The rising of so-called “nones” continues to interest Michael Gerson today, as he muses on what it might mean that those who choose no religion (whether or not they believe in religious-type things) have become a significant demographic in America. Coincidentally, it’s also Good Friday, the observance of the world’s most famous state execution of a religious and political dissident.
Gerson warns that the de-“house of worship”-ing of America is also a pattern of polarization, as people on either side of the divide become less trusting of one another and less community-minded. Religious differences exacerbate political differences and decrease tolerance, he contends, with “nones” and parishioners considering one another, respectively, theocrats and pagans.
This happens a good bit in the comments.
Religion provides additional reinforcement of moral behavior and provides reasons for actions outside ourselves. Those things all benefit society as a whole and some of them — such as [military] service that puts people in harm’s way, are essential.
Wait, wait, wait . . . you need someone in a robe with a big book to tell you that killing is wrong, that we should care for other people? And the reason for being a good person is wrapped up in a reward you get when your life ends? What a selfish, sick perspective.
Why would a “nones” be moral? How would you even define moral?
Okay! So we DO see each other as theocrats and pagans, neither of whom can be as morally upright as we are. Awesome.
But commenters further explore what might be driving this change in how people identify themselves.
blbixler says it’s all about having a public (secular) education:
Religion is not the polarizing force in this country, education is. The rise of the “nones” is a result of an increasing body of knowledge that answers many questions that religion calls mysteries and uses mythology to explain. The level of religion in a society is primarily indicative of what percentage of its members are uncomfortable with the truth.
aaronweiner suggests that in response to education and science being incompatible with some traditional religions, the idea of what religion is is changing, too:
I am a none. The way I see it, the religions of the past are making way for the religions of the future.
In a world we can see from space, knowing that many religious doctrines that existed are bunk and useless, the best reason to maintain a religion is to belong to an artificial social construct and to believe in something bigger than yourself and your fellow man. The modern religion of nones, I feel, is statism and secular humanism, neither of which is a negative point of view.
faithfulservant3 says in some cases, a faith can be a religion or an institution, but not both:
Actually, institutionalized religion is the problem. These behemoth corporations bear little resemblance to original Christian faith and worship. The faith began with a handful of men and women sitting around their humble houses telling stories of a Man they knew and lived with who they were positive was God. They grew to live in small communities where all possessions were shared. The power of this faith quickly spread throughout the entire Mediterranean.
When the early church began dictating dogma, ritualizing worship, and limiting the access of the common man behind a shroud of Latin the enterprise veered off course. The future focus on money and buildings further weakened the faith.
simpleton1 says it’s not that strange that people with completely different religious beliefs would find that their politics align:
Organized religion may help define a community, but by definition it also defines those outside it. Religious societies tend to be closed and closed-minded. Gerson may be right that the two leading groups in the Democratic Party are secular whites and devout blacks, but he should ask himself why those non-religious liberals get along better with African-Amercians than any of the more religious types in the GOP.
Soulstranger, though not apparently Mormon, is delighted to live among them for communitarian reasons, making Gerson’s point. We can disagree about the universe but still be good neighbors:
I hear what you’re saying, but religious people who leave their neighbors alone make great neighbors. I would rather live in a neighborhood surrounded by LDS folks than just about anywhere else.
That’s very sweet, and the kind of thing PostScript likes to end on. Theocrats and pagans glad to live side by side.