Who the Hell are 'Nones' Anyway?

nonesThose unaffiliated with any religious group — AKA the "Nones" — often are misrepresented as those who "don't believe in anything" or who "don't care about religion." In fact, the group is far more diverse than that. Nones may refer to any of the following: Agnostics: Those who don't know whether God exists, and do not think it's possible for anyone to know.

Anti-theists: Those who are opposed to religion and/or the belief in a deity or deities.

Apatheist: Those who are indifferent to belief or disbelief and consider the subject meaningless.

Atheists: Those who do not believe in God, or — put more strongly — believe there is no God.

Brights: Those who belong to a sociocultural movement promoting a "naturalistic" worldview — based in nature with no supernatural forces.

Deists: Those who believe in the existence of God as creator of the universe but reject all organized religion and supernatural events.

Freethinkers: Those who form opinions about religion on the basis of reason — rather than tradition, authority or established belief.

Humanists/Secular humanists: Those who embrace ethics, compassion, social justice and naturalism and attach primary importance to human matters, rather than the divine or supernatural.

Naturalists: Those who believe the universe is devoid of general purpose and indifferent to human needs or desires.

Theists: Those who believe in the existence of at least one deity who is personal, present and active in the universe.

Pantheists: Those who reject the idea of a person-God but believe that the "holy" manifests itself in all that exists.

Pluralists: Those who accept all religious paths as equally valid.

Rationalists: Those who hold that reason and logic are the only true sources of knowledge.

Skeptics: Those who believe that continuously and vigorously applying methods of science are the only ways to arrive at explanations for natural phenomena.

Searchers: Those who belong to no belief system or worldview but are still open to ideas and actively searching for the truth.

Spiritualists: Those who are spiritual — which is an undefined term but generally refers to people who open to "the sacred" and are interested in personal well-being and development.

 

Who am I missing?

An Interview with the Guy Who Named the 'Nones'

Barry KosminThere was a time, in the extremely recent past, when Americans with no religion were "the others." For decades, religious affiliation has fascinated researchers. Countless studies and surveys show document a painstaking analysis of each minor population shift. A switch from, say, Methodist to Baptist or Catholic to Protestant has been marked with great interest, year by year. Sure, the numbers of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists have remained relatively small next to Christians — but they, too, have been counted. Their numbers seemed to matter.

Always absent from these studies and surveys was a specific category for Americans with no religion. Those of us who didn't "belong" in an established group — for whatever reason. We were simply the "others." Too few to name, much less care about.

But that all changed in the first years of the 21st Century.

After a decade (the 90s) in which religious affiliation dropped dramatically — by several percentage points (and, yes, that was considered dramatic) — the country's top researchers realized they needed a new category.

Barry A. Kosmin was one of them. As the founding director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and a professor at Trinity College, Kosmin had been helping to conduct the American Religion Identification Survey for nearly three decades. Once they'd evaluated data from the 1990s, Kosmin and his team were determined to name a new category.

"Nonreligious" was a possibility. So was "non-faith" and "non-affiliated."

But Kosmin rejected all of these. The "non" part bothered him. "Non-affiliated" would be like calling people "non-white," he said. "We didn't want to suggest that 'affiliated' was the norm, and every one else was an 'other.'"

"Nomenclature," he added, " is quite important in these things."

So Kosmin began calling this group the "nones," a shortened version for "none of the above" — which is what people often said when asked to name their religion. He never thought the term would stick.

"It began as a joke," he said, "but now, like many of these things, it has taken on its own life."

Indeed. Today, "nones" are everywhere. Both in a literal sense and a literary one.

"Nones" now make up an estimated 20 percent of the American population — or 60 million people. And most major research groups have given in to the verbiage, at least to some degree. (Some still prefer "unaffiliated" in their official questionnaires.) Journalists, especially, have embraced the word.

"Nones form Biggest Slice of Obama's Religious Voters," said an October headline in the Huffington Post.

"The 'nones' now form the worlds' third-largest religion' reported the Religion News Service  last month.

The list goes on and on.

That's not to say the word is without its critics. For many on the more spiritual end of the "nonreligious" spectrum, "nones" sounds too dismissive. They liken it to "nothing," and sometimes the response is: "I'm not nothing!"

Still, like Kosmin said, the word now has a life of its own. Even Gallup Poll, which published  a report today, saying that the number of people who prefer "no religion" leveled off a bit between 2011 and 2012, put "nones" in its headline.

[Special thanks to Hemant Mehta who referenced this blog on his website The Friendly Atheist.]

Don't Label Me, Man

We humans are all about labels. From such an early age, labels are so central to our identities. We're constantly looking for ways to divide and unify, divide and unify, divide and unify — starting with gender and age, and then blossoming into 150 million other identifying marks. It's all so, well, annoying.

When I decided to write a blog for nonreligious parents, my belief system suddenly became central to my life and work. I've felt I had to label myself as nonreligious — atheist, if pressed. But prior to a year and a half ago, religion played absolutely no role in my life. I didn't think about it. I didn't care about it. I didn't fight about it or talk about it — or not talk about it. When asked, I'd say I wasn't religious, but that was rare because so few people around me seemed to be basing our relationship on that particular piece of knowledge.

Even today, if it weren't for my work, I wouldn't be all that curious about people's religious choices. The way I see it, we're defined by our actions, so when the people around me are humble, noble, gracious, and ethical, I tend to ask approximately zero questions about what made them that way. I don't have time; I'm  too damn busy trying to model that same behavior myself.

Sometimes labeling can be a good thing, I don't deny that. It can make lonely people feel not so alone. It can help organize the disenfranchised and educate the ignorant. But wearing labels can feel really shitty, too. Especially when those labels are used against individuals — to pigeonhole them, prejudge them and put them down. Labels also sometimes remove our sense of independence and freethinking. (The irony, of course, is that even "Independent" and "Freethinking" have managed to become labels of their own.)

This is all to say... oh, hell, I don't even know anymore. I guess I'm just trying to come to terms with the fact that none of the traditional labels of non-faith — atheist, agnostic, skeptic, secularist, naturalist, ignosticist, apatheist, etc. — seem really to apply to me. Not when it comes to these labels as "movements" anyway.

Even "humanist" has become a loaded word. At its core, humanism is simply a devotion to the humanities — and it sounds so damn nice, doesn't it? Human, humanitarian, humanity. All beautiful words! "Humanist" seems to roll off my tongue the same way that "atheist" gets stuck in my throat. But, more and more, I see "humanism" acting as a secret code word for "atheism." Which, I suppose, isn't a bad thing. Perhaps "humanism" helps keep stereotypes at bay, at least for a while. Perhaps Nonbelievers Formerly Known As Atheists can relax a little, let their guards down, redirect, refocus, breathe.

So here's my question: Do you think it's important to have a label when it comes to religion/non-religion? Why ? And what the hell do you call yourselves?

By the way, I'm on vacation next week and won't be posting again until after the holiday; so, everyone, enjoy your Fourth of July!