The "nones" as hyper-Protestants?

More from that Pew study of Americans who are unaffiliated with any religion.  It turns out that the 20% of Americans who check “none” when asked their religion are not necessarily complete secularist materialists.  Only 6% of Americans are atheists. Most of the “nones” seem to be simply people who have religious beliefs that are highly privatized.

The beliefs of the unaffiliated aren’t easy to characterize, as the Pew poll shows. The nones are far less likely to attend worship services or to say religion is important in their lives. But 68 percent say they believe in God or a universal spirit, one-fifth say they pray every day and 5 percent report attending weekly services of some kind.

via One in five Americans reports no religious affiliation, study says – The Washington Post.

Many American Christians have little use for church authority and focus instead on “me and Jesus.”  Many American churches do little with collective doctrines or corporate identity, emphasizing their member’s individual religious experience.  Aren’t these “nones” just the next step, going from the individual’s right to interpret the Bible for himself to the individual’s right to believe anything he wants, leaving the Bible out of it?  Though the Pew study says that Protestantism has declined to a mere 48% of the American public, aren’t the “nones” really just hyper-Protestants?

One fifth of Americans have no religion

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has published an important new study of Americans who are unaffiliated with any religion.

One-fifth of U.S. adults say they are not part of a traditional religious denomination, new data from the Pew Research Center show, evidence of an unprecedented reshuffling of Americans’ spiritual identities that is shaking up fields from charity to politics.

But despite their nickname, the “nones” are far from godless. Many pray, believe in God and have regular spiritual routines.

Their numbers have increased dramatically over the past two decades, according to the study released Tuesday. About 19.6 percent of Americans say they are “nothing in particular,” agnostic or atheist, up from about 8 percent in 1990. One-third of adults under 30 say the same.  . . .

But the United States is still very traditional when it comes to religion, with 79 percent of Americans identifying with an established faith group. . . .

Members can be found in all educational and income groups, but they skew heavily in one direction politically: 68 percent lean toward the Democratic Party. That makes the “nones,” at 24 percent, the largest Democratic faith constituency, with black Protestants at 16 percent and white mainline Protestants at 14 percent.

By comparison, white evangelicals make up 34 percent of the Republican base.

The study presents a stark map of how political and religious polarization have merged in recent decades. Congregations used to be a blend of political affiliations, but that’s generally not the case anymore. Sociologists have shown that Americans are more likely to pick their place of worship by their politics, not vice versa.

Some said the study and its data on younger generations forecast more polarization.

“We think it’s mostly a reaction to the religious right,” said Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, who has written at length about the decline in religious affiliation. “The best predictor of which people have moved into this category over the last 20 years is how they feel about religion and politics” aligning, particularly conservative politics and opposition to gay civil rights.

via One in five Americans reports no religious affiliation, study says – The Washington Post.

I’m struck by the comment that a typical congregations would include people of different political beliefs and how that isn’t the case so much anymore.  (My impression is that churches that don’t mingle politics with the gospel, such as Lutheran congregations, still generally contain both Democrats and Republicans.  That’s evident in the commentary on this blog, which has people who are very conservative theologically representing different political positions.)

I am also struck by the contention that churches getting involved in politics seems to be a major factor in the rise of the “nones.”   I wonder how many pastors who want their churches to be ‘missional” and who make a point of adopting all of the church growth methodologies designed to make their congregation more attractive to the “unchurched” endorsed a candidate on Political Freedom Day, not realizing that this kind of political activism is exactly what is driving people away from churches.

 

What the “nones” believe

Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger discusses the phenomena of the “nones,” the growing demographic–currently 19% of the American population– that is unaffiliated with any religion.  Some say this group represents the secular elite, a wave of atheism, the sexually-liberated young people reacting against the sexual restrictions of religion.  But, says Berger, the evidence suggests otherwise:

The “nones” are most strongly represented among people with an income under $30,000, with high school graduation or less, who are married but (interestingly) without children. I am enough of a sociologist to think that class comes in somewhere in this matter, but it is unlikely to be a major factor.

I find most intriguing the Pew data on the religious beliefs and behavior of the “nones”. Let us stipulate that the “nones”, especially if they are young, are repelled by the neo-Puritanism of religious conservatives. But does this mean that they have decided (in the words of the authors) “to opt out of religion altogether”? I am strongly inclined to say no. Back to Pew data: 60% of “nones” say that they believe in God, as against 22% who say not. 41% say that religion is important in their lives, a minority as against the 57% who say that religion is not important—but a minority large enough to contradict the assertion that the “nones” have turned against religion altogether. What they have clearly turned away from is participation in institutional worship: 72% say that they seldom or never attend church services.

Let me, with all due respect for Campbell and Putnam [authors of a book on the subject that Berger is reviewing], suggest a hypothesis of my own: Most “nones” have not opted out of religion as such, but have opted out of affiliation with organized religion. Among Christians (the great majority of all survey respondents) there are different reasons for this disaffection. The two authors are very probably correct that, broadly speaking, those who are turned off by Evangelicals and conservative Catholics do so because they don’t like the repressive sexual morality of those churches (the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church has not helped). But the “nones” have also exited from mainline Protestantism, which has been much more accommodating to the liberationist ethic. Here, I think, there has been frustration with what my friend and colleague Thomas Luckmann long ago called “secularization from within”—the stripping away of the transcendent dimensions of the Gospel, and its reduction to conventional good deeds, popular psychotherapy and (mostly left-of-center) political agendas. Put differently: My hypothesis implies that some “nones” are put off by churches that preach a repressive morality, some others by churches whose message is mainly secular.

What then do these people believe? There is very likely a number (in America a relatively small one) of “nones” who are really without religion—agnostics or (even fewer) outright atheists. The latter have been encouraged by the advocates of the so-called “new atheism”—which is not new at all, but rather a reiteration of a tired 19th-century rationalism, pushed by a handful of writers who have been misrepresented as an important cultural movement. Presumably it is committed atheists who spark litigation over allegations that, for instance, a Christmas tree in a public park is a violation of the constitution. The bulk of the “nones” probably consist of a mix of two categories of unaffiliated believers—in the words of the British sociologist Grace Davie, people who “believe without belonging”. There are those who have put together an idiosyncratic personal creed, putting together bits and pieces of their own tradition with other components. Robert Wuthnow, the most productive and insightful sociologist of American religion, has called this “patchwork religion”. This includes the kind of people who will say “I am Catholic, but…”, followed by a list of items where they differ from the teachings of the church. The other category are the children—by now, grandchildren—of the counter-culture. They will most often say, “I am spiritual, not religious”. The “spirituality” is typically an expression of what Colin Campbell, another British sociologist, has called “Easternization”—an invasion of Western civilization by beliefs and practices from Asia. A few of these are organized, for instance by the various Buddhist schools. But most are diffused in an informal manner—such as belief in reincarnation or the spiritual continuity between humans and nature, and practices like yoga or martial arts.

via The Religiously Unaffiliated in America | Religion and Other Curiosities.

So 60% of those who belong to no religion believe in God, and 41% say religion is important to them, even though they don’t have one.  I agree with Berger that the privatization of religion–the anti-institutionalism that rejects churches and “organized religion” and the impulse to devise one’s own personal theology–accounts for much of this.

That’s a useful term:  “secularization from within.”  That is, the way churches have embraced secular values, thus rendering themselves superfluous.

What other observations can you make about the “nones”?

Are any of you readers “nones,” and if so does any of this ring true?

HT:  Matthew Cantirino

The De-Churched

We have the Un-Churched, those who are unaffiliated with any church.  Skye Jethani at Christianity Today starts a series on another category of people who don’t go to church:  the De-Churched.  Those who used to go to church, but, for one reason or another, don’t any longer.  Read the whole thing, but note what he has to say about that other category:

In days gone by, missional efforts were focused on presenting and demonstrating the love of Christ to non-Christians. But in the 1980s a new term was coined to describe the growing number of North Americans without any significant church background. They were called the unchurched. Untold numbers of books were written about them. Ministry conferences discussed them. Church leaders orchestrated worship services to attract them.

The shift from “evangelizing non-Christians” to “reaching the unchurched” was perceived as benign at the time, but it represented an important shift in our understanding of mission. The church was no longer just a means by which Christ’s mission would advance in the world, it was also the end of that mission. The goal wasn’t simply to introduce the unchurched to Christ, but—as the term reveals—to engage them in a relationship with the institutional church. This paved the way for the ubiquitous (but flawed) belief today that “mission” is synonymous with “church growth.” (Another post for another day.)

Well, another new term is on the rise and gaining attention among evangelicals in North America. Those without a past relationship to the church are called unchurched, but there are many with significant past church involvement who are exiting. They are the de-churched.

via Who Are the De-Churched? (Part 1) | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders.

Are any of you de-churched? Why?

How might churches get the de-churched back?


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