddened but not shaken in my faith when I hear heresy from the pulpit. I know I can trust what the Pope writes concerning faith and morals because God will protect His church founded on Peter from error, even if some priests, bishops and even cardinals go astray from the Pope’s teaching.

    I am thus no longer a None, because I know that I am not my own source of truth, I am not a reliable hearer of God’s truth on my own due to my own less than pure desires of my heart, and God has given me a place to find truth in His church upheld by His promise to protect that truth.

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