Pastoral Ponderings – May 2024

This month as “The Pilgrim” is going to print – I am busy getting ready for Annual Meeting and a Ecclesiastical Council for a future minister. So, I thought it would be a good time to share excepts from an article authored by penceducc and published (4-1-2024) on the Vital Signs and Statistics of the United Church of Christ. ( I am sorry that I can not include the entire article but copyright laws do not permit it.

Notes on the “Nones” Part I: Outlining the Trend and Why Sociology is Hard. “For more than a decade, the growing number of Americans who do not affiliate or identify with a religious tradition has been the topic of national conversation. Regular releases from Pew and Gallup have kept readers abreast of the population’s growth, while news outlets have featured regular articles on what these statistics might mean for the future of faith. Yet for all the reporting that has been done, there is much about the Nones that is less well-known.”

“The notion that religiosity is in some sense declining has been a regular feature of American life for generations. Reflecting on his Youth in mid-19th century Boston, Henry Adams saw the “disappearance of religion” as a defining feature of the milieu. “The religious instinct,” as he put it “had vanished,” not simply for himself or his relations but for the whole of Bostonian high society. A century later, such feelings were increasingly taken as features of the age. Readers may recall the controversy that surrounded a 1966 Time Magazine story on Death of God Theology or Paul Tillich’s characterization of the 20th century as one marked by the loss of a “spiritual center” and guarantor of meaning.”

“As many observers have noted, moreover, religion has accrued its own negative associations of late by way of church scandals as well as political polarization. Hence, as early as 2001, authors were speculating that rising disaffiliation could, in part, reflect the reluctance of politically liberal respondents to identify as religious in a time when the religious right was on the rise (even if they continued to believe in God or pray, see below).

It’s no secret that Nones lean left, and while causality is difficult to parse with such questions, more recent work suggests that political affiliation is more predictive of subsequent adoption of the None label than vice versa and that, in an experimental context, exposing left-leaning individuals to religious messaging from right-wing political candidates increases their likelihood of identifying as None.”

“Consider the following curveballs:
Around 70% of Pew Nones believe in God or some higher power, including 23% of self-described atheists(nearly all of the second group opting for “higher power”; Pew, 2024)

61% of GSS Nones also reported some level of belief in God or a higher power. Notably, the GSS version of the question has more options, including a don’t know/don’t believe there is any way to find out option absent from Pew’s version (GSS Data Explorer Tabulations, 2015-2022)

Nearly as many Pew Nones believe in a soul beyond the physical body (67%) and the existence of “something spiritual beyond the natural world” (63%; ibid.)

A Quarter of Gallup Nones indicated in 2023 that they believed in angels (Gallup, 2023)

Pew Nones in the United States pray more often and have more certainty in God’s existence than self-identified Christians in Western Europe (Pew, 2018).”

I hope that you will ponder how this brief information inform our relationship to “Nones” and any preconceived notions we have.

Blessings, Rev. Gloria