I've been a "None" for a long time. That's the term the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life uses to describe the religiously unaffiliated, a category that its new report, "Nones on the Rise," shows has been soaring in number over the past few years and now surpasses white evangelical Protestants as well as white mainline Protestants, second only to Catholics. I've always felt we Nones were a tiny minority. But here we are, surging in an America that's been steeped in religious dogma, where Republican politics has been overrun by zealots hellbent on controlling women's bodies and discriminating against gays.
I was raised in an Italian Catholic family, went to church every Sunday and did my stint as an altar boy. But when I came to realize I was gay as a teen, and that the church had dubbed me "intrinsically disordered," things began to unravel quickly. I questioned everything about the church, and about my faith, and ran as far away from it as I could. And I can't say I'd still be there if I weren't gay myself, either, because seeing the church describing any group of citizens that way would likely have driven me away. And that's apparently what happened for millions of Americans.
According to the Pew study, one in five Americans now identifies as having no religious affiliation, even as many of them state that they believe in God or describe themselves as spiritual. The various denominations of Protestants together accounted for two out of three Americans in the 1960s but now total only 48 percent. And the only reason Catholics, who account for 22 percent of Americans today, haven't diminished further is that the wave of new immigrants to the country has replaced the many Catholics who've left the church in the past five years.
Much of the decline of these churches is attributed to generational replacement: Among people under 30 a third are in the None category. Pew offers several theories for this, but number one is political backlash: "Young adults, in particular, have turned away from organized religion because they perceive it as deeply entangled with conservative politics and do not want to have any association with it." Whereas Joe Biden might accept the Catholic Church's positions personally, even if he disagrees politically, newer generations aren't having any of it, seeing the churches as corrupted by power.
"The survey finds that the unaffiliated are concentrated among younger adults, political liberals and people who take liberal positions on same-sex marriage," the Pew researchers state. Seventy-two percent of the Nones support abortion rights, and 73 percent favor same-sex marriage.
Last week on my radio program, after going over the results of the Pew study, I spent several hours taking calls from Nones all across the country. One woman talked about how she was ready to raise her children as Catholics, more out of tradition and respect for family rituals -- having them baptized, receive first communion and get married in the church -- than out of adherence to religious dogma. But when she received an anti-abortion flier in the mail from her parish after she made the appointment for her daughter's baptism, she canceled the event and decided that her daughter, and, later, her second daughter (both in their teens now), would not be raised within an organized religion.
The rise of the Nones certainly has political implications, as the majority of Nones gravitate toward the Democratic Party, according to the Pew study. But as Wayne Besen notes, the Nones have massive implications for the churches themselves, as their political power diminishes in the future and they're forced to realize that they gay bash at their own peril.