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06 March 2018

Thoughts on Why the Nones are Puzzling

The growth of the religious "nones" is confusing only because we're asking them the wrong question. Asking, "What is your religion?" overly simplifies religion. Religion is best expressed using the three B's: believing, belonging, behaving. Here are three alternative questions to the traditional "What's your religion?":
  1. Do they express religious beliefs (e.g. belief in God)?
  2. Do they belong to a religious body (e.g. membership in a congregation and/or denomination)?
  3. Do they behave in a religiously prescribed manner (i.e. weekly religious attendance)?
By focusing on the confluence of these three things, instead of insisting that religiosity is a single thing, we notice that religious change is all about a shift among the importance of the B's, not a simple decline of "religion." Very little of the increase in religious nones is due to people expressing less belief in God. In other words, it's not about more atheists and agnostics. Instead, we see that the vast majority of the nones are people who retain some kind of belief but who have no belonging and little religious behavior.

This perspective opens new lines of inquiry. What about the folks who retain their belonging and behaving but abandon the belief (e.g. atheistic Jews)? What does it mean to believe and behave but not belong?

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