NPR’s Morning Edition did a series last week called “Losing Our Religion.” I encourage you to click the link and listen to the six pieces. The first is an overview of the phenomenon portrayed in the chart above: the growth of the “nones” — the religiously unaffiliated. This trend has been observed especially among younger people.
Two of the pieces feature an interview session with six young people from different traditions who have drifted from the practices of organized religion. In one of the discussions, they talk about why they have moved away, and in the other they express some of their mixed feelings about where they are vis-à-vis faith and religious practice.
Two stories look at specific circumstances in which the nonreligious find themselves. One explores the subject of how nonbelievers cope with tragedy and grief. It also shows how, on some occasions, religion hindered rather than helped in times of deep personal pain. Another features an interview with a couple in which one person has a strong faith and the other lacks faith. How do they make their marriage work?
Morning Edition wraps up its look at the growing number of people who do not identify with a religion by talking to two religious leaders: Father Mike Surufka, a Franciscan priest in Chicago, and the Rev. Mike Baughman, a United Methodist minister who runs a Christian coffee shop in Dallas. They discuss their perspectives on what is happening in American culture, especially with regard to young people. Despite the trends, they express hope for the future of religious practice in the U.S..
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Today, we will begin discussing this NPR series. However, I don’t want to influence our discussions by writing my own response and then having us converse about that. This will be more “Open Mic” format, and I will be trusting you to do your homework so that you will be familiar with the NPR programs. I’d rather have us start fresh so that we can respond to what we hear in the voices of these young people and the others who speak in the series rather than my particular take on them.
We are going to take several days to do this. Each day, I will introduce one or two of the posts, encourage you to listen to the recorded broadcast or read the transcript, and moderate the discussion.
Here are links to the transcripts, so you can read ahead if you like:
- Losing Our Religion: The Growth of the “Nones”
- More Young People Are Moving Away from Religion, but Why?
- After Tragedy, Nonbelievers Find Other Ways to Cope
- On Religion, Some Young People Show Both Doubt and Respect
- Making Marriage Work When Only One Spouse Believes in God
- As Social Issues Drive Young from Church, Leaders Try to Keep Them
For today, I invite you to discuss the first piece on the growth of the “nones.” Go listen to the show or read the transcript. Here are a few quotes for reference in our discussion:
“As deeply religious as this country may be, many Americans are not religious at all. One-fifth of Americans in fact do not identify with any religion. This week we’re asking who they are and what they do believe.” (Host)
“They call them nones – that’s N-O-N-E-S – because when asked to identify their religion they say none. But not necessarily atheists. Many of these people believe in God, many describe themselves as spiritual.” (D. Greene)
“Young people are not only more religiously unaffiliated than their elders, they are also more religiously unaffiliated than previous generations of young people ever have been, as far back as we can tell. So this is really something new.” (G. Smith)
“…this same younger generation is much less involved in many of the main institutions of our society than previous younger generations were.” (R. Putnam)
“And so I think the single most important reason for the rise of the nones is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue.” (R. Putnam)
“As we’ve seen the religiously unaffiliated’s share of the population grow, the group that’s really seen its share of the population decline is Protestants. In fact, in our most recent analysis, we found 48 percent of American adults identifying as Protestant. And that’s the first time in our polling that we’ve seen the Protestant share of the population dip significantly below 50 percent.” (G. Smith)
“Race and ethnicity though is one exception to that pattern. The growth of the nones really does seem to be restricted to whites. We haven’t seen much growth in terms of African-Americans or Hispanics who say they’re religiously unaffiliated.” (G. Smith)
“I think probably both of us would agree even with these recent changes, the American religious commitments are incredibly stronger than in most other advanced countries in the world. The average American is slightly more religious than the average Iranian. So we’re a very religious country, even today.” (R. Putnam)