Don’t call us ‘the nones’: In praise of religious independents

I’ve heard a lot about “the nones” lately. No, don’t conjure up images of cantankerous ladies in penguin-like habits enforcing … Continued

I’ve heard a lot about “the nones” lately. No, don’t conjure up images of cantankerous ladies in penguin-like habits enforcing Catholic-school order. These “nones” are the new “spiritual but not religious.”

The Pew Center, a major force in the socio-cultural research world, issued a report last fall that found one in three young adults in the U.S. chooses “none of the above” when asked about their religious affiliation or identity. We humans love ourselves a meme, so of course, the “nones” became a new category of person that hadn’t exactly been labeled as such before.

So what’s the big deal? Who cares if they’re a “none?” For me, it smacks of a dying modernist mindset that simply doesn’t fit anymore. That, and it also imparts a negative connotation on them, as if they lack something everyone else has.

Maybe, but not necessarily.

In politics, someone can officially identify as “independent,” and they are considered to be a cut-above the fray. We think highly of those independent thinkers. So why is it that, when it comes to religion, you can’t be independent, but instead you have to be a “none?”

The United States was built on principles of religious and political liberty, which meant both freedom of choice, as well as freedom from being a part of the system all together. It seems that, while political independence is seen as at least a virtue – or at least as socially benign – there’s still negative baggage attached to those who seek freedom from religion, and not just freedom of religion.

Calling religious independents “nones” suggests, like I said above, an absence. But increasingly, there are intentional communities that provide much of what religion has historically offered, but that would not formally be defined as “religious.” For example, what do we call someone who gathers regularly with friends to discuss a book they’re reading (maybe even the Bible), and who also donates to charity and gets involved in causes that matter to them? What if they seek wisdom and guidance through regular prayer or meditation and yet don’t darken the doors of a church? What if they meet in a friend’s home once a week, led by an unpaid but intentionally trained facilitator that walks them through Scripture?

Or what if they do what they can to live their lives more like Jesus, but they’re not particularly concerned about bearing a religious identity?

This isn’t to say there’s not a benefit in being a part of a religious group, but truth be told, there are plenty of RINOS (“Religious in Name Only”) folks among those surveyed who did claim a religion. By doing so, do they really have anything the independents lack? What if being freed from the institutional trappings of the church was what some independents needed in order to truly find a meaningful connection with God and/or one another?

Of course there are plenty of folks who simply don’t put that much thought or effort into it. Their response to a survey like the Pew study is more of a knee-jerk response, and it may be the first time they’ve put any thought into their religious identity or affiliation in a long, long time. But that isn’t necessarily limited to the “nones.” In fact, there’s a tendency within modern Christianity to think much less about one’s faith after being baptized, making a statement of faith or even signing a church ledger, especially if the whole process is for that person little more than a holy fire insurance policy.

So what does the fact that one in three young adults are now “nones” tell us? To me, all it really lets us know is that people care less and less about labels. And yet we go about labeling them, often with monikers like “nones” that are loaded with negative implications. But we get no closer to really knowing the hearts, minds and spirits of the folks in question, whether they claim a religion or not.

If we have to call them anything, “Independents” seems more fitting. But this still tells us little or nothing about ourselves, except that we love labels. But as one who spent a decade of my young adult life among these folks being called “nones,” it smacks of the same old guard, framing the conversation based on their personal values and experience, which is largely why I became a “none” to begin with.

READ: Alan Cooperman of the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life responds to Piatt’s piece.

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of “Banned Questions about the Bible” and “Banned Questions About Jesus.” He has a new memoir on faith, family and parenting called “PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude, and a Due Date.”

For more information about Christian, visit, find him on Twitter or Facebook or visit his blog on the Patheos Progressive Christian portal.


Christian Piatt Christian Piatt is a writer and speaker based in Portland. He blogs at Patheos ( and is the author of several books, including "Pregmancy: A Dad, a Little Dude, and a Due Date."

    Doing “religion” has been a problem since before Christ, that’s why most of the world has missed the messiah (Jesus)! With all religions around the globe, you must do their religion to arrive! Jesus did it all for us, period, done! If you truely belive this, you’ll do your best to love God and love others-simple no brainer!

  • Madtown

    Unless of course, God placed you in an area of the world(through birth) where you’ll never learn the first thing about Christ and christianity. Then you’ll have a different notion about what God is, and that notion will be no more or less accurate than the notion of a christian. If God intended for there to be only 1 way to view spirituality, 1 religion, he’d simply have provided to all his human creations in this world. He hasn’t done that. Christianity is not universially “true”, because it’s not universially known.

  • ThomasBaum

    Truth is truth whether it is known or believed.

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “If God intended for there to be only 1 way to view spirituality, 1 religion, he’d simply have provided to all his human creations in this world.”

    Are you saying that for God to be God, God had to do whatever God did in a way that you approve of?

    What if God did provide for ALL of God’s creation irregardless of whether everyone knows or believes?

  • SouthernHumanist

    Christianity is not universially “true”, because it’s a religion. It is not open to scrutiny.

  • ThomasBaum

    Just because you and plenty of others view “Christianity” as a religion, as opposed to Christianity being Jesus’s Church, doesn’t mean that it is a religion.


    I ain’t “spiritual”.

    There is no such thing as “spirit”. There is only what is real.

  • oneStarMan


  • oneStarMan

    AM I Real? Are You? Or Is there just a vast interplay of electrical activity circling a rock circling an obscure star?

  • itsthedax

    Perhaps we should try to be a little more accurate, and call them “Thinkers”.

  • LBAY

    Since when are “independents” in politics a cut above the fray? I think they’re wishy washy types who don’t really stand for much, personally. Majority of the time people who describe themselves as “independent” are low information voters, who really are not independant at all.

    Also, “nones” are the new “spiritual but not religious.” 75% of nones describe themselves as “secular” or “atheist/agnostic” according to the PRRI study in fall of 2012. The slim minority– only 23% were “Unattached believers” –the so called “spiritual but not religious” types.

    Personally, I am an atheist. I would ALSO be classified as a “none” I’m getting really tired of the number of nonbelievers being underplayed while the minority of “unattached beleivers” being over played.

  • LBAY

    Should say “nones” are *NOT* the new “spiritual but not religious.”

  • allinthistogether

    Know one has the moral right to preach that something is true just because they believe it is true. There needs to be enough measurable evidence, and the preponderance of the evidence needs to support the factuality. Anything less is partially informed speculation, and may or may not be true. That is the nature of human cognition, and we have to do our best with partial, speculative info. Any claims of divine revelation have to meet the same standard, since there is no measurable proof that the message was actually divinely written.

  • ThomasBaum


    No one chosen by God to speak needs to “prove” to anyone their “right” to speak, as a matter of fact in this country (USA) everyone has a “right” to speak whether it is about the “fact” that God Is or about pretty much anything else.

    No one has to believe what they have to say, no one even has to “listen”, whether by ear or written word, and it is pretty obvious that many who dispute what they have to say, don’t even read or listen to what they say, some just lump all “believers” together and already “know” or think they do without listening or reading.

    Of course some that believe in something beyond the physical also lump together those that don’t believe and don’t listen to them.

    I don’t know about anyone else but I do know that I can not give anyone any “proof” that God Is, I have said many times that I believe only God can give that proof.

    One thing though, Truth Is Truth irregardless of whether anyone believes it or knows it or can prove it.


    I’m real. You’re probably not.

  • Lalande21185

    It may sound liberating to remain outside of an established religious community, but there are definite downsides to doing so.

    As soon as it gets warm enough to once again barbeque outdoors (with charcoal, not gas), wait until all the coals are glowing red hot. Remove one coal with the tongs, and set it aside for a bit. Before long, that lone coal has cooled enough to pick up with your bare fingers, while the others are still glowing merrily away.

    The same happens to us, when we separate ourselves from community.

    (Among other downsides is the danger of one’s own ideas going aff the deep end, without other minds to bounce them off. Two heads really are better than one when it comes to searching for the Truth.)

  • Rongoklunk

    Over the eons people invented thousands of gods. It’s a very human habit – inventing gods. The ancients did it all he time. And some folks still do it today. I think it’s because people are, or were, scared by the reality of death and of the nothingness that awaits us. So a great skygod – if you can force yourself to believe it – can bring comfort and maybe even joy into your life. The hard thing is making yourself believe it. We atheists fail hopelessly at doing that.
    Steven Pinker, in his book “How The Mind Works” asks; “How does religion fit into a mind that one might have thought was designed to reject the palpably not true? The common answer – that people take comfort in the thought of a benevolent shepherd, a universal plan, or an afterlife – is unsatisfying, because it only raises the question of ‘why’ a mind would evolve to find comfort in beliefs it can plainly see are false?”
    I ask myself that question all the time. The answer has to do with childhood indoctrination. It is the one sure way of getting your message across to the next generation. No indoctrination, no irrational superstitious beliefs. Try not indoctrinating your offspring and he’ll grow up to be a normal guy who doesn’t believe in anything supernatural. That’s a great favor we should all give to our children. When they grow up they’ll be so grateful you didn’t brainwash them into believing nonsense.

  • Rongoklunk

    The good news is that nonbelief is increasing all the time. Religion in Europe started dying after WW1 and increased after WW2 as people realized there was nobody up there. Maybe it takes a war on your own turf to show you how inane it is to believe in a skyperson watching over us. But even the US is slowly recognizing that people – more and more – reject the god hypothesis. It just doesn’t make any kind of sense these days.
    One can understand why the ancients figured that there were gods all around them. They were totally ignorant of everything.
    They believed in ghosts and gods and spirits and all kinds of really weird stuff. I mean they made up thousands of imaginary characters they would then worship; more than 3500 of them they called gods. And even sacrificed thousands of lives for many of them. They say that Huitzilopchtli would drink the blood of 15000 virgins, who would be actually slaughtered in his honor. And yet there was no such god. The slaughter was real.
    You have to shake your head reading about such crazy superstitions, some of which still continue today. But at least we do have science, which previous generations before 1800 never had in any significant way. And it’s scientific thinking that will eventually doom superstitions. It has to happen. Stupidity can’t survive in a knowledge based culture.

  • Rongoklunk

    “I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious theories of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God.”
    Thomas Edison 1847-1931. Columbia Magazine.

    “Neither in my private life nor in my writings have I ever made a secret of being an out-and-out unbeliever”.
    Sigmund Freud !856-1939

    “Properly read, the bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived”.
    Isaac Asimov 1925-1992

    “As for myself, I do not believe that such a person as Jesus Christ ever existed, but as the people are inclined to superstition, it is proper not to oppose them”.
    Napoleon Bonaparte 1769-1821

    “I’m an atheist and that’s it. I believe there’s nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other”.
    Katherine Hepburn quoted in Ladies Home Journal Oct.!991

    “The bible is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it, and some clever fables, and some blood drenched history, and some good morals, and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies”.
    Mark Twain 1835-1910 in Letters from the Earth

    “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking why I should ever change them”.
    Abraham Lincoln 1809-1865

    “I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, and there are many other of the postulates of the orthodox creed to which I cannot subscribe”.
    Wm Howard Taft 1857-1930

    “The memory of my own suffering has prevented me from ever shadowing one young soul with the superstitions of the Christian religion”.
    Elizabeth Cady Stanton 1815-1902

  • PhillyJimi1

    Lalande21185 I find your idea of the lone coal very telling but not for the point your trying to make. The threat of hell fire (the coals) is the glue that keep most people believing is a monster who wants to burn them forever. It is a group delusion.

  • PhillyJimi1

    Mr. Platt, I am included in the nones. I don’t believe in any god or gods. I am not a spiritual free agent.

    Your attempt to round up to include me in your definition of a none is wrong. Every none I have ever meet would NOT be included in your definition. Just not buying the bull you’re selling.


    The threat of imaginary “hell fire” interestingly enough parallels the rise of the Inquisition and the burning of “witches”.

    It was a real enough threat – they were burning people to death.

  • ThomasBaum

    Seems to be a very human thing for man to make himself god also.

    As I have said before, sometimes God “rewards” one’s faith with a revelation.

    As I have also said before, one day all will know that God Is and many that believe in God will realize that their “conception” of God was, to say the least, off the mark.

  • Rongoklunk

    Another point that suggests that what we believe about the great skyfairy is questionable, is that we all end up believing whatever it was we were raised to believe. The most devout Christian would probably have been a Muslim if raised among Muslims, just as the most devout Muslim would have been a devout Christian if raised among Christians. That has to tell us something about faith. We’re like frigging robots, just responding to whatever we’re taught as infants – no matter what it is. It just makes a farce of personal beliefs.

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “It just makes a farce of personal beliefs.”

    This is merely your opinion but since it is your opinion than it would have to include your “personal beliefs”, wouldn’t it?

  • reflector

    Organized religion is about control based on fear, punishment and reward. You must obey (and preferably give money) in order to be safe, and that benefits those who derive power or income from organized religion.

  • haikuvulcan

    Rubbish – I know a lot of people who were raised in one tradition but converted to another. More to the point, “Rongoklunk,” just because you were raised a certain way doesn’t mean that your beliefs are the product of some sinister form of “brainwashing” (do you even know what that really is?). What a load of malarky – but it sounds hip, edgy and provocative, even though it’s unadulterated slop.


    Secularization of church and state certainly hasn’t done us any favors- turn on the news! When we teach our kids they’re all just animals, don’t be suprised when they act like animals! Put another way, when we invite hell into our country, don’t be suprised when all hell breaks loose!

    Time Magazine interview with Einstein in his 50s:
    To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene.”

    Do you accept the historical existence of Jesus? “Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”

    Do you believe in God? “I’m not an atheist. I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books.”

    The general revelation of a God through the micro and macro symphony/complexity of nature (there is a painter behind this painting) the fullfilled prophecy in the Bible (100s and scary accurate), the life of Christ & his followers (they cleared forests to cruxcify Christians in the 1-2 century & nobody dies like this for a hoax) the near death experiences of millions (see the light), the sense of right/wrong built into all of us (sense of justice), the eye witness testimony to Christ resurrection and his miracles (takes one eyewitness to condemn a man to death today) the miracle of the Bible (see the dead sea scrolls 2000+ years later for example-hasn’t changed-another miracle) just to name some evidence! It’s the intellectually honest world view folks and there’s room for one more!

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