In you’re not familiar with it, “Nones” is a term the media has given to those who walk away from religious faith. They are not atheists (only 3% of American are self-professed atheists), but they’re just not into religion. The term comes from the growing number of people in America, especially young people, who when asked for their religious affiliation pick “none” or “none of the above.” There have always been irreligious people, but the startling growth of this demographic has caused much glee in secular circles, and much hand wringing in religious communities. It is also a demographic ripe for study; people want to know why this is happening.
Every time Pew or some other organization does a survey of the religious preferences of Americans, a raft of articles about it pop up all over the Internet. Maureen Fiedler, the author of one I came across recently, was surprised to find the reason many people have become “Nones”:
But the most startling finding of this study is the reason the vast majority of today’s nons give for not affiliating with any religious body; 60 percent say they simply don’t believe anymore.
The first question that should pop into your mind is, don’t believe what anymore? Ms. Fiedler’s seems to assume that people can go from belief to unbelief without there being content associated with that unbelief.
Human beings have to believe in something. There is no such thing has a person without some kind of belief, especially when we’re talking about religion or ultimate things, like the meaning of existence. In other words, people don’t go from belief to no belief, as if such a thing were possible. What they do is go from one set of beliefs to another set of beliefs. This is critical for Christians to understand with the growing secularization of our culture and the rise of the “Nones.”
In secular Western culture “belief” supposedly only applies to religious people. This is patently, obviously, logically, and simply not true. If we exchange the word faith for belief, all human beings live by faith. It takes faith to believe there is no God. This cannot be proved. It takes faith to believe that if there is a God, he, she, or it is not worthy of being worshiped and obeyed. This kind of faith sees God in Deist terms; he’s the watchmaker who created the universe, but lets it run according to “natural” laws, no interaction needed. These people are often called agnostics, and they live by faith. It also takes faith to be a pantheist, or an animist, or a Hindu. Whether one believes in God or not, one still believes!
Ms. Fiedler does what many Christian in our postmodern, relativistic secular culture do: they allow the word “religion” to be used against us. She finished her piece this way:
All my instincts say that we are undergoing a profound shift away from religion in the United States today. It’s a trend that demands our ongoing attention and analyses.
There is a shift away from organized religion in that fewer people are going to church (which isn’t true for conservative Evangelicals), but a shift “away from religion” is not a shift away from belief or having faith. We can’t allow the “unbelievers” and those who champion some kind of secular reality, to get away with defining themselves as “unreligious,” as if they themselves don’t live by some kind of faith. Our children, if we’re to keep them Christian, need to be taught that the choice isn’t between religion and no religion, but which religion, which faith are they going to choose.