The Wild Hunt has written a lot about people who claim no particular religion, the “nones,” as they’ve been dubbed by various media outlets and analysts, I think their rise in recent years will be one of the largest phenomenons affecting our movement as we move into the future.
“As for the “nones” I believe their rise, even if it’s at the expense of “liberal” forms of our dominant monotheisms, is ultimately a boon for our interconnect communities. The rise of “nones” and the “spiritual but not religious” give us a safe space, a cultural buffer to grow and experiment in. It destabilizes the narrative of inevitable Christian power, and opens the door to minority faiths having a stronger voice in discussions around religious rights and moral issues that affect us all. It creates the opportunity to visualize a post-Christian culture.”
In addition, I believe that religions outside the Judeo-Christian mainstream, including Pagan religions, shape the religious/spiritual views of “nones” far more than the current data suggests. When you start to encounter cultures where “nones” dominate, and where spirituality is often shaped by the landscape, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality can start to loom large.
“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”
So it is with this in mind that I read the latest religion survey data, this time from the General Social Survey, which has just issued key findings from 2012, and finds that “nones” now make up 20% of the United State’s adult population.
“On American attitudes toward religion, UC Berkeley researchers found that 20 percent of a nationally representative group reported no religious preference. That’s a jump from 1990 when all but 8 percent of Americans polled identified with an organized faith. ”This continues a trend of Americans disavowing a specific religious affiliation that has accelerated greatly since 1990,” said Hout, lead author of the study.”
In addition we find that conservative Christianity has remained largely static, around 1/3 of the population, Catholicism resists a demographic collapse only through immigration, mainline Protestantism continues to contract, Jews hold the line at 1.5% of the population, and all the others? Well….
“It is hard to say much about the “other religion” category because it combines a very heterogeneous collection of faiths even though all together they do not comprise a very large share of the total.”
Let’s lump Buddhists and Pagans and Muslims together and then state how hard it is to make any sweeping statements about them! The “other” category in religious surveys is lazy and outmoded. It puts a thumb on the demographic scale in favor of Judeo-Christian traditions (and now, having no religion at all), and presents a skewed portrait. “Others” grew, but we have no idea where, or how. Will one of them have to break the magical 1.5% threshold to stop being an other? According to the Pew Forum, Unitarian-Universalists, “liberal” faiths, and “New Age” religions (which includes the Pagans) collectively make up 1.2% of the population, and that was in 2010. We will never get accurate data on these faiths so long as this methodology persists.
The simple fact is that as “nones” grow the “others” are going to become more and more important. We are providing alternatives to organized Christian religion, and we have the most to gain from the demographic travails of Christianity in the West. People with “no religion” may already be “one of us” but afraid to say so in a survey, or they may incorporate elements of Pagan religions into their practice. There are already signs that the tectonic plates of religious belief are shifting our way, and smart researchers will be studying this now, will be digging into all those “others.” I’ll admit my interest in this is somewhat self-serving, I am, after all, a journalist who writes for and about the Pagan community and its allies, but that doesn’t detract from the larger point: we need better data on these faiths.
Religion surveys will have to start focusing as much on what people do religiously as what they believe religiously. Researchers should be asking nones: what festivals and events do you attend? What was the last book you read on spirituality? Have you ever attended a religious service outside the Judeo-Christian spectrum? Instead we remain preoccupied on whether nones believe in God, when that tells us almost nothing about their lives. The nones are growing, and that means it’s time to start paying attention to the “others.”