Why Are Non-Religious People Unhappy About the Growing Number of Non-Religious People?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Why are non-religious people unhappy about the growing number of non-religious people?

(You can read more about the study in question here.)

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    I think it would have to be the nones who are still religious but that left organized religion because they think organized religion has lost it’s way. They might actually be saying that its a bad thing that organized religion has lost it’s way and the rise of nones is just a symptom. I think the self-hating atheists like Cupp would be too small percentage-wise to account for much.

    • Chris Ho-Stuart

      Yes: this was precisely what I thought. Many nones (I speculate) are not associated with religions because they don’t like where organized religion is going; and it’s perfectly consistent to see that as a bad thing. If this is what is going on, the numbers indicate people who are believers disenchanted with the churches/synagogues/temples that are reasonably accessible to them.

    • SeekerLancer

      Pretty much this. I feel like the majority of “nones” are the “I believe in God I just don’t believe in religion” or “I’m not religious but I’m spiritual” types.

    • Octoberfurst

      I was shocked where I heard that 48% of the “Nones” think that the growing number of secular people is a bad thing. I immediately thought–”Seriously?”
      But I have to agree with you and others here who say that it must be the “spiritual but not religious” Nones who see religion as a good thing in general for society. (But just not for them.) As an atheist I am thrilled that the number of nonbelievers is growing. So I think that poll of Nones should be taken with a grain of salt.

  • Geoff Boulton

    Cognitive dissonance. Anyone who’s listened to some guy trying to justify that his team is the best in the world, even though they just lost, has seen this in action. And that’s just someone’s favourite team. Change the scenario to something that defines your whole worldview and way of life. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that being increasingly challenged and presented with information countering that viewpoint makes some people feel uncomfortable and unhappy about the situation.

  • Denise

    *tilts head* I think the question of ‘why are non-religious people unhappy…’ is a good question. It is a terrific question…but is it the correct *starting* question? Many of the thoughts you shared in your video, such as the composition of the group called “None” need to be, in my opinion, opened further. Before we can ask *why*, I think we need to have a more complete understanding of the *what*…in this case, a better understanding of the “None” category itself within that Pew research.

    • Joseph B. Arrington

      And this, *this* is what I came here to comment and say.

      Because honestly, who here likes that they are “nones”?

      I’m not being finicky over word choice, words matter, and instead of getting a word(s) that represent groups of people and what they think, it is just one word that lumps a lot of people together that have differing thoughts and opinions.

      And it is a synonym for null, invalid, no answer?

      It kind of sets the stage for unhappiness, both being a “none” and being unhappy that there are more of them.

      But as for why, this may not be the exact reason people answered the way that they did, it could also be concern that the increase in “nones” is not based on a thought process, a journey of discovery, or a serious effort to understand, but a rejection of thinking and exploring, instead choosing to not think, in either direction, and that results more people in the same category. Which, in terms of how people get in the category, this lovely place called “nones,” it has been a serious undertaking for many, that can be incredibly discounted by a bunch of people who took a shortcut.

      • Thegoodman

        “Stop being close minded, you should open your mind to accepting God.” -Close minded person

      • allein

        I’m neither happy nor unhappy that I’m a “none” (perhaps in part because if someone were to ask what religion I am, and I can’t remember the last time anyone actually did, I’d be likely to say “none of the above”). It just doesn’t really tell you much about me. Which is why I think these kinds of surveys don’t help much. As someone said above, we don’t know what “none” really means for each person who responds, so the category is pretty useless as a data point.

    • allein

      Is it sad that I actually tilted my head while I read your post?

  • SeekerLancer

    Every time Hemant said “none” I kept hearing it as “nun” and it was funnier that way.

  • popeyoni

    The “nones” are unhappy with more “nones”? Certainly not me.
    Maybe they polled hipster “nones” who hate being “mainstream”.

    • Octoberfurst

      Good point. The “hipsters” don’t like losing their elite status. I mean, if everybody became a None they are no longer special. I guess they will have to find something else not to believe in. ;-)

  • Gideon

    I wonder if they think about religion like some of the Enlightenment philosophers: whether or not it’s true, at least it keeps the unlearned masses from descending into total anarchy and barbarism.

    Of course, that’s an incorrect belief. As long as each generation is still taught how to be civilized, i.e. ideals like empathy and equality and compromise, then it doesn’t really matter whether one or more gods are in the list of cultural ingredients.

    • advancedatheist

      IQ correlates well with making good decisions in life. The people on the left side of the bell curve have problems with judgment and self-control, as anyone can tell from dealing with the public. So in their case, religion comes in handy has a cheap and sometimes effective means of zoo-keeping these people to reduce the burdens they impose on the rest of us.

      • Thegoodman

        I smell a troll. You play the “elitist atheist” well.

      • baal

        Hrmmm. The left side of the bell curve usually has extremely limited access to food, housing, education and positive interactions with the right half of the bell curve. It’s a lot easier to be nice when you’re not worrying about paying for gas or eating dinner.

  • Rain

    “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” ― Voltaire

    “Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.” ― Jon Stewart

    • Buckley

      “God is a cencept by which we measure our pain.” John Lennon

  • bickle2

    Because “none” includes “spiritual”, the guy who likes to sleep in on Sunday, and everything else. There’s too many people who are part of the problem under that wide wide net, and the vast majority of them check the “can’t be bothered” button and not the “religion is fraud and must be stopped” one

  • D Mitchell

    I think the term religiously unaffiliated can be confusing because it includes the believers who were disgruntled with religion and left the church with those who don’t believe. As Jeff P said, those who are still believers might just see the rise in numbers as further evidence that religion is ill….
    I enjoy your blog, by the way.

  • BrandonUB

    I’m quite happy that there are more non-religious people, but rather disappointed in how many of them have just exchanged formalized religions for the woo of spirituality and anti-science positions on GMOs, vaccines, and other issue that act as tribal markers of being against the man.

  • Ryan Hite

    There is just so much that constitutes being “non-religious”. There is a clash between the spiritual types and the non-spiritual types. I am one of the spiritual types and I don’t at all mind the growing number of non-religious. There are some people who are not religious, however, that probably need parts of it in terms of treating others rightfully.

  • sunfighter41

    I am not one of them. I throw parties when a de-convertion happens. The more of us the less of them and the less BS I have to wade through in life.
    Hurray for more nones.

  • antfaber

    Maybe they thought the guy was saying “nuns”.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    Being the only atheist in a social circle can make that person unique. I think some people are drawn to atheism for this reason, as well as the association with rebellion, criticism of religion, or possibly even intellectualism. Of course, all of these are the wrong reasons to seek atheism, and none make a person an atheist.

    When atheism becomes more common, those who use it as an identifier lose part of their identity. This, I think, might be part of why some atheists are unhappy with more atheists. What do you think?

  • Mario Strada

    Could it be that even people that have realized they don’t believe in god and crossed over to the “nones” are still conditioned by society in thinking that religious people are more moral and less likely to commit crimes, take advantage of others and so forth?
    I know that during my “apatheistic” phase, I was still conditioned in giving religious people, especially the more devout ones, more trust.

    Of course, that eventually led to some nasty surprises and I no longer think that. But if at that time I was presented with these statistics I might have thought that it was a negative trend.

  • JA

    Some of us were irreligious before it was cool.

    I kid, but honestly, the fact that there’s more nonreligious people doesn’t bug me, but it would be nice if we could at least coalesce in a way so that we can make a more coherent and effective message.

  • David McNerney

    I think this is simple….

    1. Hitler was an atheist
    2. Stalin killed millions of people because he was an atheist
    3. Atheists have no morals
    4. Atheism leads to Communism
    5. Atheism is un-American
    6. Atheists eat babies
    7. You cannot prove that God doesn’t exist

    Fill in the rest yourself….

    Christian’s don’t throw this crap around because they are stupid – they do it because, in the absence of contradiction, they know that the message sinks in.

    I was watching Hemant talk in the church yesterday and I thought to myself: “Is Hemant Mehta a really famous person?”. The answer (and I’m open to correction on this) is: no, probably not.

    He’s well known to us, but the reality is that we are an ingroup. But also, because of that, we understand that the list I put up there is complete crap. We have heard all those arguments, given them some thought, watched Hitchens/Dillahunty destroy them and so on, and we’re comfortable with the idea of atheism.

    Anyone in that group could easily provide you with 20 different pieces of irrefutable evidence that Hitler was a Christian.

    I bet that if you also asked those ‘self-hating’ nones what religion was Hitler they would answer ‘none’. And I also reckon that they would say “I’m not an atheist, I just don’t believe in a god.”

  • John

    White guilt.

  • Bruce Allen

    There is no specificity in language. By definition religion means belief in a creator/god. Today people use the word to mean a specific house of worship. With no one to hold people to correct language their thinking becomes as distorted as the words they use. It only seems confusing to those who use a different definition of words. We try to be polite when listening to others choice of words but if we don’t agree on the definitions we can’t know if we agree or disagree on the subject matter.


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