Religious Nones May Not Be Who You Think They Are

By Grossman, Cathy Lynn | The Christian Century, April 16, 2014 | Go to article overview

Religious Nones May Not Be Who You Think They Are


Grossman, Cathy Lynn, The Christian Century


IN RECENT SURVEYS, the religious nones--as in "none of the above"--appear to lead in the faith marketplace. In fact, none could soon be the dominant label that U.S. adults pick when asked to describe their religious identity.

But they may not be who you think they are. Today, nones include many more unbranded believers than atheists, and they show an increasingly diverse racial and ethnic mix.

Researchers say this is already making nones' attitudes and opinions less predictably liberal on social issues.

A survey of Americans by the Public Religion Research Institute found 21 percent are "unaffiliated" (PRRI's umbrella term for a diverse group including atheists, seculars, and people who say they still believe in God); 20 percent are Catholic; and 19 percent are white evangelical.

"Nones are dancing on the razor's edge of leading," said Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center's cumulative findings, based on 16,000 interviews in numerous 2013 surveys, found a slightly different split: 22 percent Catholic; 20 percent nones (a mix of people who say they believe "nothing in particular," unaffiliated believers, and unbelievers); and 18 percent white evangelicals.

However, both Jones and Greg Smith, director of U.S. religion surveys for Pew, caution that this is really a statistical three-way tie for both research firms once the critical margin of error for each survey is considered.

Meanwhile, all the subcategories of Protestants--white and black evangelicals, plus the mainline faithful-still add up to a plurality (48 percent), although each has "distinctive social and political beliefs, attitudes, and opinions," said Smith. …

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