Yesterday I commented on the recent American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). The simple facts about religion in America are very clear to all who look at the evidence at all. Religion is in decline as an important part of our culture. Co-author of the ARIS Survey, Barry Kosmin, says, "Don't blame secularism for driving up the percentage of Americans who say they have no religion. These people aren't secularized. They're not thinking about religion and rejecting it; they're not thinking about it at all."

A close look at the rising category of the "nones" in this survey tells you about everything you need to know about American spiritual life and its connection to the practice of public faith. 40% of these say they had no childhood religious initiation ceremony (baptism, christening, circumcision or some kind of naming or dedication). 55% of those who are married had no religious ceremony. 66% say they do not expect to have a religious funeral. Says Kosmin, "Your parents may decide for you on baptism and your spouse has a say in your wedding, but when people talk about dying, they speak for themselves."

Kosmin expects the "nones" to keep growing rather rapidly as each generation follows this pattern.

Rev. Kendall Harmon, theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina (he is an orthodox theologian by the way) believes "social mobility" has had a great impact on faith as well. He says, "Mobility means your ideas are more challenged and your family and childhood traditions have less influence, particularly if you are not strongly rooted in them. I see kids today who have no vocabulary of faith, and neither do many of their parents."

In 1990 Oregon led the nation in nones. In 2008 it is Vermont, with 34%. Are most of these nones atheists? There is very little evidence to support this conclusion. Most have not made a philosophical choice so much as they have simply chosen to disconnect from religious practice altogether.

The most staggering conclusion in this data can be found by taking the "nones" (15%) and combining them with the "Don't Know/Refused" category, which is all but saying "None." The total exceeds 20%. So, to put this clearly, 1 in 5 Americans has no religious practice in any sense and they openly admit it. Unless God sends "showers of mercy" and refreshed and awakens the church to her calling and mission this number will increase and the results will be culturally and socially catastrophic.

I am sometimes asked why I do not think engaging in aggressive partisan politics has altered the spiritual and moral landscape of America since the 1970s? I now have all the evidence I need to make my point. We ought to become involved in public life but linking a political movement, philosophy or party too closely to Christian faith hasn't done a single thing to stop the slide toward secularism in this nation. It may have actually helped this slide, as other more anecdotal surveys have shown in the past few years.

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  1. jls April 8, 2009 at 8:38 am

    I am less troubled by the size of the “none” category than by the disproportionate influence of irreligious skepticism in education, media and popular culture. And I am even more troubled by the waning influence of biblically orthodox beliefs among the self-described Christians who are still a large majority. Advancing the gospel is not a matter of numbers, but of influence. Disciples of Christ, regardless of how many there are, will become salt and light when they think like Jesus, speak like Jesus and live like Jesus. To me, that is the real issue.

  2. Alex April 8, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    I love this post, though I somewhat question the last paragraph. How do we know things wouldn’t be even more secular without the Christian Right? Just a question. You may be right. I respect your views deeply but kind of feel like the last paragraph is a non-sequitur from the rest of your post. But I enjoyed the post, nonetheless. Thanks!

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