How secular are the “nones” among America’s youth?

27 Sep
Sociologists of Religion and Religion and Politics scholars have been debating whether young people really are “losing their religion.” There has certainly been a rise in the number of “nones” (those who check the box “none” when identifying their religious affiliation in various surveys; number ranges from 15-20%; 25-30% for 18-24 year olds). But many scholars have argued that these nones are probably either switching religions or denominations (not becoming secular) or that the number of true nones has remained stable since the 1970s, its just that it is socially acceptable to take that label today, unlike then. So they have argued that the degree of secularism in America, even among American youth, has been greatly exaggerated. My study and observation of cultural and social forces and ideas, however, has prevented me from joining their chorus. I can appreciate the otherwise appropriate virtue of remaining conservative in drawing social scientific conclusions positing significant social change, but I believe it is warranted in this case. New evidence from a recent study of nones seems to confirm my suspicions. The nones really are pretty secular.

From the USA Today (full article here)

College students are almost evenly divided into three camps when it comes to faith, according to a new study released Thursday.

About a third, 32%, are true believers. Another 32% are spiritual but not religious. And 28% consider themselves secular.

Researchers from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., asked students nationwide a series of questions about their spiritual, political and moral values, ranging from belief in God and worship attendance to climate change and same-sex marriage.

About 70% of the religious students were Christian, as were about 43% of the spiritual students.

Most of the secular students, and about a third of the spiritual students, were so-called “nones” – those with no religious identity, said researchers Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar.

While very few Americans identify as atheists or agnostics, a growing number fall into the “none” category. Polling from the Pew Research Center found the number of “nones” among all Americans grew from about 15% in 2007 to just under 20% in 2012.

The Trinity survey, conducted with the secular non-profit Center for Inquiry, was done in part to help understand the “none” group. In the survey, researchers said the nones show a “remarkable degree of indifference to religion.”

Each group or brand of students in the survey had a distinct world view, researchers said.

Religious students go to church, are more likely to believe in creationism or intelligent design, and oppose assisted suicide, adoptions by same-sex couples and gun control. Secular students do not believe in God, endorse evolution, accept assisted suicide as moral, say gay couples should be able to adopt and want more gun control.

The spiritual students were split. They sided with the religious students on questions about God and with secular students on questions about politics and science.

Students from all three groups were worried about global warming, including 96% of the secular students and 80% of the religious students.

The findings “challenge to the notion that the nones are just ‘religiously unaffiliated’ or religious searchers who have not yet found a religious home,” Kosmin and Keysar wrote. “This survey clearly revealed that today’s students with a secular worldview, who are mainly nones, are not traditional theists.”

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