At the Religion News Service a column draws attention to a new book recently published that offers significant work on the “Nones.” The large rise of the “Nones’ has now been linked to the politicization of faith which leads some to believe that they don’t have a home in faith and to leave. This work comes from two professors at the University of Notre Dame and one from the University of Akron.
“If fear is cultivated it will become stronger, if faith is cultivated it will achieve mastery.”
John Paul Jones
Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
Within the United States the “Nones” have soared in the last couple of decades to taking off in the 1990’s. Their rise of people who reject religion has been a source of discussion and debate. According to a column at the Religion News Service new academic research has tied the growth of the “Nones” to the politicization of evangelicalism which has resulted in many people leaving faith. Published in January of 2021, its published through Cambridge and called, “Secular Surge A New Fault Line in American Politics.” This academic work comes from political scientists David E. Campbell and Geoffrey Layman of the University of Notre Dame. Also working on this issue is John G Green of the University of Akron. They argue that the secular population of the United States is more diverse and larger than previously thought. Research is showing that what is driving secularization is religious people’s political behavior. Thirty years ago one in thirty Americans had no religious affiliation. Today that number is one in four. Religion News Service has a great write up of the work. “
“What’s responsible for this rapid change? Various studies have argued that one reason for the rapid rise of the nones is a backlash against the actions of the Religious Right, since so many people who leave religion also seem to be politically liberal. Campbell and his colleagues designed a series of experiments that could test that hypothesis: was it a coincidence? A correlation? Or was religious people’s political activism actually causing increasing numbers of Americans to vote with their feet?
The first phase of each experiment asked people to choose their religious affiliation from a list and also asked other questions about their behavior and beliefs. The second phase, given to the same respondents a week later, had them read a news story that looked realistic but was actually fictionalized. The news stories were all about examples where people had mixed religion with politics, like a clergy member who was active in politics, or a politician who repeatedly referred to his faith on the campaign trail. Then, at the end of the survey, they were given the same demographic questions as before, including the one about their religious identity.
The researchers compared how people responded to the religious affiliation question to the baseline they’d established a week earlier. For respondents who had already identified themselves as Republicans, being presented with these examples of the mixing of God-talk and politics had no effect on how they characterized their religious identity the second time around.
Democrats, however, showed a clear aversion after reading the reports about mixing religion and politics. When surveyed the second time, their rate of religious affiliation had dropped by 13 points.
Campbell said the findings were dramatic. Just reading the news story, he said, is apparently “enough to push a sizable number of people away from holding a religious affiliation. That’s one story at one point in time, and we can get that effect. Imagine what happens when people are exposed to hundreds of stories over many, many years. It would only reinforce that idea that religion and the Republican Party go together, and that if you’re not sympathetic to the Republican Party, you don’t want anything to do with religion.”
While most of the attention has been given to the way nones are leaving religion because of the Religious Right’s political stances on issues like LGBTQ rights or anti-Muslim immigration policies, the left doesn’t have a pass to mix religion and politics, either, Campbell said.
“I would say to churches, on both the left and the right, that if you want to bring people back to the pews, you want to stay out of politics. And that’s true of mainline Protestant churches, Catholic parishes, Jewish synagogues—any religious community. While most of the allergic reaction is against the Right, there is a general sentiment among people that they really don’t like the mixture of the two.”
Its important to note that this applies to both sides of the spectrum, but the mixing of faith and politics is toxic. If you want to read the entire article you can go to, ““Allergic to religion”: Conservative politics can push people out of the pews, new study shows.”