Rise of the “Nones”

Religion in America is in the midst of a dramatic change. The change is not what most people believe. I remember hearing about the rise of fundamentalism. Actually, evangelical fundamentalism is in slow decline and has not grown in 20 years. Biblical literalism is less than half of what it was 50 years ago, down from 65 percent of the population to 30 percent.  That still strikes me as way higher than it ought to be, but at least the trend is good.

Perhaps the most important single indicator of this change—and most important for us as Unitarian Universalists—is the dramatic increase of the “nones.” The percentage of young people who claim no religious identity is skyrocketing. Here is a chart showing the percentage of college freshman who claim no religious identity:

This is a truly stunning rise in the number of young people who feel no connection to any religious tradition. In secular language, “church” is becoming a bad brand. Young people associate church with narrow-mindedness, hypocrisy and rigidity.

The great irony here is that these “nones” are very much aligned with Unitarian Universalist values. They are accepting of ethnic and sexual diversity. They are open minded. They also seek spiritual community. They present a huge challenge and a huge opportunity for us.

Our work in the UUA’s “Congregations and Beyond” discussions is very much focused on how we can connect with UU’s who do not belong to congregations and to this growing part of American society that shares our values, that seeks spiritual community, but that has no religious identity. The future of our faith will depend, in large part, in learning how to engage millions of people who share our perspective.

By the way, a discussion of the “nones” was an important part of my report at General Assembly.  Watch a video of that report.

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