The rise of the ‘Nones’

Posted: January 14, 2013 in believing

article_images_leaving_988893440Thanks to Ron Skylstad for bringing this article to my attention this morning.   The most interesting sentence (in my opinion):  I think the single most important reason for the rise of the unknowns is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue.

(Sign up for my blog…look over there to the left…click on “follow blog via email.”   C’mon, do it.  You’ll like it, I promise.)   🙂


This week, Morning Edition explores the “nones” — Americans who say they don’t identify with any religion. Demographers have given them this name because when asked to identify their religion, that’s their answer: “none.”

In October, the Pew Research Center released a study, ‘Nones’ on the Rise, that takes a closer look at the 46 million people who answered none to the religion question in 2012. According to Pew, one-fifth of American adults have no religious affiliation, a trend that has for years been on the rise. (A more recent Gallup pollshows the uptick in religious nones slowed a bit from 2011 to 2012.)

Percentage Reporting In a nutshell, the group:
  • comprises atheists and agnostics as well as those who ally themselves with “nothing in particular”
  • includes many who say they are spiritual or religious in some way and pray every day
  • overwhelmingly says they are not looking to find an organized religion that would be right for them
  • is socially liberal, with three-quarters favoring same-sex marriage and legal abortion

Perhaps most striking is that one-third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation. When comparing this with previous generations under 30, there’s a new wrinkle, says Greg Smith, a senior research at Pew.

Percentage Reporting No Religious Affiliation, By Age

“Young people today are not only more religiously unaffiliated than their elders; they are also more religiously unaffiliated than previous generations of young people ever have been as far back as we can tell,” Smith tells NPRMorning Edition co-host David Greene. “This really is something new.”

But why?

According to Harvard professor Robert Putnam, who writes about religion, this young generation has been distancing itself from community institutions and from institutions in general.

“They’re the same people who are also not joining the Elks Club or the Rotary Club,” Putnam tells Greene. “I don’t mean to be casting that as a critique of them, but this same younger generation is much less involved in many of the main institutions of our society than previous younger generations were.”

The trend, Putnam says, is borne out of rebellion of sorts.

“It begins to jump at around 1990,” he says. “These were the kids who were coming of age in the America of the culture wars, in the America in which religion publicly became associated with a particular brand of politics, and so I think the single most important reason for the rise of the unknowns is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue.

And the rise of the nones has had a significant political impact. As NPR’s Liz Halloran detailed last month, the voting nones helped give President Obama a second-term victory and have become, as Smith says in the story, a “very important, politically consequential group.” Halloran writes:

The religiously unaffiliated voters are almost as strongly Democratic as white evangelicals are Republican, polls show.

Percentage Reporting No Religious Affiliation, By Gender

So far, the trend has not translated to more nones in Congress, according to Pew. Only one member of the new Congress — Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — identifies as a none. Democrat Pete Stark had been Congress’ sole atheist, but he was defeated in November.

Still, religion still rules in America, as Putnam tells Greene.

“Even with these recent changes the American religious commitments are incredibly stronger than in most other advanced countries in the world,” Putnam says. “The average American is slightly more religious than the average Iranian, so we are a very religious country even today.”

Original Article:  NPR News.   (Click HERE)

  1. Bruce Baker-Rooks says:

    I think there might also be a correlation between the fact that most mega churches, and the majority of outspoken religious voices are from the very conservative spectrum of Christianity. As a result, perhaps a lot of these “nones” were raised in these types of churches and they have been taught that there is only one kind of Christian you can be. When these people realize they don’t or can’t subscribe to the beliefs of these very conservative churches, especially on social issues, then they think they cannot be or are not Christians. Another aspect is that more progressive churches, just by their very nature are not as outspoken publicly because we really do believe in the “live and let live” philosophy. We do well working behind the scenes on social, economic, justice, and equality issues, but I think the progressive churches need to do a better job of getting the message out there that there is another and I dare say a more authentic way of being Christian. I don’t in any way want to dismiss the reality that for many “nones”, they simply do not believe – in Christianity or any other kind of organized religion, but I wonder how many of the former conservative Christian nones think it has to be a “all or nothing” when it comes to their religious beliefs.

    • nash says:

      I think you’re absolutely correct, Bruce. I have personally met MANY, MANY young-ish people who really like Jesus, and are doing their best to follow him, but who don’t want to be associated with the brand of Christianity they grew up with…and they don’t know where to turn.

  2. Torger Helgeland says:

    Kristina Sass made an insightful observation from the believer’s view. Once we evangelical oldies are gone, what’s to stop the nones from embracing the 666 chip or whatever technology that will be SO conveniant and effective for commerce, to point of “you’re in the way of progress if you don’t accept this deal”? The youngies swim in a techno sea and suck life from it through their gills. Of course they’ll love it. The finance guys were ready to distribute an 18 digit number in 3 sets of 6 digits to everybody in the 80’s (this from my – never heard him mention christian stuff before – cousin who was an international marketing major in college at time..and other christian tracts since), but bagged it when they caught wind of the christian uproar. I remember the 3 setsa of 6 digits, which makes me wonder if that was a christian myth part, ’cause why would they bag whole thing when all the coulda done was change digit arrangement??? Anyway, for those skeptical of such Revelation prophecy goofiness, I wonder how one can not take it seriously considering how things are lining up for global commerce. Looks like an interesting perfect storm to me, yet who knows? As a doubter, I’m still strongly influenced by how human nature works over history, how we think we “get it” in our advanced moral hipness only to find “oops, guess we were decieved again”…(Chamberlain on Hitler…(thank God for “Don’t trust that evil SOB” Churchill)).” The progressive left is probly in line with new philoso-think that really believes we’re evolving past our violent provincial religio/political past into new dawn of enlightenment (this from one who believes in evolution, so, inconsistent yes, but I still doubt the lefties who are so ready to help it along from their own minds) … Call the prophecy folk goofy all you want, it’s ironic that their crazy supernatural scriptural beliefs yield a more grounded in reality perspective of human nature. The techno gills are nice and tolerant and all, but they make me nervous. Way too much change too fast for youngies ungrounded in anything beyond the latest techno coolness and all the amazing things one can do with it. As I see it, Satan’s drooling and CS Lewis got it right in “Screwtape Letters.” Just had to share some gut hunches from an “I’ve been influenced by that messy Bible as an evangelical groupie and I’m not willing to toss the whole thing ’cause it’s looking messy and intolerant on the surface…” Thanks, Torg

  3. Joe says:

    as a “none” and an x-gen, I can relate. I was raised presbyterian, an in a church that was pretty low key. Pretty close to Unitarian, actually. i grew apart from organized religion, and now consider myself an agnostic. (I think the certainty that comes with atheism is almost as scary as the vehemence on the fire-and-brimstone judgmental right. now, as I have kids and wonder about whether they would benefit from religious input, i am definitely influenced by the overbearing evangelical side of things. There is a kind of “guilt by association,” and I’ll admit a very unfair one. But for myself, the negatives of being associated with organized religion outweigh the potential positives. that, and the fact that i’m really busy and enjoying life in every other aspect….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s