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How those with no religion identify themselves

How those with no religion identify themselves. Graph by Corner of Church & State, an RNS blog. Source: 2012 American National Election Study


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The most dramatic change in American religion over the past two decades is the rise of the so-called “nones.” Nearly one-in-five Americans now have no connection to religion. But surveys show that many of these “nones” still hold to identities that are tied to spirituality.

In the 2012 American National Election Study, 16 percent of Americans were part of the “nones.” People in this group did not belong to any religious group, never attended church, and said religion wasn’t important in their lives.

The survey asked these “nones” how they identified themselves. They were asked to pick from a list of words that might describe them.

Of those with no religion, few considered themselves to be atheists (12 percent) or agnostic (16 percent). Instead, most saw themselves as having a spiritual life. The most common identity was “spiritual but not religious.” Another one-in-ten said they were “non-traditional believers.”

The “nones” are a growing segment of the population, but in this stubbornly religious country, even those with no religion still hold to an identity that is tied to spirituality or belief.

8 Comments

  1. What’s most striking is the demographic gap. I’m an academic, and according to a survey only 14% of people in my profession are either “theists” or “lean to theism.” And colleagues were amazed because they thought that was high.

    Amongst the urban-coastal educated upper middle class “Nones” are surely the overwhelming majority. But apparently amongst other segments of the population religious belief and practicestill seems to be the norm. This is the origin of Culture Wars: it’s class warfare, between the educated, urban-coastal upper middle class and the lower classes.

    Personally, I don’t feel any sympathy for the whining of the “Nones”. Maybe in their subcultures they’re a minority, but their view is the prestigious view, the doctrine amongst the educated upper middle class–amongst the people that count. So even if they’re having problems in their trailer parks, they’re in tune with their social betters. And that’s what matter.

    Religion is a class issue: and we are in the middle of a culture war between the secular educated upper middle class and the religious lower classes.

  2. The Great God Pan

    Gotta love RNS. On the same day, they’ve got one front-page piece saying that 50% of the Nones are atheists or agnostics, and another front-page piece saying that “few” of the Nones are atheists or agnostics. How enlightening! Choose Your Own Statistics!

    • To be fair, the problem here may not be RNS, but the data. It’s so indefinite that it lends itself to various interpretations and suppositions.

      For example, in the graph above, either 18 or 19% of “the Nones” are shown as “Other/No label.” It occurs to me that this is a totally useless distinction. We have no idea what these “Others” think, and the pollsters made no effort to tease it out. To have that large a proportion of a group be designated that way, renders the whole exercise suspect.

      And that, as I said, is just one example of the flaws in this data. The cold fact is that religion pollsters have, historically, done a stunningly poor job of figuring out just what it is that the various sorts of marginal believers and non-believers think.

      For a very long time they were happy to shove them into one big box (which, presently, is “the Nones”). That this box includes both religious and non-religious people, along a spectrum of shades in between and with no relationship between each end of it, doesn’t really seem to have mattered to them until recently. But even now that they’ve perceived they have some work to do in this regard, they just can’t seem to bring themselves to really do so.

      Old habits, I’m afraid, are very hard to break.

  3. だから精神が変な人とか(I○Mの人とか含めて)とても警戒している。
    そう言うところに行ったことがありません
    結局こういう出会いの場で付き合い結婚する夫婦って 知らないのか愚痴と悪口のオンパレードw 結婚式 贈る言葉 名言

    なかにはハトメで丁寧な断りの返事をくれる女性もいる。 なんとなく本気でお前が1000円札5枚入れたような気がするよ 阿部寛結婚できない男
    イオンにある映画館に海猿観に行こうと思います(^o^)楽しみ~♪ 俺なんかご祝儀とかお歳暮とかが怖くて友達作らなかったよ

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