What’s in a Name? Religious Nones and the American Religious Landscape

noreligion

Over the last several years the term religious “Nones” has become a major topic of discussion and analysis by those who pay attention to religious trends. Although the term dates back at least to the 1960s, based on its current usage and popularization, it would appear as though it is a completely new designation for a growing segment of the American population—those who are unaffiliated with any religious group.

What has caught everyone’s attention is that there has been a significant and sustained increase in the number of people who are choosing not to identify with any religion. As reported by the Pew Research Center, in 2007, 16 percent of American adults reported no religious preference or affiliation; by 2014 this statistic had increased to almost 23 percent. And younger adults are more likely to say that they have no religion than their parents or grandparents’ generations.

Many church leaders are concerned about their losses and what in their view will result in a general decline in social and personal morals. Others rationalize their losses as essentially a culling of the religious herd. Now, they say, we’re down to people who really believe, instead of “cultural Christians” who don’t adhere to Christian beliefs. Meanwhile, many atheists claim that the entire category is populated by fellow atheists who are somehow reluctant or afraid to publicly proclaim their disbelief.

askbadgeThese reactions to the increase in the number of people classified as “religious Nones” represent an assumption based on a market approach of religion and an understanding of religion as a binary reality. Just like any other business, success in the religious marketplace is the goal, and it is measured by the number of people who identify with your particular brand of religion (or irreligion as the case may be). Further, individuals are thought of as either being religious (or spiritual) or not; there are no other options. Thus the basic gist of the majority of writing and hand-wringing about the “rise of the Nones” is that secularism is on the rise, and religion and spirituality is in retreat.

In my view, this assumption doesn’t actually capture the diversity of beliefs, non-beliefs and practices within the Nones category. So, what is really going on with religious Nones?

The origins of the term shed some light on who exactly is actually included in the category. Although the category already existed, in 1968 sociologist Glenn M. Vernon published an article titled, “The Religious ‘Nones’: A Neglected Category” that brought the idea of “Nones” forward as an analytic category that religion scholars could, and should, explore. Vernon focused on the response of “none” or “none of the above” to the survey question, “What religion are you?” As it does today, his description of the term included “atheists, agnostics, those with ‘no preference,’ [and] those with no affiliation,” but it also included members of small groups that were not otherwise classified into a larger religious group. He proceeded to analyze the beliefs, experiences and affiliations of people within the Nones category. Vernon then argued that this category needed more analysis and actually suggested an alternative term for Nones (which obviously never caught on): “religious independents.”

More recently, in particular with the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), and the 2012 Pew Research Center report “Nones on the Rise,” this term has become part of the public imagination of the fate of religion in the US. (Indeed some have tracked the origins of the term Nones to the 2012 Pew report, others to ARIS researchers, rather than to its earlier origins.)

Despite all this attention, the Nones category isn’t particularly helpful for understanding what is happening with religion in the U.S., unless the different groups that can be identified within the larger category are disaggregated. Moving beyond simply classifying individuals by their religious or irreligious identity, particularly by listening to how they describe the diverse ways that they think (and act) about religion, we can identify some of the groups within the larger Nones category.

In addition to atheists, agnostics, and those who identify as “nothing in particular,” there are the “spiritual but not religious,” although they would not be found exclusively within the Nones category.

There are others who dismiss the whole idea of being “spiritual but not religious,” but who do religious/spiritual things. They occasionally attend services, pray, believe in Karma and meditate. But they don’t tend to think of these things as having any particular religious or spiritual content.

Focusing on Nones also misses those who are marginally interested in religion, rarely if ever attend services, yet claim that it has some relevance in their lives. Some Nones attend religious services on occasion, are generally open to the idea of the supernatural and believe in God or a higher power, but do not identify themselves as religious or with any particular religious tradition. As one young woman told me when I asked her whether religion had any relevance in her life, “A little bit, maybe 5 percent.”

There are still others who are generally disinterested in religion, are OK with idea of God—whether for themselves or others—but are not inclined to either identify themselves as atheists, agnostics or spiritual but not religious. There are even those who don’t believe in God but who differentiate themselves from atheists. Yes, these people exist, and in general, they distinguish themselves from what they see as the overly strident tone of atheists as well as the preoccupation of atheists to argue that God does not exist—neither practice appeals to these individuals.

Each of these have an important link to a larger perspective that we find, particularly among younger people, that might be thought of as the “It’s All Good” ethic, which tends to stretch across the religious and non-religious alike about many life issues. As applied specifically to religion, there is an acknowledgment that others can believe—or not believe—whatever they want: “It’s all good,” at least so long as nobody gets hurt.

Since the entire category is based on non-affiliation, all those people who may identify with a particular religion but have no involvement with any religious institution are also left out. This would include people who, for example, identify as Jewish, Catholic or generally “Christian,” but who never or rarely attend services, have no spiritual practices, and are otherwise uninvolved in any religious institution, whether church, synagogue, temple, or mosque.

Finally, and perhaps most telling, people that religion scholars (like myself) designate as Nones rarely think of themselves in that way. This in itself isn’t too insightful, since most scholarly categories are at least once-removed from real life. Yet, in this case, I think it illustrates the point: how people understand the role of religion in their lives is often much different than what scholars are able to express through their measures.

Religious Nones is a more complex—and interesting—category than its name implies. Perhaps following Vernon’s 1968 suggestion to call the religiously unaffiliated “religious independents,” we might pursue a better term for this category. Yet even then we are left with a category that implies a particular theoretical and methodological approach to religion that really doesn’t fit what is going on in real world.

Rather than imposing a category that forces a multi-dimensional reality into a dichotomous measure of religious or not, or thinking about religion as a purely numbers game of what group has the most adherents, we might shift our attention to focus on how religion, values, relationships and meaning really operate in the lives of individuals and communities—religious or not.

  • cmbennett01

    Religion is a lot like BDSM. It’s not really my kind of thing but as long as everyone are consenting adults and no one gets hurt I guess it’s Ok.

  • Jim Reed

    n other religious news of the day, Christian denomnations that are disappointed in the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage are searching for other parts of the world where they can express their hatred of other groups. I hear the president is in Kenya, and the report is hundreds of religious leaders in Kenya are advising the president not to stir up trouble there, and please just ignore the systems of discrimination that they have set up, under the guidance of American religious leaders.

    I think this is connected to the topic. Some people might feel religions are too driven by hate, and that is why they check none. This also means those who are worried that the increase in number of nones might make the nation less moral can stop worrying. It seems the opposite is true. As more people move from Christianity to none the world will become more moral, and there will be less hate.

  • Mikebjones

    rdrdfgdgd

  • Jim Reed

    Isn’t there a certain danger when every religion has the goal of making all the people under its control unquestioning believers in things not true? In the long run, humanity should probably work towards everyone being none.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    That’s too broad a brush, Jim — what you’re saying might apply to fundamentalist religion, but liberal Christianity (for example) is interested in making only questioning disciples of Jesus, not mindless ones …

  • Jim Reed

    Why? Why questioning disciples of Jesus? What good is Jesus anyway? I think that is the question those disciples should be asking, and it is a question that only fundamentalists really want to answer, but that is where the problems with Christianity all start.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    One response liberal Christians could give to your question, “What good is Jesus anyway?” is this —- “What good are Dostoevsky’s novels? or Greek mythology? or any moral literature that helps us discern between good and evil?”

    Also, the liberal church is just as worried about throwing out the doctrinal bathwater as saving the irreplaceable moral/ethical babies!

  • Jim Reed

    If your first point was true, that would be great. Then we could finally say, the value of Jesus is it is packaging the best of religious knowledge of the early centuries into a story that can appeal to people.

    Your second point is really just one reason why we need more nones.

  • cmbennett01

    The world is a dangerous place. Eventually people will have to learn to think for themselves if they are to survive in the big wide world. It is my responsibility to determine the veracity of the claims of others, religious or not. Religion is not the only source of irrationality in the world. If you eradicate religion there are plenty of other perils and pitfalls to ensnare you if you cant recognize them.

  • Jim Reed

    We should set up websites for those other perils. This is where we dispatch religions.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    How is my first point not true? how is Jesus not at least as good a moral exemplar as any other hero of moral literature? Your second point about ‘nones’ also needs to be backed up, and not simply asserted …

  • Jim Reed

    Your first point is true as soon as the Christian churches start preaching it. The story doesn’t have to be true. The story just needs to be a story.

    On the second point, I think the nones are the ones not concerned about throwing out doctrinal bathwater.

  • Laurence Charles Ringo

    Well,there it is,Jim Reed…the real you finally exposed: You finally decided to come out as an atheist.Thank you for dropping the pretense; my respect for you went up ten-fold!!—PEACE IN CHRIST, ALWAYS!

  • cranefly

    All the diversity of a major religion is now also represented within non-religion. I wonder if it will speed up or slow down the rate of change within established churches. Now that it’s normal and safe to be non-religious, I feel that diversity and debate within my church is less acceptable and that certain Catholic sub-ideologies pressure and expel others into apostasy. So will the church crystallize itself into a little shell, or will it retain the dynamism it needs to stay a global religion? There is SO MUCH apostasy, that the church’s doctrine of itself is becoming implausible. So will that cause a change of self-image? Or could the conservative subgroups become scared into suffering conversation, or could their failing strategy cost them their place of authority within the church?

  • Jim Reed

    Great questions, and a lot to think about. This sounds like a job for Religion Dispatches. What happens as all the churches shrink, and there is less need to believe? What happens as society passes religion by, and the general population starts viewing believers as being stuck on ancient traditions? What happens as conservative loyalists press harder to show they are in some way above it, and the world ignores them and looks the other way? What happens when people become proud of apostasy, and religions are forced to see that as another proof that the end is near, and the church becomes concerned that the world is laughing in their face, but the world just wants to continue to advance and make things better? Don’t we have our ups and downs, but each millennium is better than the last one, so the overall trend is good, but some religions need to see things as decaying into a predicted end. All these contradictions that you are seeing, aren’t they problems that religion can’t solve, and the only solution would have to be ending religion?

  • cranefly

    I don’t know. I guess one person could use religion to solve them for his or her own life, but one person can’t control what happens to the religion.

  • Jim Reed

    It’s complicated. Asking these questions is easier than answering them, but it is an important first step.

  • DKeane123

    “…many atheists claim that the entire category is populated by fellow atheists…” There may be a percentage, but to I’ve yet to see an atheist claim the ENTIRE group are closeted atheists, seems like a few references to back up the claim would be useful? Or is this some kind of passive aggressive jab at the absolutism of a certain group of atheists (many = new)?

  • Paul Edward

    DKeane123 the author did indeed make an overly simplistic statement. Not surprising since the author’s intent was made apparent with his closing phrase that shows his intent is for us to “…focus on how religion, values, relationships and meaning really operate in the lives of individuals and communities—religious or not.” Of course for those who are not religious being seen and acknowledged actually holds a positive psychological benefit. Hopefully the author will someday learn to respect the value and worth of non-believers.

  • Whiskyjack

    Well, I’m glad the term “religious independents” didn’t catch on. The presupposition in that terminology is that the “nones” are simply lost little sheep who haven’t found their flock yet. Most of the “nones” that I know have rejected the notion of religion completely, along with all its supernatural presumptions.

  • Jim Reed

    It would be nice if there could be a religion based on the scientific method, but I guess the only thing that could ever be based on that method would be science.

  • Jim Reed

    If you don’t like religious independents how about calling them “truthers”?

  • Margaret Placentra Johnston

    Since strict adherence to just one religion depends to a certain extent on not being exposed to alternate beliefs and customs, it should be obvious that fewer and fewer people are clinging to the belief system they may have been brought up in, and even fewer actually bother converting to a different belief system.

    In our increasingly culturally intermixed, and globally connected society, adherence to a single religion (characterized by a specific set of literal beliefs and rules dictated by some outer authority – preacher or holy text) is bound to decline. But with so much information coming in about other faiths and cultures, the opposite can be said for interest in faith and spirituality in general. As individual religions suffer, what will arise instead is a more amorphous understanding of what religion and spirituality is all about. Individual people will begin to form their own opinion on spiritual matters – a mix of their own personal experiences, and what they learn from the general culture.

    Many people exposed to the cognitive dissonance between the influx of ideas from the larger culture and the insular beliefs they hear in church will simply reason themselves out of religion altogether. But others will be led to find authenticity in a more personalized form of spirituality.

    The eventual outcome of all this chaos is that people will come to recognize that all cultures since the beginning of time have developed some form of spirituality or belief system. What will emerge eventually is an understanding that each religion is but a tradition formed by one particular culture to respond to the common human need to connect with something greater than oneself. Seen in that light, each religion becomes not a supplier of “right answers” but rather a “tradition” a person might choose to follow – one as good as any other – similar to the “It’s all Good” ethic you mention is becoming common among young people.

    Religious leaders trying to stem this inevitable tide are quickly losing credibility in our increasingly postreligious culture. The sooner religious leaders recognize the inescapable trend away from insular and provincial belief systems, the sooner they can cooperate with that trend instead of fighting it. This in turn will help their own denomination survive, in a more theologically sophisticated format – as a tradition, one way among many acceptable ones to celebrate our spiritual connections – a choice, not an ultimate answer.

  • Well_Read

    we are born knowing good from evil, it’s in our dna. we dont need moral literature to figure out not to hurt people.

  • Jim Reed

    Maybe they are learning the idea of common human need to connect with something greater is an illusion. The religions that we are used to in America work on a concept that God has selected certain people to reveal truth to the others, but the common need ends up being the need of the churches that result to propagate themselves. There may be nothing for the current denominations to wake up to, other than to just shut down and get out of the way so that humanity can progress without a God concept. The concept of God can not help us, and can only lead to political and economic issues that will hold us back.

  • Well_Read

    we are born moral people, we dont need religion for that. we don’t need to be taught.
    It is very difficult making that last step, coming to grips that there is no god and it was just stories written by people around 1000 to 400 BC. It’s like walking down steps without the handrail for the first time. I was happy to have made a decision and all those questions belonged to someone else.
    But publicly most every relative and friend went away after that. As long as you say ur a none or spiritual not religious ur fine, but that A word changes everything. Most people know that and go along to get along.

  • Well_Read

    A lot of our founders believed in the philosophy of Jesus but believed he was a myth. They also believed there was a creator god who created then left. Where would that lie along the gray line of belief?

  • Well_Read

    we are born moral people, we dont need religion for that. we don’t need to be taught.
    It is very difficult making that last step, coming to grips that there is no god and it was just stories written by people around 1000 to 400 BC. It’s like walking down steps without the handrail for the first time. I was happy to have made a decision and all those questions belonged to someone else.
    But publicly most every relative and friend went away after that. As long as you say ur a none or spiritual not religious ur fine, but that A word changes everything. Most people know that and go along to get along. Calling themselves a ‘none’ cures that.

  • The idea of a god or goddess goes back throughout history. People believed because it gave them explanations for things that they could not understand, such as the universe, weather, human behaviors, and war. The people like Socrates and Plato who told people to question their gods and goddesses and embrace something else were the ancient versions of the Nones. Today, the category of “Nones” is far too broad to be dismissed as people having no spiritual or religious beliefs, or at the least, just not associated with a specific faith. Jim Reed, our resident closet atheist apparently, says we would be better off without a belief in God, but I do not think mankind is quite ready to give up on such beliefs for a variety of reasons, many of them political or financial, but not all of them.

    Mankind may or may not have created their gods and goddesses in history for their own understanding of things we now explain through science, but that does not mean that there is not something greater going on in the universe. I am a firm believer in science and what it can do, and I believe that there are a great many things that man can discover through the use of science that can help mankind. But only a scientist who is a fanatic (a mad scientist if you will so focused on his/her work that he/she forgets about humanity) is just as bad as the fanatical religious people we see today who would force their religious beliefs on our nation. Many of today’s “Nones” have left the church not because they have lost their faith, but because they have found their humanity. They question the teachings of their churches, synagogues, and mosques, and they seek a more human answer to whether there is a God that they can believe in, not one based on rigid doctrine, but based on universal connection of all life.

    “Nones” is a misnomer. Even if all a person believes in is that there is no God, they have a belief system that is directly influenced by culture and societal norms which were in their turn influenced by spiritual mores and beliefs of our ancestors. “Nones” do not disbelieve in God, but rather seek other expressions of God, be it in science, meditation, or just walking in the woods on a summer day and reveling in its beauty. Our language often falls short of having the correct word to express something so we assign words that might more closely identify a category. Perhaps instead of “Nones” a better word might be “Seekers” – those who seek something in themselves which can explain the universe.

  • lorasinger

    Excellent idea, Jim, and humanity in general will improve, just as been shown by the UN study of 177 countries. Secular countries have better living conditions all the way around.

  • Jim Reed

    A word changes everything, and that may still be true, but I think there is a big difference depending on when you said it. Today things might be different from 5 years ago, and very different from 45 years ago. I bet things are now changing faster than ever.

  • Jim Reed

    RD is a safe place to talk about those things, unless you are lucky enough to have your relatives and friends reading here.

  • Well_Read

    I think so. I have an atheist t shirt I wear about once a week (conveniently on Sunday’s) and an atheist tattoo visible on my arm. I used to get hateful looks just a few years ago and sometimes confrontation. Now it’s all smiles. One guy last week looked at my shirt then turned to the wall and actually stared at the wall while walking rather than look at me. But I’ve had great conversations with christians who just wanted to understand why a relative doesn’t believe. I represent.

  • Well_Read

    nope, they really hate me. some of us post on facebook but I’m careful not to piss them off.

  • NancyP

    A better term for “none” is “other”. If pollsters and scholars are interested in teasing out “atheist”, “agnostic”, “non-Abrahamic religion follower”, “none of your business”, “former Christian tired of it”, “working 3 jobs, who has time for church”, and so on – they have to buckle down and actually list the categories they want to study.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    But we DO need the Bible?? whatever God there is is also the God of reason/common sense too …

  • Well_Read

    we really dont. the real history of the writing of the old testament is that idol worship was written out and monotheism was written into the texts around 600BC by some guys in Babylon. that is where god is. much earlier some say the concept was a result of a trip on mushrooms and written down later. there was never a real god.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    So what do you have against the IDEA of God, anthropologically speaking?

  • Well_Read

    I went from a believing Baptist to an atheist over about a 5 year period. when i finally admitted my disbelief I felt thousands of lbs lighter, freer, enlightened, I found I just didnt need it.

    Idols worshipers used little statues to blame hurricanes and floods on. Then the one god came along and when hurricanes come along we are told it’s gods plan. If someone you love dies it’s god testing your faith. People live their whole lives without thinking about a god and they are just fine. If you believe in god it’s because someone told you there is a god and coerced you into believing it, not because god accomplished anything that we couldnt explain otherwise.

  • alan

    I’m thinking that a “church” of Nature might be a good idea though I’m not sure about the word “church”. The idea is to have functions that inform, entertain, and wow people about nature and the latest discoveries; provide community and social development opportunities; and to celebrate being part of the grandness of nature.

  • davidpalmer

    A strange article. Can’t us Nones speak for ourselves? Are we just ciphers that add up to a statistic (23%). All this discussion going on about what we may or may not be. Why don’t you just ask, for goodness sake? But then perhaps the problem is that people have been trained to think in terms of categories, clumps, pigeonholes and generalities. Perhaps a key point to this voiceless 23% is our individualities. We are not clumpable. A lot of us are finding our own ways. A lot of us think for ourselves. Those categories – ‘religious’, ‘atheist’, ‘spiritual not religious’, ‘agnostic’, ‘Christian’, ‘Buddhist’ – represent old-world thinking and the dusty cogitations of fit-it-in-a-box statisticians trying to make sense of a fluid world. I could go on. I’ll just stop with the observation that this article says almost nothing about the Nones that I know of.

  • Jim Reed

    Good point about the clumps. The real point might not be to learn about and understand the nones as much as it is to see what the rising tide of nones can teach us about religious peoples. Asking why there is no none church to articulate their beliefs is the same as asking why there is a regular church, and why do the people there believe what they hear there? If the none version of that question is too easy, then the religious half of the question is too hard.

  • Jim Reed

    That would make the national parks like churches, and park rangers like priests, and Republicans would be the anti-religious party.

  • Jim Reed

    Maybe the idea of God is a false God. Truth is disbelieved so people can believe the beliefs.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Is that the sound of one hand clapping? 😉

  • Jim Reed

    What does belief in God do the thought process? If you are far enough advanced, then belief in God can only slow you down.

  • alan

    I define nature as all that exists and all that occurs naturally so all we see in the sky is part of nature, and all that exists here on Earth is part of nature, all life is part of nature, and the environment is part of nature. So it isn’t just parks that are like churches. There’s lots of subject matter for “spirituality” study in a church of nature, even human nature is part of nature. Lots with which to commune.

  • Jim Reed

    Plus the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is a key part of the spiritual part of nature.

  • alan

    Imagination, curiosity, and the ability to engineer are all part of human nature so a church of nature could take advantage of scientists of all kinds to give “sermons”

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    So are you saying that theists are somehow less advanced or less human than atheists, Jim?

  • alan

    Theists rely too much on presumption to be called advanced. They are human, just less evolved.

  • Jim Reed

    They tend to believe things that are not true.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    The biological evolution you’re suggesting doesn’t work over the short span of time atheism has been an option for humans …

  • gehayi

    I don’t think we’re born knowing that, or we wouldn’t need to teach children not to do certain things because they hurt people. Besides, doesn’t your theory presupposed that DNA is encoded with the same moral system for all people? And we know that there are as many moral systems as there are people.

  • alan

    Atheism has been an option all along. Theism hasn’t always been so strongly imposed as when people began to face threats, social rejection, and wars based on theistic presumptions. Many were atheists even when they couldn’t admit it publicly.

  • alan

    Humans commonly invent fictional characters, including gods. Not a problem until it becomes organized religion that dictates that one fictional character is real and all others are disallowed. God becomes the name of a confidence scam for the profit and power of a religious class of people and its ruling leaders.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I agree there’s plenty of hucksters and scam artists peddling religion — but we need to have respect for the vast majority of theists who believe in their God in the best of faith …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Sounds kinda grudging …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    It seems extremely unlikely atheism was an option while we were hominids and hunter-gatherers and we all depended on the cohesion of the group or tribe to survive … so I don’t see how you can suggest that atheism had enough time to be naturally selected as being more “advanced,” as you claim so blithely …

  • alan

    Of course, there are the perpetrators of the scam and the victims who, in their gullibility, support and enable the scammers.

  • alan

    In those old days, humanity thrived by its wits and tribal solidarity but I’m talking about times before organized theism when members of tribes didn’t need to fear independent thought if it advanced the tribe.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    If that’s what you call ‘respect,’ I’d hate to see what your dis-respect looks like 😉

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    So please tell us more about the Nones you know — as a pastor, I’d really like to hear some real-world examples …

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I got started on this whole evolutionary tangent in response to your claim that theists are “human, just less evolved” … are you saying you meant something else now by “evolved”?

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    I’m afraid you’re overgeneralizing from the political prominence of fundamentalist Christianity in America? … as a pastor in a liberal denomination that has actually been in the cultural vanguard of (e.g.) gay rights, I beg to differ that belief in God “can only lead to political and economic issues that will hold us back” (as you put it) …

  • Jim Reed

    Is the liberal denomination like secular humanism, or does it have beliefs in God, and if so, what are those beliefs? That seems to be the thing that is missing in liberal denominations.

  • alan

    If people are excused from facing their own role in the scam, the scam will never end. Unfortunately, it is what it is. I don’t respect immoral scams but I have compassion for its victims.

  • alan

    Sorry, I’m at a loss to think of a more apt word. Maybe you’re right and I just am being lazy about writing a long treatise about what I mean.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Liberal religion is all over the map, I’m afraid — but I was talking about the ones that have some form of belief in what they call “God” …

  • Jim Reed

    Why are they Christian? What is Christianity?

  • davidpalmer

    Happy to do so, but a public forum like this where you have maybe 30 seconds of a reader’s time to make your point is no place for in-depth discussions. No disrespect to the forum and its participants intended, you understand; it’s just that its – important – role is to draw attention not in-form. If you wish to discuss privately or in a more specialist forum, great, but this is not the place.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Religion is only all over the map because PEOPLE are all over the map — faith always reflects the diversity of the human person, we all believe in what we NEED believe to get out of bed in the morning …

  • Jim Reed

    That makes sense. I can appreciate that and go along with it. Just don’t try to connect religion to God.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    That doesn’t seem to have stopped a lot of other people from weighing in, sometimes voluminously! … can you suggest a more appropriate online forum, then?

  • Jim Reed

    There may not be a better forum. If you review the conversation, he said “Why don’t you just ask”. You asked, and he said don’t ask.

  • davidpalmer

    Apologies for the delayed response: I promised myself and my family to stay away from electronic media over the weekend.

    This thread I think has lost impetus now, leaving in its wake whatever one-on-ones or personal researches have been inspired by it. I’ll say this about where I’m coming from, so if you’re interested we can pursue the matter in whatever way, shape or form suits us:
    I’m in the ‘spiritual not religious’ category; I’m also a rationalist, empiricist and agnostic. But already we have problems in trying to categorise me, for what does ‘spiritual’ mean. exactly, or even, for that matter, ‘religious’? It’s remarkable how many academics, journalists and assorted experts blythely toss that category around – spiritual not religious – without defining their terms or even, it seems, having a clear idea in their own minds of what it is they’re writing about.
    I think if we were to pursue this I would begin by defining spiritual and religious in terms that I think would be agreeable to the great majority of spiritual endeavourers yet which I have yet to see defined in any secular writing on the subject. I would then have to give you a personal spiritual history, not because I like talking about myself, but because that in the end is the only meaningful way of approaching spirituality.

    Spirituality is utterly unique to each individual; you can’t persuade someone to be spiritual in the way you can persuade them to be religious or atheist; there is no ‘spirituality for dummies’ handbook on how to proceed; and this perhaps is the essential challenge provided by many of the Nones, in that they are eschewing stereotypes and institutions in their attempts to progress, which is a problem for commentators trained to think in terms of stereotypes and institutions.
    But there you go: already I’m attempting to define – i.e. categorise – Nones. The only way we can escape these broadbrush generalisations which conceal more than revela is to leave the comfortable detachment of objectivity to the scary revelations of subjectivity. And that I’m not prepared to do in a public forum. Cheers.

  • There’s a big difference between “nothing in particular” and “none of the above.” Writers are projecting their own assumptions into the “nones” category, whether it is assuming they are all atheists, or don’t care (as implied by “nothing in particular”), while in many cases a person might check “none” because NONE OF THESE CATEGORIES DESCRIBE ME.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Thanks for taking the time to give so thoughtful and principled a reply — I respect both your privacy and your ability to articulate its importance … were you suggesting a willingness to pursue a discussion in private? if so, I’m very open to ideas about how to do that …

  • davidpalmer

    Please to find you doggedly persevering with this.
    I will clarify that I’m not completely averse to a public exchange. It’s just that some forums seem to have members waiting with baited breath to leap in with both feet as soon as particular terms that tickle up their indignation appear, This causes me to feel I have to make my point in less than ten words rather than build an argument or position in the manner of reasoned discourse. With regard to our continued exchange, I tend to assume everyone else has better knowledge of electronic social media than I do, as these are not a particular interest for me, but we can simply exchange emails if you like.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Yes, I’d be happy to exchange email addresses, at your discretion and leisure … as a pastor I’d appreciate having an honest dialogue with a (so-called) ‘None’ …

  • davidpalmer

    davidpalmer@clear.net.nz. For my part, I’m curious at the juxtaposition of ‘pastor’ with ‘obscurelyagnostic’.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Sent you a test email … check your spam filter if you don’t see it?

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    OK, I got your reply to my test email so you can delete your email address above if you’d like …

  • Jim Reed

    The generic term “none” means none of the religions and not none on a particular list.

  • That is exactly what you cannot assume, in a forced choice situation. If somebody has a religion that does not fit into any of the given categories, but “none” is available, they will surely put none if they put anything at all. In any event, you cannot simply assume this does not happen. What I hear you saying is “None means ‘none of the religions’ to me.”

  • Jim Reed

    People have been regarding themselves as a “none” for some time now, and it wasn’t because of a list. If they were in one of the religions, they would have thought they were that religion. The best part of being a none is it sounds the same as a nun.

  • I’m talking about how you interpret a poll. You have to put yourself in the position of people taking the poll in order to interpret what it means when they check “none.” If you stay in your own perspective and/or assumptions, you run the risk of misreading the results. So I think it’s fine for you to define “none” any way you want, but if a person has five choices, and the first four definitely don’t fit, and the fifth is “none”…

  • Jim Reed

    It’s about the meaning of a religious none. Nones are nones because they don’t have a religion, not because a list of 5 different religions left theirs off the list. That would make the article meaningless. (although the picture with the pen checking a box would fit that meaning. Perhaps you are being fooled by the picture)