Nothing in particular is America’s fastest growing religious group

IN APRIL 1966 Weather The magazine sparked outrage in America when it published a cover story asking “Is God dead?”, more than 80 years after Nietzsche declared him so. Today, American religion seems less exceptional. According to a recent poll by Gallup, a pollster, for the first time, a majority of Americans do not belong to a church. “We officially live in a pagan nation,” lamented the editor of a Catholic magazine. Pollsters attribute the fall in church membership to the rise of “nones” or those with no religious affiliation, who now make up a third of the population. Yet it is a subgroup of no-believers, those who believe in “nothing in particular,” that are reshaping the American religious landscape.

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Although generally grouped together with atheists and agnostics in the category of no religious affiliation, nothing in particular constitutes a distinct religious group. They outnumber atheists and agnostics twice—nearly one in four Americans is nothing in particular—and are growing faster than any religious group. As the name suggests, their defining characteristic is an aversion to being defined.

“They don’t want to be stuck,” says Ryan Burge, social scientist and author of “The Nones.” In some respects, they are remarkably average: unlike atheists and agnostics, who are mostly younger men, they are more likely to be middle-aged and are just as likely to be women as men. The majority of nothing-in-particulars believe in God, and a third of them go to church sporadically. Yet they reject allegiance to any religious group and distrust institutional authorities. Distrust of the covid-19 vaccine is an example of this trend.

Mr Burge says nothing in particular is alienated from society by more than mere religious affiliation. They have the lowest level of education of any major religious group – only one in five have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Nearly 60% earn less than $50,000 per year. In politics, they lean neither to the right, like most white evangelicals, nor to the left, like atheists or black Protestants. (Only a third of them voted for Donald Trump according to Mr. Burge’s analysis of the Cooperative Elections Study.) They rarely participate in political activities, such as attending a protest, donating money to a campaign or even put up a sign in the yard. . “Apathy is the big word that comes to mind,” Burge says.

While Christianity has declined in America, nothing in particular is growing at a breathtaking rate. Since 2008, when social scientists began following them, their ranks have swelled by 60%. Mr Burge believes there are two reasons for their rise. First, as America’s religious makeup changes, it becomes more acceptable not to identify as a Christian. It could be that their emergence is less about people leaving organized religion and more about revealing that they were never really part of it. Nothing in particular is widely drawn from this segment of Americans who have become disgruntled as they have seen their economic prospects plummet with recessions and the loss of well-paying blue-collar jobs. “They’re just social outcasts, sort of adrift in space,” Burge says.

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “None of these responses”