“Nones” rise again in the U.S.

October 25, 2014 • 10:17 am

The last time I looked, the proportion of “nones”—those people who don’t describe themselves as formally affiliated with a church and don’t usually go to church—was about 15% in the U.S.

Now, a new study suggests it can be as high as—wait for it—38%! I like that, for Professor Ceiling Cat long ago predicted that America was becoming more secular, and eventually, long after we’re worm food, I believe that the U.S. will be as godless as France or Scandinavia. Remember, though that a big chunk of that 38% is still religious in some sense. For among that 38%, a quarter call themselves agnostics or atheists (about 10% of the total population), 27% are churchless but identify with other faiths (e.g., Jews) or call themselves “spiritual but not religious,” and 32% identify themselves nominally as Christians. Still, the failure to affiliate with a church, or to go to church, is the first step toward secularism.

For the overall view, read a new piece by Cathy Lynn Grossman in Religious News Service, “Secularism grows as more U.S. Christians turn ‘churchless.‘” The piece itself is based on a study by David Kinneman and George Barna (of the religious polling organization The Barna group) published in a book called Churchless, which amalgamates data from 20 recent surveys. Curiously, The Barna Group maintains no pretense of philosophical objectivity: it’s definitely pro-religious, so when it gives data showing growing secularism, you can be sure that the results don’t reflect pollster bias. You can see Barna’s bias in this blurb for Churchless:

Discover How to Lovingly Reach Today’s Unchurched

What causes people to stay away from church? What makes them feel welcomed and willing to engage?

Churchless is an up-to-the-minute snapshot of the perceptions, beliefs, behaviors, choices, experiences, expectations and hopes of a nationally representative body of churchless adults. Based on two decades of data and tens of thousands of interviews with unchuched people,Churchless compares the backgrounds, behaviors and beliefs of the churched and the unchurched.

But more than that, Churchless points to how you can build spiritually meaningful relationships with your unchurched family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Because the truth is, most of them are already looking for a connection with God.

But for the salient data see the Barna group’s page “Five trends among the unchurched“, which summarizes the main results (indented wording below taken directly from the site). The word “post-Christian” refers to those who don’t adhere to a Christian religious tradition, as shown by 15 indices of faith or non-faith, including church attendance and beliefs about scriptures and God.

The conclusions:

1. Secularization Is on the Rise
Nearly two-fifths of the nation’s adult population (38%) now qualifies as post-Christian (measured by 15 different variables related to people’s identity, beliefs and behaviors. Read more about our post-Christian metric here.). That includes 10% of Americans who qualify as highly post-Christian. Another one-quarter is moderately post-Christian (28%). Examined over time, our research shows that the proportion of highly secularized individuals is growing slowly but steadily.

In other words, in spite of our “Christian” self-descriptions, more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice. If nothing else, this helps explain why America has experienced a surge in unchurched people—and presages a continuing rise in this population. . .

2. People Are Less Open to the Idea of Church
Barna research shows that the unchurched are becoming less responsive to churches’ efforts to connect with them. . .

Twenty years ago, two-thirds of churchless Americans (65%) were open to being invited to church by a friend. Today, that percentage has slipped to less than half (47%).

It’s not only the efficacy of personal invitations that is changing. Barna’s tracking data stretching back to the 1990s reveal a slow-growing calcification of unchurched people toward churches. For every outreach method surveyed, the unchurched are less open to it today than they were two decades ago.

3. Churchgoing Is No Longer Mainstream
Churchgoing is slowly but incontrovertibly losing its role as a normative part of American life. In the 1990s, roughly one out of every seven unchurched adults had never experienced regular church attendance. Today, that percentage has increased to nearly one-quarter. Buried within these numbers are at least two important conclusions: 1) Church is becoming increasingly unfamiliar to millions of Americans, and yet 2) the churchless are still largely comprised of de-churched adults.

4. There Are Different Expectations of Church Involvement
. . . In the early 1990s, our research showed that nearly seven out of 10 adults, if they were to visit a church, would be most interested in attending the Sunday service. Today, weekend worship services remain the most common entry experience, but only slightly; now, only 57% of churchless adults say they would be interested in Sunday worship as their starting point. Today’s unchurched are more likely to say they are simply not sure, reflecting their disinterest in churches generally, or are more likely to say they would prefer attending some activity other than the Sunday service.

Finally, and most heartening:

5. There Is Skepticism about Churches’ Contributions to Society
Although many of the churchless hold positive views of churches, a substantial number also have no idea what Christians have accomplished in the nation, either for the better or for the worse. When the unchurched were asked to describe what they believe are the positive and negative contributions of Christianity in America, almost half (49%) could not identify a single favorable impact of the Christian community, while nearly two-fifths (37%) were unable to identify a negative impact.

(Read the Barna piece for a whole lot more data.)

If religion is important not only as a belief system, but—as Sophisticated Theologians™ tell us—as a social glue, binding people together for good, it will bind only if people perceive that religion does good things for them and for society. If churches are seen as not doing much good for society, that eliminates not only a reason to be religious, but also eliminates the need for “belief in belief”, the notion that even if you’re not religious, you can promote religion as good for society.

Has this secularization led to increased immorality, as the faithful would predict? I doubt it. One sign that morality is actually on the rise is the increasing recognition of rights for gays and other minorities. It’s only a matter of time, I think, before gay marriage will be legal in every state in the Union. That would be unthinkable in a nation of diehard Christians.

h/t: Douglas ~

131 thoughts on ““Nones” rise again in the U.S.

  1. Very encouraging, indeed! For, if nothing else…the children of the un-churched will grow up without that brainwashing and become de-facto atheists, and the grandchildren of today’s un-churchred will think of religion like tossing salt over your shoulder — quaint and perhaps charming anachronisms that people once really truly believed in.


    1. “the children of the un-churched will grow up without that brainwashing and become de-facto atheists”

      Not necessarily. If their parents don’t inoculate them, they’re still highly vulnerable. My uncle is an atheists, but all of his children grew up to be very religious.

      1. Oh, certainly. Nothing is certain. But the odds favor somebody not raised with religion at home never picking it up in adulthood.

        The odds favor those people even more if they’ve got a solid education with plenty of science….


        1. “The odds favor those people even more if they’ve got a solid education with plenty of science…. ”

          Not sure that anything less than a master’s degree in a subject really changes the outlook of most people.

          1. Oh, I don’t know about that. Lots of the regulars here came to their senses just with the usual collection of popular press books, especially Jerry’s but also Richard’s and Sam’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if the average level of education here is above average, but I’m also pretty sure that masters degrees are still the rare exception, not the norm.


          2. Just from my impressions of the number of people who write on the net, saying that they lost faith in college, I think you’re being unduly pessimistic.

            1. And it is important to take the long view, though I have no idea what the critical mass is. There could be one in the other direction, too – a “tipping point” to use that hacknied phrase.

      2. Nearly everyone’s children who will be given a smart phone is likely to see the world for what it is. Every child will have to weight the accuracy of thier benighted parent’s prerogatives versus the whole of the internet. It is a battle not likely, over time, to be won by an ancient myth whose fundamental strength relies on confinement.

        1. Assuming they ever venture away from pron, social media, gaming, etc.

          Recent joke from the Reader’s Digest (yuk), paraphrased from memory:

          Q: What would a time traveler from the past find most amazing about this day and age?

          A: That everyone carries a device in their pocket that gives them access to all the knowledge ever amassed by humankind; and that they use them to look at pictures of cats and to get into heated arguments with strangers.

          1. Indeed. (There must be a way of saying “indeed” without having to say “indeed” every time you want to say “indeed”. Too many “indeeds”.)

            There is so much great information – great knowledge – online. I sometimes surf Wikipedia or read intelligent bl…websites like this one in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. If my parents or my in-laws are over they invariably – INVARIABLY – say something like “your texting/Facebooking is more interesting than us?” Even after I’ve repeatedly explained that that’s not what I’m doing. They just can’t fathom that there are things to be learned out there.

            It’s especially flabbergasting when they take offence at me looking at my iPhone screen instead of at the TV screen along with them. As if silently staring at the same screen constitutes quality time. “Oh, NOW we’re interacting!”

            1. Couldn’t agree more, although I do TRY to keep my phone-checking to a minimum when, say, the in-laws or other company are over. Yet, as they become engrossed in some rerun of CSI or similar crap TV I politely excuse myself and retreat to my office to do work, keep tabs on my email, and/or look at recent posts on some of my usual web sites, including this one.

              I sincerely wish we could just play cards and chat, maybe have a drink or three, but that just doesn’t happen, they seem much more comfortable bathing in the blue glow of the TV screen If that’s what makes them happy, fine, but I’m not going to play along– life’s too short.

              1. And I was thinking of “exactly,” “precisely,” “hear, hear,” “QFT” (when something is reposted), “I know, right?”…I’m obviously much more into slang than Ant…

                But no matter what I use, I always feel as MB does–surely there must be something better. 🙂

                Actually this is why the internet’s “+ 1” convention appeals to me the most (and technically each subsequent respondent wanting to express agreement ups the digit by one). But alas, PCC does not look kindly on that custom. (I still commit it, though. 😉 )

              2. I was lazily cutting and pasting from my thesaurus.

                I thought it was “This”, rather than “+1”, that Jerry found irksome.

                Absent a “Like” button (oddly, you can “Like” WEIT comments from elsewhere in WordPress), any of these is a good way to show agreement with or appreciation of a comment, if you have nothing more substantive to say (or are shy about doing so).


              3. I do think “this” is higher on his dislike list. Funny how we all see to adopt some internet memes while despising others.

                I think the signals of agreement are valuable–I like to know where people stand, for one thing, and I’m so impressed by some posts that I just want to let the writers know, for another. I suspect is prevents a lot of more or less duplicate posts as well.

                I used to think those single-word posts, or the “sub” convention, were too unimaginative to use here, but now I see them as eminently practical and certainly easy to skip over if you really don’t like them. I’d rather a simple “sub” than having to think up something to say when I really don’t have a lot to offer–what a waste of people’s time that is!

            2. There is so much great information – great knowledge – online. I sometimes surf Wikipedia or read intelligent bl…websites like this one in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. If my parents or my in-laws are over they invariably – INVARIABLY – say something like “your texting/Facebooking is more interesting than us?” Even after I’ve repeatedly explained that that’s not what I’m doing. They just can’t fathom that there are things to be learned out there.

              It’s especially flabbergasting when they take offence at me looking at my iPhone screen instead of at the TV screen along with them. As if silently staring at the same screen constitutes quality time. “Oh, NOW we’re interacting!”

              SO agree! 😉

              Not infrequently one good site leads to another leads to another…and it’s definitely more interesting than the average family discussion and exponentially more so than most TV–esp. with all those commercials! And I don’t do social media–often to my own loss since so many interest groups have moved to FB–but I’m still managing to hold out.

              1. I love me some internet.

                Of course, the point of all that was that my folks apparently don’t appreciate the extent of what you can do with a phone and a wifi connection. I think I kind of got away from that in the course of my rant.

              2. No, no, I definitely got the point–I can totally identify with it–and I’m sorry my comments didn’t reflect that.

                My mother used to react the same way to my being on my laptop, although she was more into conversation than television. I used to do “small talk” but at some point realized what a complete waste of time that was and can now hardly stomach it.

        2. “Nearly everyone’s children who will be given a smart phone is likely to see the world for what it is. ”

          That’s got to help, but what I think is most useful is learning about the ideas that explain those facts, and that’s often is harder for someone to pick up on their own.

          1. The reference most people will get is by reading comments. They are not going to puruse the internet for obscure articles to help them develop a nanoscale temperature probe using Raman spectroscopy, but they will find the ther are people out there who are curious like them about finding out more that their religion is utter nonesenese.

            1. Here’s a question: how is Raman spectroscopy distinguishable from magic?
              (I suspect it may be a sufficiently advanced technology)

        3. Smart phones are a medium of ‘prayer’ that actually works, for a change. Why talk to an imaginary friend in your head when you can quietly, privately, talk/text to real friends (without the stress and distraction and inconvenience of actually being there with them)? Or search for information and/or inspiration on the whole internet, not just one silly old book?

    2. A few years ago one of the freethought magazines had an article analyzing statistics regarding nonbelief from the late 1800’s to the 21st century. Iirc the authors said that the most critical change came during a decade or so in the early 20th century when rural church-going Christians moved to the cities to find work and stopped going to church. This lead to a new generation which effectively grew up without religion. They in turn raised their children the same way — and so on.

      As I recall the writers argued that this social mobility had more effect on the Rise of the Nones than the increasing slew of arguments against the existence of God. They had a chart which showed a sudden jump, and then the geometric rise.

      Maybe. For the most part my grandparents were less rural and less religious than their own parents; my parents followed that trajectory; and so did I, and so with my kids. I think the addition of good reasons to be an atheist makes the distinction between “spiritual but not religious” and agnostic or atheist.

      1. Interesting thesis. If we see the Internet accelerate the demise of religion, as I suspect we will, it’ll lend a great deal of credibility to the idea.


  2. I’d be interested in hearing how Jerry feels about new-age irrationality replacing traditional religious perspectives, for many of the growing ‘spiritual but not religious’ group hold all sorts of nonsensical beliefs. Are the new-agers just as misguided as the traditions that they feel they’ve risen above?

    1. Yes, but they’re not the same type of danger. For one, they’re nowhere near as organized. For another, their misguided beliefs are, for the most part, like most other superstitions these days. Yes, astrology is lunatic idiocy and a fertile ground for scams, but, for most people, it’s just another one-liner in the paper between the weather and the quote of the day. Kinda hard to get exercised over it.

      While we’d all prefer our societies sane, I don’t think any of us have a problem with people who avoid breaking mirrors or walking under ladders or opening umbrellas inside….


      1. I generally agree, with a caveat. While the world will be a much better place when organized religion is an object simply of history books, woo-thought can still be dangerous and can’t be ignored… outbreaks of preventable disease, bogus treatment for real maladies by homeopath frauds, etc. There are plenty of non-religious examples of bad thinking that are more consequential than astrology predictions at the back of a newspaper.

        1. Oh, definitely. Woo is most emphatically not without its dangers.

          It’s just that it’s much less dangerous than religion, on balance.

          Even homeopathy…yes, too many people have died because they relied on homeopathy rather than chemotherapy or whatever real medicine was called for…but most people who buy homeopathetic nostrums are using them to help them get to sleep at night or alleviate a mild headache or seasonal allergies or a vague sense of unease. And, frankly, a few drops of distilled water is likely better for them in the long run than the over-the-counter medicines they compete with. If you can get to sleep without sleeping pills, all the better. Long-term diphenhydramine use enlarges the prostate; if distilled water lets you ignore mild allergy symptoms, all the better. Acetaminophen is easy to overdose on, causing liver failure; if you can make it through your headache without it, all the better.

          As long as, of course, you see a real doctor for real illnesses….



              1. well, I should have known to do the research myself.

                “Decongestants and Antihistamines. Men with BPH should avoid, if possible, the many medications for colds and allergies that contain decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, generic). Such drugs, known as adrenergics, can worsen urinary symptoms by preventing muscles in the prostate and bladder neck from relaxing to allow urine to flow freely. Antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl, generic), can also slow urine flow in some men with BPH.”

                so, it doesn’t seem to enlarge anything, but can effect muscles in the area.

              2. Ah — thanks for the clarification. I could have sworn I heard it as it causing enlargement, albeit temporary. Still, that could either have been a misunderstanding on my part or the doctors putting it in easy-to-understand terms….


      2. Yes. Most things are on a spectrum, so I pretty much agree with you. However I can see exceptions that worry me. Example: many spiritual-but-not-religiousites are against vaccination, and that has real world impact.

        1. Perversely enough, I’m much less worried about the long-term prospects for vaccination today than I was a month ago. You see, there’s this disease called, “ebola”…and you can bet your bottom dollar that the anti-vaxxers will be first in line with sleeves rolled up when there’s an ebola vaccine, and that’ll be the end of the anti-vaccination movement.


            1. Anti-vaccination hysteria is a very recent phenomenon. The last smallpox case was in 1977, but even that was a century after it had ceased being a serious threat to Americans.

              Were it not for Wakefield and McCarthy, there wouldn’t be any anti-vaccination movement. All it’ll take is one more serious outbreak of something infectious preventable by vaccine to inoculate us against further anti-vaccination hysteria…and, looky here! Right on cue….

              But, remember: the superficial excuse from the anti-vaccination nutjobs is that they don’t want their children to get sick from the icky stuff in the vaccines. But the instant they realize that their children will die horrible deaths unless they get a jab, you won’t be able to stop them from not only demanding vaccines for their kids, but insisting that everybody else on the planet must get vaccinated as well to keep the ebola monster as far away from their precious children as possible.

              Fine by me. I’m gonna be first in line for the ebola vaccine, myself, anyway….



              1. Well, sure, but they’ve only recently become a public health problem, and that thanks to Wakefield and McCarthy, may they rot in Hell (even if we have to make an Hell for them to rot in).


              2. Yep, but there have been anti-vax efforts almost since the beginning of vaccinations, I was surprised to learn some while back – fueled, not surprisingly, by religion. But on brief thought, it makes sense. Religion claimed to offer salvation vs. far more likely death from rapid-onset and poorly-understood disease back then. Anything that offered relief from that encroached on the preachers domain/purview and so they pushed back.

              3. Oh, I’ve often admitted ignorance here. But my point is that the modern anti-vaccination movement didn’t exist before Wakefield’s fraudulent “research” and McCarthy’s jumping on his bandwagon. Yes, Christian Scientists and the like have always had all sorts of nutjob reasons for being idiots when it comes to modern medicine, but such fruitloops have always been on the margins. Wakefield and McCarthy made anti-vaccination a popular mainstream menace.


              4. You moved the goals. Or maybe you didn’t actually mean what you typed: “Anti-vaccination hysteria is a very recent phenomenon.”

              5. No, I did and still do mean that.

                I wouldn’t call the state of affairs before Wakefield and McCarthy, “hysteria.”

                Would you refer to a refusal to accept blood donation today as, “hysteria”? No? What if it suddenly became a common phenomenon? Would you retroactively describe the Jehovah’s Witlesses refusal to accept blood donation as, “hysteria”?


              6. Honestly, Ben. Climb down off that horse. The words I quoted were yours. Your magic wand doesn’t regenerate the past.

                You’ve managed to wander far from the original point, which was the incorrectness of your assertion: “Were it not for Wakefield and McCarthy, there wouldn’t be any anti-vaccination movement.” History shows that anti-vaccination movements are as old as vaccination.

                The honorable (and simpler) thing to do is to say “Oh, I stand corrected” instead of trying to make a virtue out of an error. Throwing arguments and irrelevant rhetorical questions hoping that something will stick is just a tad silly.

              7. Honestly, I’m not being obtuse.

                What you’re describing is the standard Luddite anti-modernism reaction that’s commonplace with anything. But anti-vaxxers as we know them today are entirely the fault of Wakefield and McCarthy, who manufactured a mainstream movement.

                Do you really want to describe the low-level universal antipathy to modernity you can find at the fringes anywhere as a “movement” comparable to what we see today with respect to vaccines since Wakefield and McCarthy?

                Hell, for that matter, atheism is at least as ancient as the Pre-Socratics. But do you not see how the post-9/11 “New Atheist” movement the Four Horsemen inspired is worthy of being identified as such?


    2. The extent that new-age irrationality informs the formation of social policy will determine how dangerous it is.

      For example, it’s irrational and mystical thinking that informs the anti vaccination lobby, and this is very, very dangerous.

      I’m old enough that I can remember childhood friends who were killed or permanently disabled by diseases like polio and rheumatic fever and the threat of a pregnant woman contacting Rubella with potentially devastating consequences for a developing fetus was ever present.

      Thanks to new-age irrationality diseases like pertussis, measles and mumps which were almost eradicated are once again becoming a threat.

      1. I hope so. I’m dismayed by the number of people who are sucked into Chopra’s orbit, or who belive the anti-vaccine and anti-fluoride crap. The anti-fluoride idiots have managed to get fluoride taken out of the water of our 4th biggest city and despite two referenda voting to have it put back in, they’re still managing to block it. This is damaging the teeth and health of a generation.

    3. I have friends who are seriously steeped in New Age irrationality and I think their views are every bit as dangerous as those in more traditional religions, and possibly more so.

      For one thing the blithe rejection of science and conflating critical thinking with being a closed-minded, ‘critical’ person would pretty much bring the entire Enlightenment to a grinding halt — if enough people were to take it seriously and apply it. In some ways there are fewer rational secular breaks and balances than with the religious because they compartmentalize less and are serenely convinced that the problems with ‘religion’ simply can’t apply to them.

      New Age apologetics strongly tend towards presuppositionalism. That is, they trot out the pseudoscience as a first attempt. If they meet disagreement, however, it’s straight to a refusal to debate arrogant people who know the truth but blind themselves. From what I can tell ‘spirituality’ draws more of its strength from pure mysticism and faith — and prides itself on this. They then apply their knowledge ‘holistically:’ hijinks ensue.

  3. “…Churchless points to how you can build spiritually meaningful relationships with your unchurched family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Because the truth is, most of them are already looking for a connection with God.”

    No, people, we’re not already looking for a connection with God. Get over yourselves.

    What’s more, people who are hunting for scalps are exhausting to be around.

    May “Churchless”, and all other groups like you, drive even more people away from superstition. L

  4. This is the part that encourages me the most:

    “The younger the generation, the more post-Christian it is”:

    Millennials (born between 1984 and 2002) — 48 percent
    Gen X-ers (born between 1965 and 1983) — 40 percent
    Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) — 35 percent
    Elders (born in 1945 or earlier) — 28 percent

    Just using that data, if we are at 38% now, in another 20 years or so it will be around 50% and that’s assuming no increase in the rate that young people reject the religion of their parents.

    1. Be careful there, though. Traditionally, lots of teens/young adults try out different philosophies, attempt to distance themselves from their parents, go through a rebellious stage, etc.

      But also traditionally, people tend to revert as they get older. Some think they need to re-adopt religion when they have kids, for the “moral teachings.” Some just naturally become more conservative as they acquire more responsibilities and obligations and figure they have “more to lose.” Some of the elderly revert out of fear.

      I tend to think the actual proportion of true freethinkers probably doesn’t change much over the course of the years.

    1. It is a good term. Post-religious more generally describes the history of this present movement, but for America, post-Christian is worth repeating, at least for a decade or so, to instll a this particular phase a movement.

    1. ploubere – my take on the phrase is that christianity has been a dominant force in US history and culture. We still live under the myth that this is a christian nation founded on christian principles. Even if/when the non-christians become a majority, there will still be an influential christian presence. When that influence fades, post-christendom will have arrived.

    2. Since the reference is the United States, it is statistically true that the vast majority “started out christian”.

      1. I would have thought that the even more overwhelming majority started out as uneducated babies and had religion exposed to them throughout their infancy and youth. What happened to them afterwards is down to the child abusers they met – parents and priests.

  5. There’s a link in that article from RNS which lets you take the “how post-Christian are you” test for yourself. I was a little disappointed that I only scored “pretty secular” (“Your outlook on life is closer to secular “Nones” than Christians”). But that’s actually the “lowest” category they offer. “Baby-eating atheist” would be more accurate.

    1. My score was “7.” I answered every single question in the most atheist way possible. I wonder how one can possibly get a lower score?

      1. It’s impossible. I checked. Saying one has read the Babble in the last week, yet answering all the other questions as atheistically should’ve scored lower — but every question is stupidly independent of each other.

        Even if you answer atheistically, and also add that your “faith” is really important to you and/or that you really want to spread your “faith” (as if atheism is a “faith” — but just playing it for yucks… like the proverbial door-to-door atheist trying to deconvert everyone they meet) also gets you classified as more religious.

        I think they simply borked the test scoring. (not to mention the messed-up and leading lines of questions and non-Likert structure of the questioning). If I had constructed the test, it would’ve probably been inappropriate for much of the target audience of that website, though.

        1. *Googles Likert* I like your posts because I always learn something new from them; well, if I remember what I read, of course.

          I suspect your test would be much more fun to take.

          1. Darn – I posted before providing a link to Likert scaling. (oh well… better late than never)

            Gravel inspector was smarter than me, though. He tried checking all the boxes, and it gets you down to zero that way. So the numerous people commenting over there who complain about getting only a seven is really an indication a bug in the code.

            Here’s some examples of the questions in the test I would administer:

            I volunteered at church in the last week:
            1) Enthusiastically
            2) As a condition of my parole
            3) The battle ax made me
            4) No
            5) I volunteered to torch the place

            I attended a religious small group in the last week:
            1) Yes, every day, and I organized the proceedings and manage the mail and telephone lists.
            2) Yes, and I brought the muffins.
            3) God no.
            4) I infiltrated a small group’s religious meeting, continually rebutting people’s opinions and calling everyone out on their bullshit until I was eventually removed.
            5) I attended the religious meeting of a small group of Satanists, intent on spiking the communion wafers next door with LSD.

            etc, etc…

      2. My score was 7, as well, after answering what’s almost certainly the exact same way. Clearly, the quiz is rigged to try to convince people that they’re not as godless as they thought they were.

        Pretty shameless…but, what do you expect? They’re Christians, so of course they’ll lie their asses off for Jesus.


        1. Really?

          I got 13% — and I’d’ve expected you to answer the same as I did to “Jesus never committed sins”, viz. “Agree strongly.” After all, if he didn’t exist, how could he have committed any sins?


          1. Well, it depends on whether or not you’d agree that, for example, Beowulf killed Grendel, Iago is one seriously evil fucked up sonofabitch, Yoda raised Luke’s fighter from the swamp, and so on. Of course, none of that never happened…but, in the context of literary analysis, I can hardly deny any of those, either, can I?

            And I’m hard pressed to think of a greater sin than sending somebody to Hell, which Jesus does recklessly and with great abandon and to huge swaths of humanity. So, yeah. That particular seriously evil fucked up sonofabitch is a non-stop sin machine. So how else could I answer the question as asked?


    2. I’m wary of being click-bait to an organisation calling itself “religionnews”, but …
      Hmm, it comes up with me as being pretty secular. But I suspect that is down to a couple of extremely ambiguous questions …

      My faith is important in my life

      Well, my opinion on faith is important in my life. I consider it to be a very dangerous characteristic, to be assaulted and undermined on all occasions and people proselytising it to be counted as dangerous enemies. So I need to answer “yes” to that. But I think maybe they’re assuming that “faith” is a faith in god, and the question setter is using English differently to me. I certainly can’t answer “Disagree” to a question like that, but I think they’re taking any non-“disagree” answer as sign of some degree of god-squaddy-ness. I tick disagree, and move on.

      I feel a personal responsibility to share my faith

      And again, I think they’re taking this as proof of some degree of god-squaddiness, when I spend my spare time heckling street preachers and making their lives difficult – and hopefully undermining their own faith. Un-tick again and see what comes up.
      Hmmm, silly designer has implemented check-boxes, not sets of radio buttons.
      Un-ticking those two (well, going to “disagree” knocks me down to 7% god-squadiscity.
      But ticking all the boxes – the ‘yes’ AND ‘no’ options for each question, and the “don’t know” answers too, gives me a score of 0 – which indicates that whoever designed this really doesn’t know how to design a test. Totally useless ; totally incompetent work. I am not surprised.

      1. Aha… so you figured out how to get a score of zero. I did not try simply checking all the boxes. So the programmer likely did this with a bunch of if-then logic for each question, checking the “negative responses” first, and skipping other indications for each question that could be wishy-washy or positive. And then screwed up the logic on one of the questions before it went live, to boot.

        Yup. Worthless, and not surprisingly so.

        1. If I see code, I try to break it.
          My work’s programmers hate me for it. And then encourage me to do it again. Better for me to break the product and tell them than for them to find out about the breakage in a phone call from a client at 03:00 on Sunday. (Everything interesting happens at 03:00/Sunday.)

              1. Arrgh, I remember that! (Kids are now grown; two geriatric dogs, though, so we’re re-experiencing those surprise gifts you don’t want to step in.)

              2. Baihu basically never hacks up hairballs or the like…but, when he does, it’s the ultimate alarm clock.

                At least, it was the last time a year or three ago, and I hope it will be if he ever does so again. The sound is unmistakable, even if it’s not very loud….


    3. I think the test assumes that it will be taken only by Christians who are worried about whether they are good Christians. Thus, the “Your outlook on life is closer to secular “Nones” than Christians” is to be taken as a gentle warning. “Gee, you’re pretty secular: you might want to watch that.”

        1. One could hope that the result pops up something like “You’re more secularized than you think. Congratulations!”

  6. Post – “The piece itself is based on a study by David Kinneman and George Barna (of the religious polling organization The Barna group) published in a book called Churchless, …”

    George Barna has recently teamed up with the notorious Texas religio-political propagandist David Barton who poses as an historian and expert in American history specializing in the founding period. The name of the book is U-Turn and its press release (via online Charisma News Service) states that “U-Turn examines current cultural trends and historical patterns to reveal that America cannot sustain its strength if it remains on its current path.” And from the Charisma piece:

    “’Unless we invite God to be at the center of our process and operate in strict accordance with His principles, we are doomed to continue our downward slide,’ Barna and Barton write. ‘Because He has proven Himself to be a merciful ruler, though, if we will humble ourselves before Him, there is hope. U-Turn will describe the radical action Americans must take in partnership with God to restore the nation.’”

    I’d be suspicious of both Barna’s data and the motivation. There’s nothing like whipping up the fear and resentment among the target demographic to identify a problem in order to spur sales of how to fix the problem.

    More details on Barton & Barna are available on Warren Throckmorton’s page, at Patheos website.

  7. When I was still a Christian, I was ashamed to admit it because so many Christians seem to me to have bigoted attitudes, especially, at that time in New Zealand, towards the LGBT community. Lonely Planet has just named NZ 2nd in its LGBT friendly country for tourists list (Denmark #1) and we’re still about 55% religious, so I suppose it’s not true any more thank goodness, but it’s still an impression I have.

  8. It has been admitted on this website that there are no such things as objective good and evil. However, the statement, “One sign that morality is actually on the rise is the increasing recognition of rights for gays and other minorities,” implies that there is a “true” morality, that there are such things as objective “rights,” and that recognition of these “rights” is an objective good, and not the mere elaboration of a fundamentally emotional response in a creature with a large brain. This is a contradiction.

    1. I think you’re having a problem with the term “objective.” There’s no contradiction between acknowledging that there’s no evaluation-free, agent-free “Good” or “Evil” existing as such, floating as essences in the spiritual transcendent ether — and still using ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as valid measurements which apply across humanity.

      If “objective” is interpreted as being outside of all human values and goals, the concept of an objective good and evil becomes incoherent (like something being objectively ‘delicious’ even though everyone thinks it tastes horrible.) The concept of “inter-subjectivity” is more nuanced, and strikes a reasonable balance between morality being outside of anyone’s opinion and morality shifting according to everyone’s opinion.

      In other words, it’s more complicated than you’re thinking it is.

      1. If you use “good” and “evil” as valid measurements which apply across humanity, then you believe in objective morality, in whatever mystic form you choose to have it float around in the ether. Regardless of whether you want to accept that rather obvious fact or not, you need to cite some reason why your versions of “good” and “evil” actually do apply across humanity. Good luck with that. No one has ever succeeded yet.

        I didn’t particularly care for de Waal’s “The Bonobo and the Atheist.” However, I was impressed by the fact that he knew the significance of Edvard Westermarck on this issue. Westermarck published “The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas” in 1906, so it’s available for anyone who cares to look at it on Google Books. Among other things, it demolishes the notion of “‘good’ and ‘evil’ as valid measurements which apply across humanity.”

        1. Just because a concept doesn’t have universal applicability does’t mean it’s useless. For example, every street map you’ve ever bought relies on the theory that the Earth really is flat. Of course, the Earth really isn’t flat, but it’s still much more useful to pretend that it is for the purpose of finding your way to the library than it is to insist on pedantry and only use (non-existent) geometrically-correct street maps.


          1. Oh, I’d be the first to admit that morality can be useful, but before we use it perhaps it would be well to understand what it actually is, and in particular to grasp the fact that it springs from individual emotions, and can have no legitimate universal validity whatsoever.

            As for usefulness, the whole debate between the “New Atheists” and their accommodationist foes is really about if and how morality should be used as a political weapon. I personally do not favor unilateral moral disarmament because I understand the evolutionary origins of morality, or the reasons it exists, or its fundamentally emotional nature. The accommodationists would have us toss aside the very weapon that has been so effective for gays, minorities, etc. I don’t favor tossing the weapon aside just because I realize there is no metric by which I can claim legitimate moral superiority to a fundamentalist Christian or a Moslem jihadist. I do favor dropping the pleasant myths about what the weapon actually is. Among other things, it might temper the more absurd manifestations of self-righteousness that are such a marked characteristic of the present.

            1. Morality is best understood as an optimal strategy (in the sense used by game theorists) for individuals to succeed in a cooperative society.

              And the main division between Gnus and faithiests is that Gnus aren’t interested in patronizing or otherwise lying to the little people. They can handle the truth, thankyouverymuch. They might not like hearing it, they might reject it, but if we are to have any respect for believers, it must be by not attempting to deceive them, even ostensibly for their own good.



              1. Morality is best understood as an optimal strategy (in the sense used by game theorists) for individuals to succeed in a cooperative society.

                Chalk up another valuable insight, perfectly worded, that I have learned on this website.

                And, it sure beats worrying about whether or not I’m wearing a shirt with two different fibers mixed in it.

            2. HelianUnbound wrote:

              As for usefulness, the whole debate between the “New Atheists” and their accommodationist foes is really about if and how morality should be used as a political weapon.

              Is it? I had thought the debate between New Atheists and accomodationists was on the status of religion and faith, with the first group wanting them treated as truth claims and the second group content to let them pass as an identity — within limits. Both groups generally agree on the immorality of religion “intruding” into science and government.

              You may be exploring a new wrinkle in the gnu vs. accomodationist debate — or you may just be arguing about some other issue. I suspect the latter; we’d need to start going into definitions, then, and that may be too much of a tangent for this topic.

        2. I’m comfortable with defending a secular version of ‘objective’ morality if the term has been set in a reasonable way; so are many other gnu atheists. Much of this argument then is semantic.

          As for the application across humanity, there’s only universal agreement on very broad and basic principles (ie good is desirable and better than evil.) This obviously gives little help on deciding the specifics — but it does set up a common framework, which is the most important first step, I think.

          Frankly, even theistic, transcendent attempts to anchor Good and Evil into being objective properties of reality still fall into the very same problems as secular systems. In whose opinion? They simply try to define the standards instead of establishing them — and the problem is a problem regardless of whether God actually exists or no.

      2. I think you’re having a problem with the term “objective.” There’s no contradiction between acknowledging that there’s no evaluation-free, agent-free “Good” or “Evil” existing as such, floating as essences in the spiritual transcendent ether — and still using ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as valid measurements which apply across humanity.

        But this assumes that “objective” means “Platonic”. We don’t have to show that scientific truths “float as essences in the spiritual transcendent ether” to show that they are objective. We just have to show that a) they actually point to truths that you go out and find, ideally while not fooling yourself, and b) they remain true regardless of people’s opinions. The only reason it seems muddled when it comes to morality is that morality is, in part, the science of people’s opinion, but if this is a crippling defect, then so is any science that tackles minds.

        If “objective” is interpreted as being outside of all human values and goals, the concept of an objective good and evil becomes incoherent (like something being objectively ‘delicious’ even though everyone thinks it tastes horrible.)

        Do we interpret biology as being outside of living things? No. Morality as a subject is no different.

        And I think you’re making a confusion here. It’s nonsense to claim that something is objectively delicious if everyone gags when they try to eat it. But if everyone thinks it tastes horrible? There’s a difference between thinking something tastes horrible and it actually tasting horrible, as anyone who’s tried to get kids to eat their greens can testify. You confuse what people think is the case with what actually is the case, a mistake that would be glaring in any other field.

        Why does it have to be absolute, anyway, as if an objectively delicious object has to be delicious to everyone? Biology and social sciences are full of concepts that don’t apply to every organism and person, yet we don’t call either of them subjective studies. If Sally finds broccoli delicious, denying this isn’t due to its subjectivity. It isn’t because of some subjective force that works differently from objective ones. It’ll be just as much about facts regarding Sally’s mind as it is about broccoli. Deliciousness is simply a complex factual description that contains more facts than a focus on the “delicious object” would seem to suggest.

  9. Curiously, The Barna Group maintains no pretense of philosophical objectivity: it’s definitely pro-religious, so when it gives data showing growing secularism, you can be sure that the results don’t reflect pollster bias.

    Not necessarily. Many Christians like to exaggerate how small and besieged they are, in order to foster an in-group sense of persecution and specialness. The bias then would be the other way. They’d want to show their numbers weaker than they really are. Last days, etc.

    I’m not saying that Barna Group is doing this; I’m just saying we can’t be sure that they’re certainly not.

    1. Yes I agree. In fact I’d go further than that: I think the numbers they quote are pretty clear evidence that they had an analytical* bias toward a specific result. They want to show growth of secularism, probably in order to encourage believers to greater action and bigger donations.

      Here’s the most glaring example (there may be others): they say 38% of adults are post-Christian, but most mainstream statistics show about 75% of the US population is Christian. That’s a big difference. It means the Barna Group is counting about 10-15% of people who would self-identify as Christian as non-Christian. To me, that shows that they are intentionally putting high(er) standards on who counts as “Christian” in order to skew the number of Christians down.

      *JAC said pollster bias, so we may be talking about different things. I am not saying the poll questions were rigged to give a specific result. I’m saying that when they got the results back to their offices and started analyzing them, they interpreted the answers in a way that reduced the number of people they counted as Christian to below the number of polled people who would call themselves Christian.

  10. I’ll believe it when I see it in other cultural realms. American speech is still religious. Every politician says ‘God Bless America’ at the end of every speech. Americans still speak of being ‘blessed’ instead of lucky. On evening News programs from the states you constantly hear phrases like ‘Thank God’ and ‘God willing’. Americans almost say ‘God be with you’ when saying hello and good-bye (at least that isn’t the case — yet)! For all of the daily shootings, they are always ‘praying’ for the victims. Any question of why they talk and act this way is met with strong resistance and even belligerence. I only notice all of this because I don’t swim in that water any more (left the country a decade ago and don’t plan on ever living there again). Outside the US, Americans are often seen as rather dull, ignorant, loud and rude. I’d add pious to that list and until I see some of those numbers reflected in the predominant American temperament, I remain unconvinced.

    1. ddrucker – you hit on a specific notion that pushes one of my buttons, and that’s the fast and loose use of “blessing”. You mention lucky, but I would lean more toward privileged. Osteen is the worst abuser of blessing – of course he ignores much of what the NT states.

  11. “you can be sure that the results don’t reflect pollster bias”

    That isn’t necessarily true. Many religious like to portray the world as in decay, and an accelerating atheism trend would make them feel more special. Many of the more fundamentalist types think that for all practical purposes, everyone in the world is atheistic, other than themselves.

    My mother, when she got serious about religion in the 70s, pulled us out of the Episcopal church and into a trendy Presbyterian one; she caustically referred to Episcopalians as “practically atheist.”

      1. Back when I was a baptist, and we were categorizing how and why other christian groups weren’t really christian, the usual line was “Episcopalians are just Catholics who flunked Latin”.

  12. Going to church is like couponing someone will always want to do it.My drug of cpns comes in the Sunday paper tomorrow. Yeah but for others they go to church for the drugs,if coupons showed up in a church i’d go.

  13. Encouraging.
    I must admit though that I do not understand the graph where ‘the churchless are more likely to be’:…
    How does one read that? The percentages of churchless and churched follow each other closely within each category, but differ greatly between categories. Can someone explain?

    I am also curious how these things are in non-‘western’ countries.
    How unchurched (untempled?) is India? China?
    We hear a lot about mass ‘defection’ in Muslim countries, but on the other hand we have stats that give massively religious scores in the Muslim world. Have we any clue in what direction it is going there?

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