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Who Is a None? And Why Are There So Many?

February 28, 2017 by  
Filed under Book Club, Sarah Reinhard

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Seeds of the Word (Week 9 of 11)

Just what—or who—is a “None”? Have you ever heard that phrase before to describe people's religious affiliation?

I remember hearing about the findings of the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey when they were originally published.

There was an outcry about the “Nones,” those people who self-identify as, well, nothing. No religion.

To be honest, I still relate with them.

If you're not swinging on the angry, kinda crazy end of the pendulum, “None” can be an easy fit. And we certainly live in the right kind of culture and society for it.

In the decade or so I spent working in a parish, I was somehow convinced (by the priest? by the diocese? by…who, exactly, I'm no longer sure) that the largest religious denomination was inactive Catholics.

I mean, look at our Christmas and Easter attendance.

Listen to the people who identify as recovering Catholics.


Well, no. According to what Barron writes:

Now it is most important to note where the “nones” came from. They represent, disproportionately, a falling away from the mainstream Protestant churches. While the numbers of Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants have remained fairly in recent surveys, the mainstream Protestant figures have plummeted: now only about 12% of Americans self-identify as Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, or United Church of Christ. And thereupon hangs a tale.

In the course of the twentieth century—and intensifying in the last forty years or so—the mainstream Protestant churches dramatically liberalized themselves. By this I mean that they abandoned, or at least softened, many of the doctrines of classical Christianity—Trinity, Incarnation, sin, redemption, heaven, and hell—and embraced a kind of soft “spirituality.” They also heartily endorsed the social justice program of political liberalism without providing anything close to a properly theological justification for it. The result is that they became, more often than not, a faint echo of the political and psychological convictions of the secular culture.

Seeds of the Word, “Where are the ‘Nones' Coming From?”, paragraphs 4-5

The mainstream Protestant denominations became lukewarm. They became not worth fighting for. They lost their salt.

And they've been losing people to the “None” category.

Can you blame the people for leaving?

There's a lesson for US. “An authentic Christianity never hunkers down behind defensive walls,” writes Barron, “because its purpose is to transfigure the culture.” He continues:

But if it is to accomplish this end, it must be clear about what it stands for and what, by implication, it stands against. We Catholics must be vigilant in this regard, lest more of our own join the swelling ranks of the “nones.”

Paragraph 8

Indeed. With Lent but a day away, a good reminder to us all.

Reading Assignment:

Reading… – Celebrating…

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you know anyone who identifies as a “none”? Have you ever explored why? What have you found out or discovered about it?

2. How can you live your Catholic faith in a way that will transfigure the culture?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Sarah Reinhard

Sarah Reinhard continues to delight ”and be challenged by” her vocations of Catholic wife and mother. She's online at and is the author of a number of books for families.

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