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Reblogged:None of the Above

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A story about a long-running survey of American religious affiliations in the Daily Mail asks, "Is America Becoming Godless?" This question is understandable:

Image via Wikimedia, public domain.
The number of Americans who identify as having no religion has risen 266 percent since 1991, to now tie statistically with the number of Catholics and Evangelicals, according to a new survey.

People with no religion -- known as "nones" among statisticians -- account for 23.1 percent of the U.S. population, while Catholics make up 23 percent and Evangelicals account for 22.5 percent, according to the General Social Survey.
Having just moved back to the South and having seen a few holy roller tee shirts, bumper stickers, and license plates (!) too many, I might be inclined to be skeptical of such a finding. But the following sounds like a very good explanation, based on my own personal experience:
Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University who analyzed the data, said that experts have several theories about why the number of "nones" has risen so dramatically in recent decades.

"One of them is that many people used to lie about what they were," he told DailyMail.com. "Many people were (always) atheist or non-religious, but it was previously culturally unacceptable to not have a religion in America."
This comports with what I know of my paternal grandfather, my father, and his brother. My father was Catholic while I grew up, but knew an atheist from the police force. My father, although he mentioned he was a bit afraid of this atheist at first, would eventually become one himself. (He confided these things to me after I told him I was no longer religious during college. None of the rest of my family believes me, indicating that he did not advertise this.) My Dad's father was nominally Baptist, but I have zero recollection of him ever attending a church service that wasn't a funeral or a marriage. My uncle, at least when he was younger, was definitely nonreligious, and occasionally caught flack for it. Once, upon moving to a small town in Mississippi, he was approached, out of the blue, while doing yard work one day some time after he'd settled. An adult male told him the locations of the churches of three different denominations and ended his brief monologue with, "Go to one of them." He didn't, but his story -- along with the disparaging rumors of my favorite high school teacher as an atheist -- indicates that there was social pressure to be religious only a few decades ago. And some of that came from suspicion, even from otherwise decent people.

So, yes, in addition to our country getting past the scourge of racism, it may well be getting over the need to hear lip-service to religion. This is a somewhat encouraging development. That said, "nonreligious" is a catch-all term, and says little about what a person actively holds to be true.

-- CAV

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