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The Rise of the "Nones"

The new Pew Forum study is getting a lot of publicity for its finding that one American in five now responds none when asked about their religious affiliation. This is up from around 15 percent in 2007. The future of organized religion in the United States may look even bleaker because almost a third of individuals under 30 can be classified as nones.Numerous press reports have covered the study so Im not going to describe it in detail. I encourage you to read the summary orif you are an unreconstructed data geek like medownload the entire report.There were a couple of interesting findings buried in the demographic data. The first was that the growth in nones was heavily concentrated among the white population. The share of Hispanics who are nones did not change at all between 2007 and 2012.A second finding that was interesting was the difference between unmarried and married individuals. The share of married individuals who were nones did not change at all between 2007 and 2012, while the share of unmarried individuals who did increased by 4 percentage points. This means that unmarried individuals accounted for virtually all the increase in the nones over the last five years.If marriage has a protective effect on religious practice, then one of the things that may be driving decline in religious practice is the decline in marriage. Of course, the reverse may also be true in the sense that the religiously unaffiliated may be less likely to take the step of getting married. If you read the full report, youll find that the nones cohabit at a slightly higher rate than those affiliated with a religious tradition.Since weve been talking about the New Evangelization this week, this data seems to confirm that the window between leaving home and getting married is the space where the churches lose many of their adherents. Ill be interested to see of any of the interventions at the Synod discuss this particular challenge.

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Regarding the married vs. not married trend, did the survey also examine trends among people with children and those without? I reconnected to my religion when I had children; I wanted to raise my children with a religion. So yes, I'm married and still religious, but I don't think it's my marital status that kept me connected as much as my motherhood. I wonder if that is the case with others and whether "family" status is just as relevant as "marital" status. And often the desire to have children is part of a couple's decision to marry, so maybe it's all kind of intertwined.

The unmarried nones and the young nones may be mostly the same people. And young people appear to be more live-and-let-live about social issues. They probably want to be free to make their own mistakes (and successes), untrammeled by the pronouncements of elderly churchmen of various denominations, which often sound outdated and crotchety.Young people are also more likely to think that, year after year, science is gaining on religious belief in the competition to explain reality. And science has the very modern and appealing advantage of being open-minded.

I suspect that one of the reasons that we unmarrieds are abandoning the Catholic Church is because we aren't one of the Catholic Church's categories. It prays and has programs and organizations for poor people, rich people, immigrants, the young, the old,the about to be married, the married, the widowed, the cats and dogs on the feast of St. Francis, etc., etc., but only the young singles get any attention at all. I'm 82 years old and have never heard a single prayer for '"the spinsters and bachelors of this parish". Forget looking for help with our spiritual needs.

"Young people are also more likely...science is also gaining on religious belief...."John Prior,It is still too early to say. In many respects, the future is a fairy land to many young nones, believing that they will be around and adequately accounted for in the future on the basis of their current "belief" in the future. Science, in that sense, is salutary, benign and kind, affirming beneficent futurity. Possibly that's why the same Pew researchers of this recent study noted a while back that the children of nones often become religious adults. Why? Most said that they first joined a religion because "their spiritual needs were not being met." And the most-cited reason for settling on their current religion was that they simply "enjoyed the services and style of worship." So let's wait a while before closing down religion and "elderly churchmen of various denominations."What did surprise me in the recent study, however, was the drastic increase in the percentage of Nones -- nearly 20% -- in a few years. Also only 73% of Americans currently identify themselves as Christians (with Protestantism -- all denominations -- a minority faith-- 47%). That is all new., even as we try to live prospectively. If Pew is right, however, many of the children/grandchildren of current Nones will be affliliated with some church.

"I suspect that one of the reasons that we unmarrieds are abandoning the Catholic Church is because we arent one of the Catholic Churchs categories. "Ann, fwiw - a parishioner once told me that quite a bit of my preaching tends to focus on married and family life and that the unmarrieds (she is one) feel left out. So your point is well-taken.

"Young people are also more likely to think that, year after year, science is gaining on religious belief in the competition to explain reality. And science has the very modern and appealing advantage of being open-minded."John P - I agree, but I also wonder whether it is the alleged defects in the explanatory power of religion that make a person steer away from it. Istm that, for most people (this is just my opinion, based on my personal observation), what appeals to them about Catholicism is not its ability to explain galaxies or protons, but its ability to find meaning in spheres of their lives that complement rather than compete with the physical sciences.

At the risk of coming across as superficial :-), I do think that catechesis, or lack thereof, is one reason, or part of one reason, that young people seem to be postulants for the none-hood.To put it more clearly: lack of cultivation of habits of discipleship, of which catechesis is an important part, may be to blame. Young people who grow up in irreligious households may turn out to be irreligious themselves when they leave the nest.

I agree, Jim P, about the complementarity, although it's not always easy to see where the boundary is or how much overlap exists between science and religion. I think science confines itself pretty firmly to the observable natural world and makes no claims about ultimate purposes or the supernatural, even if for me some of modern physics seems indistinguishable from it. Religion, being the older of the two, long had only philosophy to share the work of explanation with, and so has tended to think of science as a young smarty-pants, poking around in dark places, measuring things, and reasking long-settled questions.But it is the practitioners that make the biggest difference. Broadly speaking, scientists seem modest, tentative, open to change if better ideas are brought forward, and reasonably respectful of critics and skeptics. Many clergymen show a similar humility, but they don't set the tone. The big talkers do. And here I will say that the Catholic ones are far from the most troublesome. Their fulminations are almost benign compared with the real ravers. I recall the horrible words spoken after the 9/11 attacks and again after Katrina, blaming various despised classes of Americans. Putrid lies and vile hatred, often spoken explicitly in the name of religion, can be heard or read nearly every day. No doubt there is a big, lucrative market for that sort of talk. But I believe that it is gradually killing religion among sane people. And it is killng it fastest among the young.

Thanks, Jim P. Maybe you could start a little ministry to/for the unmarrieds? I'm sure you'd be good at it :-)

Ann, I always thought that the Roman Catholic insistence on celibacy for priests and religious was a way of emphasizing the value of the single life. Another religious illusion bites the dust!

Verity ==The Church didn't teach that being single had value in itself. The value of celibacy lies in the chosen sacrifice of marriage for the opportunity to serve God better, or so the theory went. Vatican II did seem to say that the different states of life could all produce sanctity.