Do you know what a NONE is?
No, it is not a female member of a Roman Catholic Order. In fact, just the opposite. A NONE is:
AN INDIVIDUAL WITH NO RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION WHATSOEVER
A NONE is someone who is either totally indifferent to anything religious or even antagonistic to it. A NONE is different from an Atheist or an Agnostic, an individual who at least wrestles with Religion, the one denying there is a God and the other claiming not to know. A NONE doesn’t care either way.
A Catholic Priest, one Rev. Stephen M. Koeth believes in many ways that modern day NONES are pagans. They have, says Koeth, “no knowledge, no practice, no anything.” He goes on to say that for most if not all of them:
“Religion just has no meaning whatsoever.”
No meaning. No relevancy. Nothing real about Religion for them or their lives. NOTHING FOR THE NONES.
Recent surveys, if you believe them, have shown that for the first time ever in 2019, the NONES are the largest demographic in the United States, representing 23% of the population. TWENTY THREE PERCENT! The NONES, again the largest religious demographic in the United States have overtaken the Catholics and the Evangelicals. In short, there are more NONES in the United States than there are Catholics or Evangelicals. If that is true, doesn’t that shock you? It does me. We the Americans have always assumed that our country is populated with people of faith, of all faiths and that those who were Atheist, Agnostic or no Religion at all were simply the small minority. Well, guess what. THE NONES ARE NOW THE MAJORITY AND THE LARGEST DEMOGRAPHIC WITH REGARD TO RELIGION IN AMERICA! The largest. Unbelievable.
The NONES are made up largely of millennials and especially the so called GEN Z young Americans. Apparently, they have seen the underbelly of RELIGION and they want no part of it. They see no reason whatsoever to bother with Religion. That led one writer to call them:
The apathetic does not attend church services. They ascribe to and believe in NO creed, doctrine or statement of faith and they have virtually no familiarity with the FAITH WORLD. Even more startling, perhaps even scary is the fact that their numbers seem to be growing by millions every year. Small wonder that the church is in disrepair, especially old–line Protestant denominations. Attendance and perhaps even commitment to the Catholic church is also on the decline while other forms of belief seem to be stagnant in terms of growth.
THEY ARE TERRIFYING. Those the words of Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) and a Baptist Pastor. Burge says of the NONES:
“They have very low levels of income; low levels of education and they have sort of checked out from modern society. THEY ARE SCARY! They are the people who are isolated.”
Religion and church worship have been such a vital and integral part of all that is America now for almost 250 years, more or less. But such history and tradition means little or nothing to the NONES, the APATHETICS where there is nothing about Religion which is of any interest to them. The church, formal worship, religious tradition and standard need and commitment are all severely challenged as far as they are concerned. The NONES want no part of any of it.
Part of the reason is the intrusion of CULTURE. The American cultural scene has moved more liberal and progressive, far less conservative and of course with that far less religious and in fact, in many ways, the culture attacks Christianity especially encouraging all to abandon Religion directly or indirectly and live life in every way without it. In Hollywood, Christianity is often portrayed somewhere between a comedy and a disease (so said one pundit). Nothing is sacred, the person responsible for Christianity is mocked, even blasphemed and the name taken in vein with impunity. It is as though there is something wrong with any person who adopts and practices any religious faith, especially Christianity no matter the benefits. Perhaps that is partially because Christianity is so far flung, with so many different sub–faiths and therefore without any religious corporate muscle to fight back, resist and challenge any such cultural attacks. Roman Catholics, more church corporate and with larger clout as a result and perhaps Jews and Judaism fare better if and when the Hollywood culture comes after them. The NONES, the APATHETICS are well aware of this clash and constant attack and it simply fortifies their belief that Religion is irrelevant and meaningless. It is a day of change, perhaps even a fundamental religious revolution in America. The NONES are now the MAJORITY with all of the implications thereof for politics, policy, culture and especially RELIGION. Laws are changing. The Constitution is reinterpreted. Fundamental freedoms are in danger of being lost. All the more reasons for the NONES, the APATHETICS to withdraw, to become isolated from the fundamental democratic processes which govern our country. They are isolated. They simply don’t care in so many ways, care about really anything of value.
The Catholic Priest, the Reverend Koeth said the following, a profound even scary statement:
“Religion isn’t even in the cultural air and water that used to be breathed and drank by everyone.”
There are obvious signs of that everywhere. For centuries, the Bible was the one cultural continuum. But now, the culture is so fragmented and visual media and the internet are far more likely to be the sources of knowledge and shared information. So that, this new cultural and religious phenomenon in America not only affects the Religion which was once the foundation of this country, but also the very fundamental structure of western culture itself. Shakespeare, like the Bible means little or nothing to the APATHETICS. American history is disrespected or ignored, or radically changed and rewritten. The NONES could care less. It seems as though all they wish is to be left alone. They refuse to be part of the typical GROW–UP cycle upon which America and the church counted.
For decades, churches counted on a cycle. Young people would be raised in a family which respected the church and western culture. The teens would go to college, then get married, have children and adopt the activities and practices of the church, western culture, political traditions and moral values. THAT IS NOT HAPPENING ANYMORE. In the words of one religious observer:
“Now they drift away and don’t come back.”
It is just incredible the growth rate of the NONES. In 2010, the APATHETICS accounted for some 18% of the population. By 2012 they were 20% and most startling, this now majority American demographic has grown by ONE PERCENT each year ever since! Religion, however you define that, seems to be in deep trouble, and the church with it. More importantly, the church, RELIGION, seems to have no real answer:
NONE FOR THE NONES!
The Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life however provides some interesting counter–facts. Those proclaiming to be unaffiliated with a Religion are actually shrinking as a share of THE WORLDWIDE POPULATION. That is so worldwide but not in America. The exact sources of those newly found religious affiliations are not fully identified, but such religious activity seems to indicate that there is a hunger on the part of millions in the worldwide population for a religious affiliation. Perhaps that is because worldwide there are not the options which we have in America. There are so many ways to be entertained, to be temporarily fulfilled, to have needs met day to day without regard for the long term. Entertainment exists everywhere. Social welfare is always available, from food stamps, to shelters, to kindly acts by neighbors so that basic needs can be met. And then there are drugs, and alcohol ever on the rise and readily available almost everywhere to anyone. Even the church and religious entities shunned and ignored by the NONES offer help and assistance where necessary. It seems rather easy to live and live reasonably well in America no matter your feelings about Religion. And the NONES do just that. They live as they please, responding to the pressure of none. They often are politically indifferent as well, many not voting at all and others simply voting for someone they may like. They are politically uneducated for the most part, do not know or understand the large issues of the day especially economic and for them, all such are largely irrelevant just like Religion. Small wonder that some religious demographic analysts regard the NONES, the APATHETICS as:
Scary for America and its future. If it rests in the hands of this new majority, America is indeed in deep trouble.
Christianity worldwide will hold stable at or about 32%, one out of three of the world’s population. That is the prediction of the Pew Foundation as it looks at trends for the next 30 years through and including 2050. Hindus, they say, will maintain their numbers and Buddhists and Folk Religions however defined will decline slightly. And worldwide, the NONES should represent about one out of seven even as these APATHETICS grow at a much more accelerated pace in America.
But the big growth globally is with regard to the:
One of the most strict and demanding Religions, the Muslim population will rise, so Pew predicts, from approximately 23% to 29%, almost matching the number of Christians in the world. So that, in time, the world population will be comprised of one out of three of the Muslim faith, and one out of three of the Christian faith. Then, or even before, the Muslims will have incredible power politically and religiously the world over, and even in our very own America. The practice of the Muslim Religion and the implementation of Sharia Law may well become some kind of reality not only in America, but the world over. If and when that happens, the world will be a totally different place, TOTALLY!
Pundits ask the question, almost sardonically:
WHAT HAPPENED TO FAITH IN AMERICA?
Why the rise, they ask of the NONES, the APATHETICS. What happened to Religion? And the church? And tradition, and religious holidays and meanings – WHAT HAPPENED!
One reason they offer is that America is following the economic grow taken by Europe centuries ago. The Industrial Revolution in Europe, if not before, brought about the increase in wealth and economic prosperity. Lifestyles increased. Goods were readily available and luxury goods became more prevalent. Basic needs were met and the human population had time, leisure time to ENJOY LIFE. It seemed that the more secular enjoyment the less religious participation. The more pleasure, the less Religion. The more pleasure, the less the NEED for Religion. Money, too much of it corrupted the church in some significant ways. That was not lost on those who eventually became the unaffiliated, the APATHETICS. Religion was used only when it was useful. But it became less and less necessary and it seemed to become more ritual rather than faith based. It began to have less substance, less meaning, becoming what the new NONES now think of as irrelevant or at least not compelling and necessary. Why go to church Sunday when there was a good football game to be had.
Other studies have shown that:
“The practice of Religion and affiliation was always tenuous!”
That is, the lack of value and necessity were never fully expressed by those either apathetic or in part or altogether unaffiliated. It was simply socially convenient to acknowledge continued affiliation no matter how real or vital. Consequently, so called statistics were doctored and consequently failed to disclose the true facts. That of course continues to exist today where hypocrisy reins and so many simply do not state the truth and the whole truth about their religious beliefs or the lack thereof.
And yet another reason is that the Christian church has become polarized. Liberals and progressives have left in droves which means that in so many cases only conservatives remain. Protestant denominations continue to splinter and divide, and small groups band together united behind their own theological versions of truth. There is in some cases some very significant division and disagreement within the Catholic Church itself. It seems not fully unified as it once was and of course ridden by the scandal of pedophile Priests. Some of Judaism has become highly secularized and at least some of the religious practice has become obsolete or abandoned. What remains in these once great Religions becomes all the more unappealing and irrelevant to the new NONES and APATHETICS. The secular culture constantly and consistently criticizes and mocks the miraculous. That is especially so with regard to Christian tenets such as the Resurrection, the virgin birth and much more. Much of the Old Testament seems to be regarded in many circles as stories only, old fashioned perhaps even fictional and in today’s modern and secular society, irrelevant. As this polarization continues, theological camps harden, positions become more extreme so that to the moderate or even the searcher, there comes a constant wave of theological put–off and off they go, confirmed in their belief that Religion, the church becomes more irrelevant and meaningless by the day.
Listen to these staggering facts. In 1976, mainline Protestants made up 30% of the country. Now they represent:
And, predict the pollsters, within a decade, before the year 2030, mainline Protestants will represent FIVE PERCENT of the total American population. Can you believe that?
This polarization which so deeply affects Religion in America perhaps comes at least in part from the American world of politics. We are indeed, America is, one deeply polarized and divided country. There is little or no dialogue but only argumentation, put–down. We do not discuss issues but we pontificate on right and wrong. We care nothing about political compromise even where it is justifiable but only the self-interest of political parties and political philosophies. Politics seems to be a matter of winning or losing and never compromising. And so with the churches. Some matters of course cannot be compromised and never should be. But other issues, theological and otherwise can and should be discussed in order to make certain that truth, all of it occurs for the benefit of all. That seems to happen nowhere in American politics or theology. And especially RELIGION!
One factor is certainly part of the equation. People are spending less time connected to, affiliated with or attending their churches and the services offered. Much less time. In the American past, a congregant would buy and large worship Sunday morning, perhaps even Sunday school before, and perhaps attend a Sunday evening service, attend very special services during the week and perhaps even a prayer meeting or Bible study on a Wednesday night. Now it seems that churches are fortunate in so many cases if worshipers attend even a traditional Sunday morning service.
Studies also show that the young who begin their lives without Religion very often do not turn to it. Statistics seem to show that about two thirds of those who grow up in homes without a religious affiliation remain unaffiliated perhaps for the rest of their lives. It is as though if Religion is irrelevant at home, then it is irrelevant for any and all purposes. Therefore, there is another addition to the NONES.
And more alarming statistics about RELIGION IN AMERICA. Church leaders say that even in the last decade they’ve seen a startling drop in the involvement and engagement of people in the life of Religion. People, they say and especially their congregations, are spending less time reading the Bible. This once sacred and central book now becomes itself marginalized, and often irrelevant and by no means the repository of absolute and eternal truth. So, say the NONES, why bother to read it?
And, people are spending less time even PRAYING. That is, except of course when there is an urgent need which requires the help and intervention of the Almighty, if even then. Prayer itself seems unanswered, itself irrelevant to the Almighty so why bother. There really is for the APATHETIC no reason to pray and no result to be obtained. The concept of divine fellowship is foreign. Prayer seems to be more and more for the weak and the intellectually incapable. So that, there exists yet another hurdle for Religion and the church with regard to any kind of accommodation with the NONES.
And the competition for time and attention goes on. The activities available to children and teens in schools and in society generally are staggering. They are fun, entertaining and attractive. The young and even their parents would rather participate in social activities including and especially sports than in any church activities. It seems difficult and dull to sit in a pew for one hour or more when one could be tailgating in preparation for an NFL football game. That places an additional burden upon the church to offer more services and move outside the faith and Religion to get and keep attention. Consequently, what they are and what they offer is watered down and becomes even more irrelevant. But even so, those who have abandoned Religion and the church seem to indicate that they’ve merely stopped following the rituals that make up Religion but have retained their spirituality, whatever that is and whatever that means.
But the answer to these problems seems to me to be rather clear. It is not now and never has been about Religion. It is about relationship. Faith is not a matter of ritual but the realization of the reality of the person of Jesus Christ. The answer is not a thing, more and better ritual but the confrontation with the person:
THE CARPENTER OF NAZARETH
THE CHRIST OF GLORY
The church today, Religion today continues to move away from that PERSON and more into a program. IT tries to convert when only the Holy Spirit can. It attempts to draw men and women to it when only the power of the living Christ can do that. It attempts to increase the influence of CULTURE while at the same time withdrawing step by step from the CHRIST. Small wonder it is doomed to failure.
It is all about the MAN and the MESSAGE. It is about confrontation and conversion. It is NOT about ritual, services, secular involvement with the community but involvement with every person at the deepest possible human and emotional level. The answer for the Christian church, Protestant, Catholic and any and all denominations is simply:
You don’t hear that today. The witness of the real Gospel, the true Gospel becomes less and less. But where it is to be found, it continues to be powerful. Those churches, that RELIGION which emphasizes the love of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and a pardoned life more abundant are thriving, growing by leaps and bounds because they understand the true nature and purpose of the Gospel and they offer that to all who seek. The power of that Gospel attracts like no other Religion or ritual can. And that, and that alone is THE ANSWER.
The NONES, the APATHETICS simply do not hear that message as they should. If I were they, I would have little or no interest in Religion as well. For it seems empty, shallow, riddled with inconsistencies and compromises. There is nothing of power or dynamic, there is nothing life changing, there seems little or nothing worth giving time, effort much less money to. The NONES are winning because Jesus is losing. So, back to basics church if you want to survive. Or perhaps better stated, back to basics if you would intend to fulfill your mission, your purpose and your God–given calling to present the true and unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, down and down she continues to go, this church does, RELIGION does and up and up come the NONES and the APATHETICS and perhaps rightly so. The church may come and go, Religion may come and go but Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of Glory LIVES FOREVER!