The Nones: Who are they and what do they believe?
Hannah Waite’s report exploring the beliefs of those who define themselves as non–religious. 24/11/2022
In light of Theos’ Nones report, Daniel Turner explores intellectual curiosity as a potential cure for people’s Christian disenchantment. 19/12/2022
Growing up, I remember one day being surprised to find a copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion on my dad’s bookshelf. After questioning his decision to read, let alone own a book which actively sought to dismantle our Catholic faith, he explained to me the importance of exposing ourselves to ideas we disagree with, so as to challenge ourselves to thinking deeper about what we believe and why we believe it.
Over the past year, I have heard the term ‘Christian inoculation’ used in some shape or form to describe one of the flavours of atheism and agnosticism we see across modern Britain, and indeed much of western society. The term proposes the idea that by having been exposed to a milder dose of Christianity, people have become immune to the powerful strain of the ‘true’ Christian faith.
With the recent release of Theos’ Nones report, which unpacks the belief of Britons who identify as non–religious, I was stunned by the spiritual, and even theistic openness of this growing group. With only 51% of ‘Nones’ stating they do not believe in God, 20% definitely/ probably believing in life after death, and 17% believing in the power of prayer, it would seem that for many their abandonment of formalised religion lies more in disenchantment than an active rejection of its claims. So where does Christianity stand amidst this societal shift? Have the Church and the Bible lost their relevance? I would suggest not.
A natural curiosity to look for meaning and answers still seems evident in this group, but that interest is often geared towards religions and spiritual traditions outside of our western heritage. With 16% of those who identify as non–religious believing in reincarnation, 14% in the healing power of crystals, and 14% in the supernatural power of ancestors, it would seem New Age spiritualities and eastern religions such as Buddhism have captured the minds of many, leaving churches empty and breaking into internal conflicts over where it all went wrong. (i.e. the liturgical reforms from Vatican II, the liberal/conservative extremes of the Church, etc.)
Unfortunately, this mass exodus from the Church is hardly surprising. Whilst students have been challenged with the best of what Maths and Science have to offer, humanities, and especially Religious Education, have too often been pushed aside and treated as an afterthought. This is tragic given their unique ability to expand, expose and deepen people’s worldviews, and furthermore in Christian schools, be a place to rigorously explore the intellectual and spiritual tradition we’ve inherited.
So how should churches and Christians respond to this age of disenchantment? Perhaps one remedy for the inoculated would be to instil intrigue. The Church, its beliefs and traditions aren’t just the tired old ways of the past, but rather timeless gems which upon deeper inspection have the power to illuminate and transform. It’s historical, philosophical and spiritual wells have satisfied many great minds, and whilst a deeper exploration will not necessarily end in conversion, it certainly will not be in vain.
Fortunately, efforts within the Church to create engaging spiritual and intellectual presentations of Christianity do exist. For example, this January, Fr Mike Schmitz and Ascension Press are set to release ‘The Catechism in a Year‘ podcast – a daily guide unpacking the beliefs which make up the Catholic faith. Similarly, I would challenge all of us religious folk to dive headfirst into the challenging questions and ideas that are out there. Though perhaps intimidating, it is crucial for believers to engage with the books (or in my case, often podcasts) that make us uncomfortable, as these are the ones that will actually help us to grow. I personally enjoy the work of youtuber and popular atheist Alex O’Connor (aka CosmicSkeptic), and have found many of his videos provide good food for thought, allowing me to question and better nuance what I believe.
The intellectual curiosity I try to live by, demands of me that I am both open to that which I disagree with, and dig deeper into what I think I do believe. I would extend the same challenge to Christians and non–Christians alike. Much like Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians, I would say “test everything; hold fast what is good”.
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Photo by John–Mark Smith on Pexels
Daniel is the Content and Communications Officer for Theos and a producer for The Sacred podcast. He previously worked in the charity sector in operations, content and media. Daniel studied Music at Goldsmiths, University of London, and spent time throughout his degree volunteering for an ecumenical Christian university outreach. He has a strong interest theology, with a specific focus on Catholic liturgy and apologetics.
Posted 19 December 2022
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.