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?

12 Simple Differences Between Catholics and Protestants

The rapid rise of the "Nones" — those unaffiliated with religious groups — was back in the news this week, when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released its most recent study on American religiosity. Here's what Pew had to say:

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... 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%).

In addition, the group emphasized that, for the first time in history, there is no Protestant majority in the United States. That is, Protestants have dropped to 48 percent, whereas they comprised 53 percent of the public as recently as 2007 — a drop of 5 percent in five years. (Catholics, by comparison dropped 1 percent during the same time period — to 22 percent). As you all know, Protestants are Christians who broke off from the Catholic Church 500 years ago. Although there are more than 33,000 (!!) Protestant denominations, all of them still operate in ways that are separate and distinct from the Catholic Church. But what are the differences, really? I mean, all Christians Churches hold the same core value: Jesus Christ was the son of the God who died for our sins, arose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. Isn't the rest just window-dressing?

Well, here, you decide.

Twelve Differences Between Catholics and Protestants:

1. The Pope. Catholics have a Pope, which they consider a vicar for Christ — an infallible stand-in, if you will — that heads the Church. Protestants believe no human is infallible and Jesus alone heads up the Church.

2.  Big, Fancy Cathedrals. Catholics have them; Protestants don't. Why? Well, Catholicism says that "humanity must discover its unity and salvation" within a church. Protestants say all Christians can be saved, regardless of church membership. (Ergo... shitty, abandoned storefront churches? All Protestant.)

3. Saints. Catholics pray to saints (holy dead people) in addition to God and Jesus. Protestants acknowledge saints, but don't pray to them. [Note: There is much debate about the use of the word "pray" in this context, so let me clarify: Saints are seen by Catholics as an intermediary to God or Jesus. Although Catholics do technically pray to saints, they are not praying for the saints to help them directly but to intervene on their behalf. They are asking the saints (in the form of a prayer) to pray for them. It's like praying for prayers. Hope this helps.]

4.  Holy Water. Catholics only.

5. Celibacy and Nuns. Catholics only.

6. Purgatory: Catholics only.

7. Scripture: The be-all, end-all for Protestants is "the Word of God." For Catholics, tradition is just important as scripture — maybe even more so.

8. Catechism: Protestant kids memorize the Bible. Catholic kids get catechism.

9. Authori-tay: In Catholicism, only the Roman Catholic Church has authority to interpret the Bible. Protestants hold that each individual has authority to interpret the Bible.

10. Sacraments: Catholic are the only ones to have the concept of the seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony). Protestants teach that salvation is attained through faith alone.

11. Holidays: Catholics have 10 Holy Days of Obligation (which mean they must go to Mass). Protestants are more like, "Just come to church on Christmas, that's all we ask."

12. Communion: In Catholicism, the bread and wine "become" the body and blood of Jesus Christ, meaning that Jesus is truly present on the altar. In Protestantism, the bread and wine are symbolic.

This post originally appeared in October 2012.

Fun Facts about Nones

I've been poring over data as it relates to religious "nones" for, well, far too long. The statistics are really fascinating — but not nearly as fascinating as bullet-pointed lists. So here's both — a mashup, if you will. Read. Enjoy. Be fascinated. nones We tend to lean left. Nones make up 20 percent of the nation's registered Independents, 16 percent of its Democrats and 8 percent of its Republicans. In 1990, those numbers were 12, 6 and 6, respectively.

• We tend to be young. More than one-third of 18-to-24-year-olds claimed “no religion” compared to just 7 percent of those 75 and older.

• We generally avoid the Bible Belt. Geographically speaking, nones live around other nones. Statistically, Northern New England is the least religious section of the country, and Vermont is the least religious state.

• Many of us are first-generation secular. Only 32 percent of "current" nones reported that they were nonreligious at age 12. Almost a quarter of us are former Catholics.

 We have a shortage of women. Only 12 percent of American women are classified as nones, versus 19% of American men.

• Class and education is a non-issue. Nones mirror the general population in terms of education and income.

• Race is a declining factor. Latinos, for instance, tripled their proportion among nones between 1990 (4 percent) and 2008 (12 percent.)

• Kiss us; we're Irish. Asians, Irish and Jews are the most secularized ethnic origin groups. One-third of all nones are of Irish descent.

• We’re sad and stressed. Research suggests religious people are happier and less stressed because of social contact and support that result from religious pursuits, as well as the feeling of well-being that come with optimism, volunteering and learned coping strategies.

• We’ve got brainpower. As individuals, atheists score higher on measures of intelligence, especially verbal ability and scientific literacy. They are also more likely to practice safe sex than the strongly religious and far more likely to value freedom of thought.

• We’re as moral as they come. Contrary to Psalms 14 — which says we're all a bunch of corrupt, filthy ne'er-do-wells — nonbelievers actually score higher than their religious peers on basic questions of morality and human decency. Markers include governmental use of torture, the death penalty, punitive hitting of children, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, environmental degradation and human rights.

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.]