Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Becoming a None

Freedom of religion is fast becoming synonymous with religiously free. Findings from the 2008 American Religious Identity Survey reveal that the numbers of Americans who have opted out of any formal religious affiliation has almost doubled since 1990. Then the number of people marking “None” when asked about religious affiliation was 8%, today it is 15%.

This is a huge shift in the American religious landscape. Where are these newly minted Nones coming from? The data is suggestive: those Americans identifying as one kind of Christian or another has dropped 11%. Even Baptists have lost 4% of their membership. And Americans who no longer believe in a personal God now totals almost 1/3 of the population.

Is this something worth cheering about? It depends. If those self-proclaimed Nones are making their choice based on a serious study of religion and an equally serious quest for spiritual maturity and wisdom, then, yes, I am applauding. If, on the other hand, the Nones are simply bored with and untouched by all things religious and spiritual, then I am saddened. The survey interpreters suggest the latter is true. Religion is simply becoming more and more irrelevant to more and more Americans.

Almost 1/3 of Americans are simply numb to the soul. This is not only saddening, it is frightening. For me the soul is that aspect of human consciousness that realizes the interdependence of all life. It is that aspect of human consciousness that lifts the “I” into the “We” and gives rise to deep compassion for all life. In Judaism this is called Chayya or Life consciousness, what we might now call Cosmic Consciousness: the awareness that we are all one with and in the One. It is from the perspective of Chayya consciousness that we have the opportunity to slip into Yechida consciousness, that level of pure awareness where the realization that “we are one” shifts to reveal that the One is us.

I don’t mean to imply that 2/3 of Americans are soul-conscious, however. Far from it. Most of what passes for religion in America is simply a sacred tribalism worshipping a god of its own making who rewards those who sacrifice blood and treasure to him and his chosen leaders. And as long as this is so, the numbers of Nones will grow, as will the numbing of the soul that causes this.

Religion isn’t the enemy, but it isn’t the solution either. Reducing God to an “ism,” and insisting that those who reject that “ism” are damned isn’t going to resuscitate the soul. Religion in this form has no interest in or use for spirituality, the cultivation of universal justice, compassion, peace, courage, wisdom, and humility. The goal of religion as currently defined is simply to grow the ranks of its members, and the only tools they have are guilt, fear of damnation, and triumphalism over the damnation of those who choose a faith other than the that of the self-righteous and self-proclaimed triumphalists. Of course this is a generalization, and the varieties of religions make any such generalizations suspect. But numbers matter or we wouldn’t both with surveys that count people’s membership in this or that religion.

I will leave the religions to fend for themselves. It is the Nones that appeal to me. These people have freed themselves from religion but not necessarily for spirituality. They need to be offered a way to uncover the soul that honors their individuality, their freedom, and that doesn’t devolve into a mere feeding of the ego.

This may require a new kind of “affiliation” that offers deep community and disciplined spiritual training when needed, and individual autonomy and aloneness when that is needed.

I am not sure how this would work, but I am interested in hearing from you if you have any ideas. Here are some questions you might considered addressing the Comments section of Toto: If you are a None why are you a None? What are you looking for as a None? What would your life look like if you found it? How much community do you want and need?

PS: Since writing this post I have been introduced to This is a website and “movement” for those 50 million Americans who are “spiritual but not religious.” It is just getting of the ground and I am assisting a bit. Check it out, and let us know how such an effort can be of help to you.


Eruesso said...

"If those self-proclaimed Nones are making their choice based on a serious study of religion and an equally serious quest for spiritual maturity and wisdom, then, yes, I am applauding."

I am a None and this is why I have become one. I wrote about this yesterday so I'll post the link instead of rewriting it all here to answer some of the questions.

"How much community do you want and need?"

I've been mainly communicating with other openly-minded (though not necessarily in the "None" category) people through blogs and forums. The problem is weeding through the folks that are preaching from a digital pulpit or are "spamming for Jesus" to find those that truly want to have a worthwhile online dialogue.

I haven't checked out yet but I'll give it a look.

Judy said...

I just checked out the website, and, to be honest, I am not sure there is a difference between SBNR and other religious institutions. To be sure it is more inclusive than any one group that it welcomes wisdom from, but it has formed itself into a group of its own and is even doing fund raising. None of this is bad or good - neither do I see a real difference.

Grégoire said...

If you are a None why are you a None? What are you looking for as a None? What would your life look like if you found it?

I'm a None because my tradition (Mormonism) clings to the remnants of bigotry, racism, sexism, an absolute insistence on literal interpretation of religious texts rather than studying them symbolically, and an annoying chauvinism.

Our imaginary friend is real, we are taught, and he's the coolest kid on the block. He made us better than all other peoples. The rest of you schlubs are poor unfortunates to be converted (converts have second class status, but they're still better than others), subhumans to be enslaved or enemies that we will someday massacre. He made women lesser than men, and their worth is purely located in their sexuality and ability to bear children. It's questionable whether you chicks even have souls. Possible you were simply automatons he made for our own selfish purposes. He made Blacks less than Whites, as a punishment for their cowardice in the pre-existence.

I suppose it's easy to be skeptical when the foundation of your tradition contains such stuff, which is easily refuted on a moment-to-moment basis simply by casual observation. It doesn't take too much critical thought to realize that not every Mormon is an angel, and many non-Mormons are much cooler than the self-appointed chosen tribe of North America.

Mormonism's foundation isn't any less ridiculous than the foundation which Protestants, Jews, Catholics and Muslims enjoyed, but most of the rest of you guys have reached a stage in your historical development where such artifacts are either reinterpreted or rewritten. Ours is a young tradition, and our god hasn't quite moved past his insecure adolescent phase yet. When he does, I'll return to the fold.

Patti said...

Firstly, when I read an article about people feeling less inclined to name a religious affiliation, I felt relieved. How else can we move on if we don’t let go of what might be holding us in place? I want to scream – “Religions let my people go!” The fact that more are escaping makes me happy. I guess my bias is screaming too. ;0)

I am a none. The question “What would your life look like if you found it?” is exactly why I knew I had to put my religion behind me. I wanted a different love.

The motivation behind salvation shoved me over the edge of religious free-falling. If salvation is the main focus of a faith system, then people are automatically either in or out. Our relationship with those people then becomes “How do we get them in?” rather than “What do they bring to the table?” We subconsciously focus on how to transform them into our likeness and never the other way around.

There was a time when I thought perfect love was desiring that everyone get to heaven. They also had to agree with my interpretation of the way to get there, and what it would be like blah blah blah and understand that I was entitled to crowns there; and I am not joking.

Not all Christians are this way. There are some who never slipped into the salvation as the end-all trap. My conjecture is that a problem with Christianity is that many have slipped and think their first love is eternity rather than reality, similarity rather than disparity, dogma rather than relationship.

That is not the person I wanted to be, but that is how I allowed Christianity to transform me. I wanted an alternative to the love salvation offers. I wanted to love people unconditionally, to value their value, and to feel connected in spite of our differences. Jumping off the christian cliff was frightening, but exhilarating. There was loosening in my soul. I could feel it. I was gaining on finding a different way to uphold people, but something was keeping me from crossing the love threshold.

As I became less afraid of my eternal living quarters I could entertain other ideas. Rami’s writings on finding the commonality in all faiths, that everything is part of God and we are all one, quieted the hate in my heart. I found the person whom I wanted to be and the potential of the life I want to live. I want my life to be one of caring for others because it is the right thing to do. I want to be able to feel love for others in the midst of them making me nuts. My Christianity did not provide the goal it promised “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It did not give me the life characterized by an unselfish love that allows others to be who they are. So I left.

Unknown said...

I find this interesting because I've always been curious what people mean individually when they say they affiliate one way, let alone people creating a category for not affiliating at all.

Just to throw this out there, I wonder how many None's have children. Just as a father for about 5 years, my own desire to have a community to work with has defined my affiliation a bit, far less than any religious dogma.

Unknown said...

Errr, I meant far MORE than any dogma.

Patti said...

My sons are grown and both waited for me to join them on a less traditional path. We are together again, maybe for the first time! Roots are good for kids, but I would do it differently if I had the chance. I have lots of friends with small children and I encourage them to allow their kids to have some answered questions. It is good for the soul...even bitty ones.

Patti said...

I totally mean I encourage my friends to allow their children to have UNANSWERED questions. Gosh...nice proof reading!

Unknown said...

Patti: This might have a lot to do with where you're starting from. I've never practiced anything resembling traditional religion, since I rejected the Orthodox / Conservative Judaism of my parents.

I practice a rather idiosyncratic blend of Jewish renewal and Neo-Paganism, so I guess when I join a Reconstructionist chavurah (basically a small Jewish worship group outside of a synogogue), I'm closer to affiliating as Jewish than I was. (;

Peter Schogol said...

Rami, thanks for the link to SBNR. I have to ask, being the twice shy sort, what does the default $97/month go to? That's religion money, man!

Julie said...

I've been a none for about 16 years after close to 30 of very involved fundamental christianity. I have all the community I want or need in the people I associate with on social levels and we often chat about spiritual things. I also love this blog for the way Rami presents thoughts and stimulates thinking. And I love reading, from Hafiz poetry to anything by Thomas Moore. Oh yeah, when I have the chance when in middle TN, I love going to temple Micah. The ritual of what they do is rich, the spirit and message are usually very contemporary and uplifting. I've never heard the word hell there either :)

I am grateful for the ability to create my collage of being a none instead of having to conform to any other label.

namaste :)

kiwimac said...


I appreciate your comments. I find that organised religion does not speak to me much anymore I am far more interested in HOW people live than what they believe in. Are they compassionate?, do they seek to understand themselves and others?

You and my friend Gordon, RealLivePreacher, should get together.