If you’ve been paying even casual attention to the news in recent months, you have undoubtedly heard that authoritative research surveys show an accelerating pace of growth in the “Nones.”
These are people who check the “None” box when asked what is their religious affiliation. News articles on this theme have become a familiar part of the journalism landscape, thanks in great part to, just to cite one source, the Pew Research Center.
Here’s what Pew said on the topic under the headline “‘Nones’ On The Rise”in October 2012:
“The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.
“In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).”
More recently, Scientific American’s Michael Shermer provided this additional context:
“A 2013 Harris Poll of 2,250 American adults, for example, found that 23 percent of all Americans have forsaken religion altogether. A 2015 Pew Research Center poll reported that 34 to 36 percent of millennials (those born after 1980) are nones and corroborated the 23 percent figure, adding that this was a dramatic increase from 2007, when only 16 percent of Americans said they were affiliated with no religion.”
Pew’s interest in the Nones has been a constant, especially with efforts to explicate why the mostly younger Americans choosing the category do so, as with this Aug. 8, 2018, analysis by Becka Alper entitled “Why America’s ‘Nones’ Don’t Identify With A Religion.”
“We must be on the cusp of a thoroughly secularized America in which religion plays only a minimal role in public life.”
At this rate, if Pew, Scientific American and the legions of mainstream media journalists repeating the meme are correct, we must be on the cusp of a thoroughly secularized America in which religion plays only a minimal role in public life.
But now along comes Glenn Stanton, writing in The Federalist today, to point out that “first, the ‘nones’ are certainly not a new group of unbelievers exiting the pews of our nation’s churches. They are merely a group who are identifying more accurately what they have always been, those without any real religious practice.”
Stanton continues, noting that looking beyond the headlines about surveys like Pew reveals virtually the opposite of what the mainstream media has been reporting:
“The nones are simply those who until recently would have identified with a Christian denomination just because that’s what their family has always been. But their pastors know they are just CEO Christians (Christmas and Easter Only). Beyond that, it’s crickets attendance-wise.
“These are folks simply shedding what they never really had in the first place. Again, it’s more of a honest change in identification rather than actual belief.”
“Even though most are inactive, many do hold some cold-to-lukewarm Christian beliefs in the back of their minds. According to Pew, almost a third say that religion is indeed important to them. So the nones are not some new and growing crowd of atheists, agnostics, or unbelievers.”
And indeed, according to Stanton:
“In fact, the good folks at the Pew Research Center find that only 12 percent of young and older adults who say they no longer hold to the Protestant and Catholic faith said they had any kind of meaningful faith in their childhood.
“This is very significant. These are folks simply shedding what they never really had in the first place. Again, it’s more of a honest change in identification rather than actual belief.”
In other words, the Nones aren’t growing, they aren’t different and they aren’t heralds of a new America that couldn’t care less about God, faith and religious principles of life.
If you work on Capitol Hill, this is BIG NEWS, regardless whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, and I strongly encourage you to read Stanton carefully and thoughtfully.
This is an issue that HillFaith will be talking about in coming days, too.