“No Religion” Is Not a Concept


No reason to smile.

A recent AP FaithWorld headline about a Pew Forum poll is an excellent example of sloppiness in (non-)religious reporting.

It reads as follows:“No religion” is the third-largest world group after Christians, Muslims

(See: http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2012/12/18/no-religion-is-the-third-largest-world-group-after-christians-muslims/)

When you think of “no religion” you think of atheism.  Right?  So for anyone who’s actually awake the following sociological grouping makes as much sense as the grouping of people who’ve eaten at McDonalds:

“The ‘unaffiliated’ category covers all those who profess no religion, from atheists and agnostics to people with spiritual beliefs but no link to any established faith.”

For whatever strange reason, the reporter seems to have conflated the group “unaffiliated” with “non-religious.”  One can only hope he didn’t get this idea from the Pew Forum, because It’s reminiscent of grouping nuts and bolts according to their color.

A further kink in the story: the sociologist Rodney Stark has convincingly argued in a slew of books that the nones/unaffiliated/non-religious/atheists are the groups most susceptible to joining new religious movements.  Anyone who has encountered Dawkins followers knows these movements tend toward fundamentalism.  Atheism isn’t triumphant, it’s a holding pattern.

Finally, including figures from China, where organized religious activity has been brutally repressed, is also very troublesome, if not downright dishonest:

“Although 52 percent of Chinese say they have no religious affiliation, 44 percent of them say they have worshipped at a tomb in the past year.”

This is not the place to discuss how the very concept of religion has been taken behind the shed by “religious” thinkers such as William T. Cavanaugh, Talal Asad, and Brent Nongbri.  The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and this AP reporter clearly have not noticed.

Nice try.

10 thoughts on ““No Religion” Is Not a Concept

  1. “…the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

    ~Thomas Jefferson

    It would be wise to see the wisdom in these words

    • Yes, it’s wise to acknowledge that Jefferson was wrong to own plantations. It’s even wiser to acknowledge that Evangelical Christians abolished slavery while the separation of church and state argument was used *against* their abolitionism. It’s wisest to stay on the topic of the aborted concept of “religion” and its sociology.

  2. I can’t quite agree that no religion= atheists…I assumed that sloppy as it might be no-religion covers a range of ‘beliefs’ that are not aligned with the usual suspects as found in a census or poll. While beating up on the reporter or headline writer is fun, I think it tends to ignore the reality of what is going on…organized religions ( as captured in the loose terms of Christian or Islam) are losing ground to a hodgepodge of other belief systems. The admittedly ugly characterization of spiritual but not religious is the reality the reporter or headline writer is trying to get at.

    • What’s going on is that ways of life are developing and sometimes competing with other ways of life. I prefer the label “way of life” (admittedly stealing it from Pierre Hadot who wrote about ancient philosophy as a way of life) to “religion,” because a way of life covers everything one does, rather than arbitrarily carving up life into private religion and public action. I don’t think our moment is special in any way. SBNR is yet another permutation on Peter Berger’s secularization thesis, which is to say, it’s a way for sociologists to remain in denial about the staying power and presence of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other traditional ways of life in modernity.

      • If it was just sociologists in denial, I doubt we would be discussing this. And if our moment is not special in any way, then the article and the headline and the poll are just a handful of dust in the wind..so we can all move on.

      • Indeed, nothing here to see, just like with the death of God and the secularization thesis–every first world generation desperately wants to be original.

        Keep moving and don’t forget the hiccups of the Western world are only a fraction of the world’s “religious” activities.

  3. Pingback: American Literary Slugfest: Papist Upstarts vs. Established Prots | Cosmos the in Lost

  4. Pingback: Debunking Science & Religion Myths: The Copernican Revolution Wasn’t a Demotion | Cosmos the in Lost

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