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Recently there has appeared in America a growing body of persons called “the Nones.” These are adults who when asked their religious preference have responded, “none.” Their mushrooming ranks now have them outnumbering evangelicals. In 2003 21 percent of Americans claimed to be white evangelicals. By 2017 that number had dropped to 13 percent. In the meantime, the percentage of nones had risen from 12 percent to 22 percent. Perhaps the best way to look at the phenomenon is to hear the experiences of two women who testify to their arrival as Nones having taken very different paths. In order to protect their privacy, I have given them new names.

Nancy

"I am, shall we say, somewhat beyond middle age, and in a few years, I will retire as a tenured professor of history at one of the nation’s finest universities. My adult life has been immersed in the academic world. While I have always had a great respect for religion, particularly among religious scholars with whom I have shared countless symposia, it has been as an analyst, not an advocate. While I have seen the value religious persons and institutions have brought to culture, I am also painfully aware of how religion has often been destructive, coercive and cruel. It seems to me that the more rigid and closed religion has been, the more harm it has caused. And yet I would not want to live in any society devoid of the compassion religion can foster.

When the question arises as to my religious preference, “none” now seems to fit. I find it surprising that this designation has recently achieved such popularity. Until now its adherents have just been called “secularists” or “agnostics.” Maybe it has been assumed that everybody was something, and people were simply adopting for themselves the religious preference the society assumes them to have. So for someone growing up in a Protestant culture the default designation was 'Protestant.' These days many of us just call ourselves "nones.'"

Martha

"I am twenty-eight, and as far back as I can remember religion has been the center of my life. The picture that hung by my crib was of Jesus surrounded by a group of happy children. My first song was 'Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.' The four members of my family were in church every Sunday morning and evening. Two weeks each summer were spent in our church’s 'Daily Vacation Bible School.' My memory of those weeks includes the verse:

'I really do think I never will drink whiskey, beer or rum,
or anything else that makes drunk come.'

As a six-year-old, I didn’t have the faintest idea what that was about, but it was recited every day throughout the two weeks, so it must have been important.

When I was twelve, with three other children my age, I spent a series of Saturday mornings with our minister. Those sessions were required in our denomination prior to joining the church, so that is what we did.

In my high school years, Saturday evenings were spent at rallies of 'Youth For Christ.' One night following a very long sermon, which was identical to very long sermons I heard every other Saturday, I began to think about what I had just heard — again. Because of what I had done or even thought about doing, God was so angry with me that he had condemned me to be tortured forever — and there was nothing I could do about it. But God had a way out which involved having his only son killed. As a result, God’s honor was satisfied, and he was no longer angry with me. Jesus’ blood bought God off. The more I thought about it, the clearer it became that the God I had believed in wasn't full of love. He turned out to be a monster. From then on, if that is what Christians believed, count me out.

A few weeks ago in an effort to defend the administration’s policy separating young children from their parents, the President’s secretary proclaimed the policy to be biblical because scripture commanded obedience to the law. If that is what religion commands, I no longer want to be identified with it, so 'none' is where I have come out.

As time went on I realized that many of these devout believers were in partnership with politicians committed to violence, racial and ethnic bigotry, super-nationalism, the right of the rich to be even richer while the poor were left out — on and on. So looking at what I had learned Christians believed, and how they understood the role of religion in society, I decided to opt out, and from then on you could put me down as a 'none,' or even more accurately, a 'no longer.'"

Charles Bayer

Charles Bayer is a somewhat retired theological professor and congregational pastor. 

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