Nun of the Above
Hooray! Let’s hear it for the nuns! Oops, make that the “nones” — as in those of us with “no religious conviction.”
Earlier this month, one of America’s most respected polling organizations, the impartial and non-partisan Pew Research Center, announced their findings in a nationwide survey on faith and religious practices. This was the first comprehensive survey conducted on the subject since 2007, and included 35,000 respondents from all across the country. The poll results revealed startling decline in adherence to mainline Christianity, losses suffered equally by Protestant and Catholic denominations. In fact, according to the poll, there are now more “nones” in America right now — defined as persons with no religion faith nor affiliation — than Catholics. That’s a first in our history. Nearly one-quarter of the entire U.S. population (projected at 80 million people) self-identifies themselves as agnostic, atheist, or answers “nothing” when asked about their religious faith.
As encouraging as this news is to those of us who champion secularism, nonetheless, I’m still convinced the Pew Research Center data grossly underestimates the actual number of Americans who have no religion conviction. Allegedly, it’s now 23 percent of the population according to the 2015 survey. I suspect the actual number of non-believers is significantly higher, and I’m about to explain why.
If 70 percent of the U.S. population truly believes in the fairy tales written out in The Holy Bible (that’s the number of self-identifying Christians), then church attendance would be significantly higher, wouldn’t it? In fact, church attendance would be so high that there wouldn’t be enough capacity to accommodate all the worshippers. Yet only about 10 to 15 percent of Americans attend church regularly, defined as at least one a week. The same is true of other faiths, too — including Judaism and Islam — although their numbers are slightly higher. Put another way, this means that about 85 percent of all the people living in this country don’t really have much regard for organized religion. Otherwise, they’d be going to churches, synagogues, or mosques more frequently.
Instead, Americans stay at home. They sleep late. They mow their lawns. They watch football on Sundays. They’re recovering from hangovers. Religion just isn’t as important to most people in this country as its widely perceived. Yes indeed, there are constant reminders of religion’s vexatious impact on virtually every aspect of our society, but allegiance to religious institutions and adherence to faith is clearly on the wane. That’s proven by the poll and it’s confirmed by a preponderance of evidence that we see almost everywhere.
Given that about 6 out of 7 of Americans do not practice any religion at all on a regular basis, isn’t it fair to question the legitimacy of their conviction? Yes, I’m saying some of these “Christians” are either lying, or they’re frauds. Or, in many cases, they’re scared of being honest about what they truly believe. When surveyed, it’s convenient to tell an anonymous pollster over the telephone that you’re a Presbyterian. But if you haven’t actually been to church within the past year, are you really a practicing Christian? A more personal hypothetical paradox — if I tell a pollster I’m a wine drinker, but then don’t drink wine for a year’s time, and I really a “wine drinker?”
I say — no. Your voice says one thing, your actions reveal another.
Of course, the prevalence of religious faith isn’t necessarily manifested in going to church each Sunday. Many people are probably true believers, but don’t adhere to any particular faith, nor do they follow the strict regimentation of religious rituals. I’m perfectly willing to concede that even though only about 15 percent of Americans are active members of churches, the number of Christian believers is indeed significantly higher than that — probably still more than half the population. But it’s not 70 percent as the poll indicates, and here’s why.
If a societal stigma still remains attached to “nones” within many communities, the stain of being identified as either an agnostic or an atheist precludes answering questions about religious faith honestly. Those who self-identify as non-believers continue to risk personal scorn, loss of business relationships, mistrust, and in extreme cases even family damnation. Call these millions — “closet doubters.” Another survey conducted just a few years ago discovered that atheists are distrusted on the same level as rapists [READ MORE HERE] Under these pressures and given all the risks, how many Americans are concealing their true feelings about religion and faith? A lot, probably. Question: How many of our 535 elected representatives in congress are admitted atheists? Answer: One. This proves that even in the year 2015 in a so-called secular society, some kind of professed religious faith continues to be a litmus test for getting elected. My theory: Atheists are grossly undercounted and underrepresented in our society because of lingering fears. Call this what it truly is — “Religious McCarthyism.”
Of all religious followers, the very saddest cases are those who have quietly come to a decision within themselves that most belief systems are bogus, yet they must go on and continue living the charade. Leaving the Merry Go Round isn’t merely difficult. It can be a torturous decision, especially when loved ones and friends continue to ride the ponies while addicted to the comfy Koolaid. No doubt, millions of regular church goers have silently contemplated their faith, weighed the evidence, and summarily concluded that deep down inside — they’re really agnostics or atheists. But they’re also painted into narrow corners, their lifetimes knowingly built upon a myth, and it becomes impossible to flee the flock. This is all completely understandable. After all, who wants to risk being ostracized? During lectures by the late Christopher Hitchens, he alluded to several pastors and priests confessing to him at various times (privately, of course) that they don’t really believe (in a conventional definition of god) anymore. But they’re already so deeply vested in all the accouterments of religion, they have no option other than continuing to march in the parade headed to nowhere. What else can they do?
I’ve written before that the true number of agnostics and atheists are acutely underreported in society, while the number of religious believers gets significantly overestimated. For the reasons already stated, there is certainly some number of the population lacking genuine religious conviction which is being deceitful. Yet no agnostic or atheist would lie about their beliefs. For instance, a bona fide Christian is not going to mislead a pollster and insist he’s an atheist. But a Christian with severe doubts about his faith most certainly would lie and conceal his ambiguity. Hence, the 23 percent figure of the “nones” reported is higher, and perhaps even significantly greater. How much greater, you ask? That’s open to debate. But let’s at least agree that the number is underestimated.
If my theory isn’t convincing enough now, then it will certainly be more credible in the future, given trends. “Nones” are now the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, led by younger people. Among persons in the 18-35 age group, “nones” are a whopping 35 percent, some 12 points higher than the general populace. Meanwhile, older people — who are far more inclined to engage in religious practices — are slowly dying off. Who knew that churches has so much in common with racetracks? Seven years earlier, nones constituted just 16 percent of the nation. That number increased by 7 percent — translating into about 22 million more Americans since 2007 who proclaim they do not subscribe to religious belief. Put another way, that’s one percent a year. Religious faith is declining in this country by about one percent each year.
There’s the headline.
At this rate, who knows what the future will bring? Maybe 70 years from now, 2085 might finally be the year when we shed the shackles of a collective coercion and mass intimidation which has lingered on for more than 17 centuries and might enter the age of enlightenment when religion and superstition are finally expunged, once and for all.