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Who Are Nones And How Did We Get Here?

Sinead O'Connor
Universe to Earth. Come in, Earth.

Humans, We Have A Problem

The problems that I have wrestled with concerning religion seem to be ubiquitous in the Western 21st-century world. In the simplest of terms, religion appears less relevant to living.

Educated, self-aware, good folks can only offer a silent eye-roll when asked to believe outlandish doctrines that defy reason or science. The arrogance and exclusivity of certain religious groups seek to deprive the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups of full human status, operating devoid of compassion and basic human decency. Religious practices, like attending church or reading the Bible, often do nothing to mitigate suffering and produce genuine happiness. And then there’s always the issue of corruption, hypocrisy and abuse within the church.

Religion hasn’t kept up with the times and the alternatives are equally left wanting. New Ageism commands similar fantastical beliefs and practices. Crystals, anyone? Mercury retrograde mean anything to you? The sterility of atheism is far from comforting to most. If your best friend suddenly gets hit by a Mack Truck, grief is not lessened by knowledge about the connection of emotional trauma and neurotransmitters, or awareness of the statistical probability of getting hit by a Mack Truck. Maybe some un-adulterated positive thinking, motivational Rah Rah is the answer. But after shelling out several hundred dollars to attend a cheerfest with 30,000 other people who paid the same, you are still left looking yourself in the mirror while the celebrity guru enjoys a vacay in Fiji.

Despite organized religion falling apart at the seams, the striving for connection to something greater than ourselves unwaveringly persists. This leaves many of us in a pickle because religion has been the one human institution that has made claims to satiate that longing of the human soul.

I Feel The Earth Move

While you are reading this, over 4,000 Americans are defecting from religious affiliation. This daily figure is derived from the landmark Pew Research Center report, America’s Changing Religious Landscape, from 2015. Collectively, these folks are called Nones because they check the “none” box when asked to select their religion.

The unaffiliated have burgeoned to well over 90 million people today. Nones account for nearly 1 in 3 Americans, constituting the largest “religious” group in our country with only Evangelical Christianity narrowly behind. At the current pace, our country is rapidly becoming a dominantly secular nation.

According to the Religious Landscape report, Nones should not be confused with atheists and agnostics, who account for about 6% of the total population combined. Rather, Nones are people who still recognize some sort of spirituality or belief in God but no longer identify with a particular religion. (Other reports include atheists and agnostics as a subset in the None category.) What Nones reject, more than anything, is not a concept of God or even the existence of religion— it is labels.

Pew provides additional evidence fortifying a bold new trajectory of America’s spiritual climate. According to a 2018 Pew report, 61% of the American population range between being “solidly secular” to “relaxed religious.” The latter demarcation reflects people who don’t think religion is necessary for all people but may find personal value in it even though they rarely participate in traditional religious practices.

The trend is undeniable. The old way of being spiritual is on the way out.

The question becomes, What, if anything, will replace it? Nones are in the process of formulating that very answer.

This blog piece is an excerpt from the Introduction of Confessions of an American None: A Credo of Sorts.


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