[FoRK] The rise of the Nones

Stephen D. Williams sdw at lig.net
Mon Mar 9 11:18:33 PDT 2009

Survey says... The name is an artifact of the surveys, and not great 
overall since it is not subject-specific, however it is nicely neutral.


> The percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has 
> dropped more than 11% in a generation.
> These dramatic shifts in just 18 years are detailed in the new 
> American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), to be released today. 
> It finds that, despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 
> million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious 
> denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990.
> So many Americans claim no religion at all (15%, up from 8% in 1990), 
> that this category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group 
> except Catholics and Baptists. In a nation that has long been mostly 
> Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other 
> religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," 
> the report concludes.
> It found that 41% of people had switched their religion at some point 
> in life.
> Kosmin concluded from the 1990 data that many saw God as a "personal 
> hobby," and that the USA is "a greenhouse for spiritual sprouts."
> Today, he says, "religion has become more like a fashion statement, 
> not a deep personal commitment for many."
> The ARIS research also led in quantifying and planting a label on the 
> "Nones" — people who said "None" when asked the survey's basic 
> question: "What is your religious identity?"
> The survey itself may have contributed to a higher rate of reporting 
> as sociologists began analyzing the newly identified Nones. "The Nones 
> may have felt more free to step forward, less looked upon as outcasts" 
> after the ARIS results were published, Keysar says.
> Oregon once led the nation in Nones (18% in 1990), but in 2008 the 
> leader, with 34%, was Vermont, where Nones significantly outnumber 
> every other group.
> Meabh Fitzpatrick, 49, of Rutland, Vt., says she is upfront about 
> becoming an atheist 10 years ago because "it's important for us to be 
> counted. I'm a taxpayer and a law-abiding citizen and an ethical 
> person, and I don't think people assume this about atheists."
> Not all Nones have made such a philosophical choice; most just unhook 
> from religious ties.
> Ex-Catholic Dylan Rossi, 21, a philosophy student in Boston and a 
> Massachusetts native, is part of the sharp fall in the state's 
> percentage of Catholics — from 54% to 39% in his lifetime.
> Rossi says he's typical among his friends: "If religion comes up, 
> everyone at the table will start mocking it. I don't know anyone 
> religious and hardly anyone 'spiritual.' "
> Membership in New England's Catholic churches is shrinking as older 
> Catholics have died or moved to sunnier climates. Young adults are 
> choosing non-Catholic partners, having civil weddings and skipping 
> baptism for their babies. And those moving in to areas served by the 
> churches are young adults who often find their communities of work and 
> friendship online, not in parish halls.
Note the Ohio reference.
> In Mount Pleasant, S.C., a suburb of Charleston, "everyone from Ohio 
> is here," says Msgr. James Carter, pastor of Christ Our King Catholic 
> Church. The church has grown so big so fast that it has spun off 
> another parish and a mission church, and it plans outdoor split-shift 
> services for Easter to accommodate about 2,500 families.
> Like Gautier, the Rev. Kendall Harmon, theologian for the Episcopal 
> Diocese of South Carolina, blames social mobility.
> "Mobility means your ideas are more challenged and your family and 
> childhood traditions have less influence, particularly if you are not 
> strongly rooted in them. I see kids today who have no vocabulary of 
> faith, and neither do many of their parents."
> Harmon recalls, "A couple came into my office once with a yellow pad 
> of their teenage son's questions. One of them was: 'What is that guy 
> doing hanging up there on the plus sign?' "
> Kosmin and Keysar also found a "piety gap" in how Americans understand 
> God: While 69% say they believe in a personal God, the Judeo-Christian 
> understanding of the Almighty, an additional 30% made no such connection.
> The piety gap defines the primary sides in the culture wars, Kosmin says.
> "It's about gay marriage and abortion and stem cells and the family. 
> If a personal God says, 'Thou shalt not' or 'Thou shalt' see these a 
> certain way, you'd take it very seriously. Meanwhile, three in 10 
> people aren't listening to that God," he says.
> "There's more clarity at the two extremes and the mishmash is in the 
> middle," Keysar adds.
> Mark Silk, director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion 
> in Public Life at Trinity College, sees in the numbers "an emergence 
> of a soft evangelicalism — E-lite — that owes a lot to evangelical 
> styles of worship and basic approach to church.
> "But E-lite is more a matter of aesthetic and style and a considerable 
> softening of the edges in doctrine, politics and social values," Silk 
> says.

> Kosmin, then a CUNY Graduate Center sociologist, said,
> It's a residual tribal thing. You've got people who don't go to 
> church, don't go to Mass and yet repeatedly tell people they are 
> Catholic or Protestant.
> Eighteen years later, the new ARIS appears to prove them right. 
> Americans are more disengaged from traditional religious denominations 
> and Judeo-Christian ideas about God than ever before. And yet, the 
> language of political persuasion used by the conservative right and 
> progressive left is still steeped in Biblical morality and ethics.


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