The Nones – Enlightened Masses or Apathetic Poll Subjects?

“One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.”

Every time Pew runs this study, worldview blogs catch on fire with excitement. Secularists see it as a victory of a newly enlightened young population.  Christians see it as another sign of society’s downfall.

I see it as a bunch of honest young people with no opinion about theology and no desire to align their personal beliefs with a label. We live in a super personal, self-centered age. I’m not saying self centered as a bad thing.  We are egoists, defined as: “One devoted to one’s own interests and advancement. Or one adhering to the doctrine of egoism … The ethical doctrine that morality has its foundations in self-interest.”

Even if one denies this label, I think most of daily life reflects it as we post our “status” on the internet, work hard at our jobs for recognition and advancement, and save our money for vacations and retirement. Few of us live lives centered around others. I personally think that’s fine with some balance.

What bothers me about the Nones is that I believe they are apathetic about worldviews in general. People I meet who do not try to define themselves by being similar to or different from others, seem very wrapped up in their egoism. I hear things like, “I am just spiritual. I feel that there might be something there, like a force, but I can’t know for sure. I just live my life as an honest person.” Or some such thing.

Of course, that kind of definition glosses over a lot of potential worldviews — Agnosticism, Deism, Monism or New Age. But these folks, which I believe often, get labeled by PEW as “Nones,” strike me as having no interest in what people in history have thought about this subject. I suspect they hold the impression that they have crafted a silent and nebulous, but distinctly unique manifesto. And that makes me lose respect for them.

In their defense, no one delves into the topic. A few pressing questions about their opinion on the working of the universe would help them identify with a worldview, if they wanted to do so.

But that’s the other part of it. They most likely don’t want a label. But have they considered why? Are they having an adolescent reaction to being labeled? After all, labels are not always bad. They give community to a worldview. They lend influence and foster camaraderie.

What I take issue with regarding the Nones is the probable apathy. I doubt they’re consciously making this choice to not have a worldview or a worldview community. They are just caught on the phone, with PEW, mid shrug.

So what do you think?  Are the Nones enlightened or apathetic? Are you a None?  Are you sure? Check out this chart of 43 common belief systems.

3 Comments

  1. Holly! You’re brilliant. Such perfect insight when I clearly fell prey to the cynicism. So what happens now? Can religious institutions “win” them back? Do they reinvent spiritual or secular community? Does it even matter?

  2. For what it’s worth, the Buddha was a None. 🙂

    When those recluses and brahmins who are speculators about the past, speculators about the future, speculators about the past and the future together, who hold settled views about the past and the future, assert on sixty-two grounds various conceptual theorems referring to the past and the future — that too is only the feeling of those who do not know and do not see; that is only the agitation and vacillation of those who are immersed in craving.”

  3. “I see it as a bunch of honest young people with no opinion about theology and no desire to align their personal beliefs with a label.”

    This sounds about right to me: no significant affiliation with a religious group and lots of suspicion about anyone with strong beliefs. Strong beliefs get you in trouble with your friends, with your teachers, with the law, and with social media circles.

    But do I think this lack of affiliation is caused by apathy? I think this is red herring category. They are confused and angry but have no trust that they can change their world. Apathy is low-level aggression to an indifferent world. If they do not have a worldview, it is because the have to build one on their own, create it out of their own life. And this is hard hard work. It is much easier to join something but joining should only be contingent and without major consequence because, well, the world will be different tomorrow (and from their short lives, the world changes very fast).

    When it comes to a lack of worldview, I don’t blame young people for apathy but old people for their cynicism. The boomer generation has ripped apart politics and media for their egotistical gain. Many of have benefited from public goods but now refuse to pay for others to benefit.

    The Nones are scared at the partisanship of those who believe and have no idea how to have commitment AND cooperation. For this, they are actually courageous. They just haven’t been given the words for their frustration because the Pew People keep giving them old categories that don’t make sense.

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