“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.