Nones represent a brand new category of spiritual people that the world has never seen before– particularly on such an epic scale and with their own unique influences that contributed to making them Nones in the first place.
Nearly 70% of Nones in the United States are former Christians. Some of the top reasons for leaving their religion of origin include the:
Lack of belief in church doctrines
Conflict with science and reason
Maltreatment of LGBTQ persons and other marginalized people
Sex abuse scandals and/or personal previous trauma with the church
Profiteering of pastors off of churches run like businesses
Overarchingly, I would argue that two more factors caused this tidal wave to crest because those factors have frankly existed for as long as the church has. (Churches are made of people folks and where there are people, well, there are uh-umm, problems.)
One, the Information Age–nested within the postmodern era–quite literally made ideas, facts, differences, world events, knowledge, and opinions (for better or worse) available at our fingertips with the advent of the internet. Two, advances in travel technology made it easier and generally more affordable to experience vastly different human realities on this planet, thereby dismantling inherited staid worldviews on a first-level basis.
It’s as if the proverbial light that causes the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave suddenly has swung around and now shines squarely on us.
So for these and other reasons, Nones choose ‘None’ when it comes to their religious affiliation. This is the choice over and above the options of New Age, Atheist, and Agnostic, too. Nones are rejecting two primary things–participation in organized religion and labels.
One of the chief commonalities of Nones is the desire to maintain a sense of spirituality. But what does it mean to be spiritual when there is no specific religion to frame it, nor the abject rejection of religion to frame it?
Below are three features that most Nones have in common that form a foundation for their spirituality.
Religion is a Tool (But Not Necessary)
When used properly, Nones understand that religion at its best is a means to an end, not the end itself. And for reasons previously delineated, religion in its current state is like the prom dress that doesn’t fit anymore once you are in your 40s. It’s outdated, too constrictive, was “hot” back in the day but now just looks silly and feels suffocating.
But Nones see the value embedded in religion too. Who can argue with Jesus’ primary teaching to Love?? Rituals can be meaningful and prompt introspection. Some Nones still occasionally attend a church service just because it feels nostalgic. (More likely though, Nones create their own new rituals that replace the need for religious ones, like a daily cup of tea outside on the patio enjoyed in silence or a monthly hike up a favorite mountain pass. As the protagonist in the new Amazon original series Liar says, after she just solo-kayaked through beautiful marshes in England, “Who needs church when you have this?”)
Nones appreciate the community found in church that provides the much-needed connection that humans crave. If only church weren’t like that fuschia, off-the-shoulder prom dress though. And despite the conflict Nones’ have with doctrines and beliefs that defy science and reason, we know many lovely and lov-ing people who are religiously devout. And for anyone who has deeply studied the history of theology (notice I did not say the Bible–the two things are not synonymous but they do overlap), you cannot walk away from it without having a resonant appreciation for the timeworn human drive to discover ultimate meaning and purpose on this earth.
Unlike the public persona of many Atheists, Nones do not seek to annihilate religion from the public sphere. They simply acknowledge that it doesn’t work for them personally, respect the people for whom it does work, and know that religion, like any humanmade tool, can be used for good or ill-intentions.
This understanding of religion sets the stage for the next feature of spirituality for Nones.
Truth is Truth, No Matter Where It is Found
The Information Age has made it abundantly clear that humans have been uncovering the same truths for as long as we’ve been around. These truths were often wrapped in the respective cultural and technological impediments of their era, but the essence of such truths rise to the top for anyone open to receive them.
Consider these different observations about Love.
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. –Jesus
For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through Love. –Carl Sagan
Radiate boundless love toward the entire world. –The Buddha
If you love it enough, anything will talk with you. –George Washington Carver
Surrender your self-interest. Love others as much as you love yourself. Then you can be entrusted with all things under heaven. – Lao Tzu
If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love someone else? –RuPaul
Nones do not discriminate where they are willing to acknowledge and receive truth. Thereby, Nones deeply value the unity in our One Human Family, rather than focusing on what differentiates us. And this leads us to the third feature of spirituality for Nones.
Yielding to Something Greater than Yourself
The knowledge of the interconnection of all of life–people and the planet–renders a selfish worldview moot. Spirituality, in its simplest terms, is acknowledging this truth and consciously participating in an unfolding story that is much greater than your own.
This ‘Something Greater’ that binds all of life? Some people call it God. I prefer to refer to it as Love. It is more comfortable for some to think of it as a collective consciousness. Maybe for some scientists, it’s the unknown quality that quite literally generates life. Or, perhaps it’s the product of Aristotle’s axiom that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
With this awareness follows a natural humility, gratitude for the participation in life itself, and a Love for all people. From here, people pile on their own postulations, beliefs, doctrines, etc. But beneath the humanmade filigree, it really is simple. We are all connected by Something Greater than ourselves and our individual lives improve when we yield to this truth through living a life of Love.
Religion is a fishbowl in the ocean. Spirituality is the ocean.
As Nones, we select no-label because labels keep us in the fishbowl, bounded and without unfiltered experience of the vastness that we know that transcends such a bubble. Spirituality, like the ocean and its myriad permutations, infuses our daily living in practical real terms.
Marvel and awe are experienced in something simple like the budding of a homegrown tomato. Conviction to serve others prompts us to do volunteer work. The knowledge of our own frailties inspires us toward kindness to others, even when it is not reciprocated. We find meaning in living meaningfully. We seek peace, joy, and happiness in the here and now. The world needs to become a better place TODAY.
Rachel Roberts is the founder of American None. Every now and then she's known to have a deep thought, usually in the most random places– like shopping for IPA and gummy bears.