Sunday, September 27, 2009

Religous Nones Are Not Anti-God, But Disconnected From Institutions

The report "American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population" from the American Religious Identification Survey shows that a growing percentage of the population list no religion. Barry Kosmin, the lead researcher, projects that perhaps as many a 20% of Americans will be religious "nones" by 2030, up from the low teens now.

However, very few (7%) are atheists. Most are skeptics. They seem to me to be skeptics of institutions even more than of theology.

I have noticed in other research that unmarried people tend to be less attached to other institutions, as well. The nones are 39% unmarried, compared to 25% of the adult population as a whole. The nones are also much younger than most Americans, and many of them will affiliate later. Still, even adjusting for age, the nones are 33% unmarried, compared to 28% of their age-adjusted cohorts.

Elizabeth Marquardt found that children of divorce are less likely to affiliate with religious institutions. This report does not show the marital status of the respondents' parents. However, children of divorce are more likely to put off marriage, which is one reason that the children of divorce tend to show higher proportions unmarried at every age. I think it likely that the nones are disproportionately the children of divorce. They are skeptical of many institutions of traditional adulthood. But they don't reject the belief that lies behind them.

I think a large proportion of the religious nones are institutionally disconnected. When they find a way to connect to one institution, they are likely to connect to others, as well.


VA said...

Anecdotally, I agree that most of the people I know who would list themselves as "no religion" on a survey are the ones who might fall under the "spiritual but not religious" umbrella. It's not that they don't believe in a transcendent higher power, soul, etc - it's that they don't believe in "church."

viont said...

Those who say that they are spiritual but not religious remind me of the bacon and eggs breakfast story. The difference between being involved and committed to breakfast is that the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. The spiritual but not religious believe there is a god but don't want to be told how to live by him. In that sense they are involved but not committed to, as they put it, "a transcendent higher power".

VA said...

viont, I have to disagree.

First, I can easily imagine a situation where someone is spiritual but does not believe in the Judeo-Christian God - there are many branches and schools of spiritual belief. So they live fully committed to and invested in their beliefs without the expectation that an all-powerful being is going to tell them how to behave. "Spiritual," at least as I meant it, was not intended to be a synonym for "Christian."

Second, even if your spiritual beliefs do include the concept of God, it is very possible to live according to what you believe He wants without using a church as an intermediary. It would be a little narrow-minded to say you can't be a good person, a moral person, or a spiritually committed person unless you regularly attend a religious institution.

If I'm remembering my history classes correctly, one impetus for the Protestant Reformation was that a group of very spiritual people believed that you could have a personal relationship with God without needing a Catholic priest as your conduit. It's possible to see the "no religion, but not atheist" people as the contemporary extension of this movement - having a personal relationship with God without needing a church as your conduit.

And of course, the flip side is true. There are plenty of people who consider themselves religious because they attend church every Sunday, but who give little to no thought to their spiritual life or how they should live in concert with their beliefs.

viont said...

"And of course, the flip side is true. There are plenty of people who consider themselves religious because they attend church every Sunday, but who give little to no thought to their spiritual life or how they should live in concert with their beliefs."

You might be being a little judgmental. But that's alright. Let's just agree to disagree. Let us eat cake.

VA said...

And you might be being a little judgmental yourself against the spiritual-not-religious crowd. But I'm happy to agree to disagree.

Let us eat cake indeed. Someday I'll actually write on that blog instead of lurking on Dr. Weston's.

viont said...

Me too.

Teri said...

is it at all possible that unmarried people are unconnected to church because churches are overwhelmingly designed for coupled people and are often unwelcoming to those of us who don't feel we are less of a person simply because we're unmarried? My worth is not determined by whether I'm married or not, it's determined by that fact that I am a child of God. And yet my church (of which I am the PASTOR, and still can't seem to make any headway on this!) only sees couples, not individuals. When there are no more "Pairs and Spares" groups or dinner groups for "6 couples" then I think we can talk about the unmarried crowd and church. Until then, it's apples and oranges.

Gruntled said...

Teri, you name a real issue in the church. I think it is natural that any organization caters most readily to the great majority, and in the church that is married people. Still, the church's mission is to serve everyone.

Going back to my main point, married people dominate most institutions because marriage, especially married parenthood, implicates you into so many other institutions. Perhaps the church could work on developing ministries that single people, especially childless single people, are in a better structural position to do. Everyone joins together in worship, but has separate suborganizations for ministry.

Anonymous said...

religion is made by elite people to control the "sheep" and be their sorry for all the believers coz i gotta tell you your wasting your time believing in this bullshit stories about "GOD"..... may god bless you all :)

Jimmer said...

I think it's interesting when sociologist types attempt to pigeonhole 'nones' as being a statistic of broken homes, 'disconnected', or otherwise disenfranchised. SOME of us choose 'none' because it's the most intellectually honest answer in a world that requires reason for every single facet of human endeavor... except spirituality. There, we are asked to check our brains at the door when it comes to accepting the concept of a Supreme Being. In short, God makes no sense in a world that otherwise relies on rationalism to function.