My good friend and founder of this blog, Chris Stedman, was on the Melissa Harris-Perry show yesterday morning to discuss the recent pew data showing a rise in the religiously unaffiliated (now up to 23% of the American public). Stedman was joined by Reverend Samuel Cruz, Christopher Hale from Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and Kelly Brown Douglas, an episcopal priest and a professor of religion at Goucher College.
“What do you think is going on with this decline, particularly among the young, in religious affiliation?” Harris-Perry asked.
“There’s a lot going on here,” Stedman answered. “I, myself, am a millennial, and I’m also a “none,” so you may not be surprised to hear me say this but I actually think this is a really good thing. I think it’s encouraging, and I think people of faith should agree,” he said. “One thing that it signifies is a growing openness and tolerance in this country for religious differences. We are now living in a country where people are much more free and open to be able to change their religious affiliation without losing their friends, their loved ones, without facing these grave social consequences, and that’s great. That’s something we should all celebrate.”
Stedman went on to stress the diversity of the the religiously unaffiliated. “I think it’s very clear that the ‘nones’ are a complex group. They’re really a bunch of groups. They’re unaffiliated believers, they’re atheists, they’re agnostics, they’re a lot of different people, and it’s hard to talk about them in a general way,” he said. On why the nones are leaving institutional religion, Stedman responded, “The ‘why’ question is important, but I actually think the ‘where’ question is that much more important. Where are these people going? Where are they going in times of crisis, where are they going in times of need? Where are they going to organize?”
Harris-Perry continued this discussion after the commercial break, and noted that as a group, the religiously unaffiliated are less politically active than their neighbors at church (she cites a statistic that nones make up 23% of the population but only 12% of the voters). Harris-Perry wondered where the “nones” would get their social and political capital. Stedman responded:
“I think one of the valuable roles that religious institutions have played is that they’re communities of accountability. They hold people accountable to their beliefs, they remind them to be their best selves, and they create opportunities for them to act on their values.” He went on to discuss the research by sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell that shows that nonbelievers involved in their spouses’s religious communities are just as socially and civically active as believers. Stedman says that Putnam and Campbell suggest that “the correlation between being politically active, volunteering in your community, and being religious, has more to do with belonging than it has to do with belief, and they suggest that moral communities for nonreligious people, like Humanist communities or other communities like that, can provide opportunities, inspiration, and outlets for nonreligious people like myself to act on our values and get organized.”
You can watch all three parts below.