Political scientist Ryan Burge, writing for RNS, recently shared a fascinating analysis:
These “nothing in particulars” might be the most consequential portion of America’s rapidly changing religious landscape, because they speak to a larger problem: unmoored members of American society.
Americans who identify as “nothing in particulars” tell surveyors that they have lower levels of formal education than other Americans. And they tend to have rates of social and political involvement that rank near the bottom of any religious group.
He goes on to document how religion and education levels contribute to all sorts of other factors important to American civil and democratic society including voting, volunteering, engaging in the political process, etc. He then concludes:
No matter how one feels about religion, it’s undeniable that religious traditions have spent decades building networks that operate behind the scenes to support those who are most vulnerable in our society. As the number of socially detached people grows, the ability of faith groups to fill in the gaps will be diminished, and once these ministries disappear, it seems highly unlikely that they can be quickly or easily replaced.
Finding ways to get these individuals to reintegrate into their communities might lead to benefits not only for these individuals but also for towns and cities in their fight to re-create social capital.
There are a number of societal factors at play that have led to the “rise of the nones” in recent decades and none of them will change over night. What could religious communities do, though, to better meet the needs of those who are “checking out”? Might a possible way forward to be for religious communities to help foster other non-religious communities and networks for those who feel adrift? What other solutions might be out there?