My Life as a Religous "None"

A new study out about the growing number of non-religious Americans is my new gospel.

Oct 12, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

Religion is complicated. My relationship with it even more so.

The path to me praying before bed every night has been a windy one: from a self-imposed childhood piety in which I refused to even wish for a Sega Genesis because the name was sacrilege, to college me clinging to that sad cliche, "I'm just more spiritual than anything."

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In Paris, instead of being awed when I saw this statue of Joan of Arc, I just took a picture.

These days I don't know to call myself. Am I agnostic, believing that maybe there isn't God or maybe there is and who am I to say? Or non-denominational -- down with Jesus but not necessarily the pomp and circumstance of his crew? Thankfully, the aptly named Pew Research Center has provided the questioning with a few answers, at least as far as labels go.

According to the report, entitled "Nones on the Rise," one in five (or 20%) of Americans reportedly have NO religious affiliation. And that number increases to one in three "nones" for those under 30. These are "the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling."

But we're not all going to be left behind. The report also says that the 46 million "unaffiliated adults" are, in fact, religious or spiritual in some way.

"Two-thirds of them say they believe in God (68%). More than half say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (58%), while more than a third classify themselves as 'spiritual' but not 'religious' (37%), and one-in-five (21%) say they pray every day."

The report lays out some pretty obvious numbers about political affiliation, namely that most "nones" lean Democratic (68 percent). They also support the liberal stance on social issues like same sex marriage and abortion.

But it's still an interesting thermometer read on where the country is religion-wise. I mean in another generation or five, once all the really churchy folks just die off, will America turn into a blasphemous "Blade Runner"? Or is that what the Anti-Christ just wants us to believe?

Last week Daisy asked us all what we were most scared of as kids. I recalled my fear of flushing the toilet at night (because there was obviously a monster that lived in there), the Wheelers of "Return to Oz" (because duh), MJ's Thriller video (because ZOMBIES!) and, of course, AIDS. What I didn't mention was my soul-saving fear of the Rapture. That is why I got all religious as a kid, because I didn't want to get left behind.

Long story short, I was kidnapped as a kid and blah blah blah it made me a little jumpy. Jesus helped calm me down in so much as he was an unflappable father figure and believing in him got you instant membership to a pretty popular club called Christianity.

It wasn't until we moved from a small town to the big city that I realized everyone didn't read the Bible with a flashlight late at night and that being a "bastard" wasn't a discount ticket to damnation. (Yes, a pastor told me that once.) And when, as a pre-adult, I went from the big city to the even bigger city, religion became something I sort of out grew, like an imaginary friend. 

But in the years that have passed since I picked up a Bible, nostalgia has crept in. Maybe even more than a nostalgia, perhaps even a need. Two years ago while in Marrakesh during the holy month of Ramadan all I could think was, "I wonder what it's like to be that committed to something?" This, of course, is the most simplistic boiling down of what it means to be religious. 

For me life as a "none" has been enlightening and even liberating. I meditate. I've communed with nature. I've replaced holy pronouns with the all-encompassing "universe." But I've also missed bake sales, choirs and Christmas pageants.

If conventional wisdom (and Pew) can be believed, then those of us who change religions do so early in life and settle into our spiritual selves by the time we're in our mid-30s. Who's to say America, a young country historically speaking, isn't doing the same?