Over the last few decades, there has been a religious phenomenon sweeping the nation. This one, though, is not like the Jesus revolution of the 1960s and 70s. In fact, just the opposite. What we have seen happening is the rise of the so called “Nones.” Various polling organizations, including Gallop, Pew Research, and George Barna have all been documenting this trend. Their polling shows the dramatic shift from the overwhelming majority of Americans self-identifying as Christian, to now over 30% claiming they have no religious affiliation. And, this shift is showing itself in some very dramatic ways in the culture.
For instance, after quite a shakeup in the U.S. House of Representatives with the ousting of its speaker, Mike Johnson has been elected to the position. In ascending to this position, Johnson has been very outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ. In early interviews, he has given God credit for his rise to the position, has stated that his worldview beliefs come from the Bible, and has been seen openly praying with fellow Republican lawmakers on the House floor.
While many conservative Christian leaders have been excited to see his boldness, and praised Johnson for his faithfulness. On the other side of the political divide, many have been strongly critical – something that would have never happened only a few years ago.
So what are we to make of all this? What we can deduce is that the religious environment of the nation is in quite a turmoil, with the main conflict being between those who still profess to being Christians, and that 30% who now claim to be Nones.
Religious or Not Religious?
Nones consider themselves to be nonreligious. But are they really? The answer to that question is a resounding, “No!” In fact, they are very religious – they just don’t understand the true nature of their religious faith.
The use of worldview concepts is the most precise way to identify a religious faith. A worldview is defined as: The assumptions people make about the nature of reality. A key word in this definition is the word “assumptions.” What this tells us is that we are dealing with beliefs, or put another way, religion.
The way to identify worldview beliefs is to answer three particular questions based on the doctrines of a given system. The three essential worldview questions are:
- What is the nature of ultimate reality?
- What is a human being?
- What is the ultimate a person can get from this life?
How People’s “Unbelief” Is Played out in Society
So just who are these “Nones.” We can characterize them in several ways.
- One of the more common ways Nones express their denial of God is by rejecting “organized religion.” They generally define organized religion as having some connection with Christian churches or denominations. They particularly seem to not like the leaders, politics, or the social stances of existing churches.
- Another way is to affiliate with non-biblical churches. Many churches in modern western society contain the name Christian, or at least consider themselves Christian, but don’t follow biblical teachings. And many who attend these churches don’t want to be bound by biblical morality or values, but still want to be associated with the Christian faith.
In expressing their beliefs, there is not a word about biblical salvation. However, they:
- claim to follow the way and teachings of Jesus,
- believe that other religions are legitimate faith expressions,
- advocate to include all beliefs and lifestyles,
- promote their understanding of peace and justice,
- embrace a naturalistic view of science,
- protect the earth, and
- reject absolute moral values.
These people claim to be Christians, but by advocating beliefs and values that contradict the Bible, they are not actually Christians. By default, they end up with the same essential beliefs as those who identify as “Nones”.
3. Some Nones have rebelled against the Christian faith altogether and don’t care to be associated with Christianity at all. At the same time, they do acknowledge spiritual feelings and sense a need for community. Some of these have migrated to New Age type religions, but many to secular organizations that have deliberately organized to function like a church, such as Secular Humanists and Unitarian Universalists. And while they attempt to find moral clarity through the teachings of various religious traditions, they take the principles completely out of a traditional religious context.
4. Another group that doesn’t believe Christianity is true is one that still feels a compulsion to lead out “as if” they were religious people. Many of these attend liberal theological schools and adopt various liberal theologies. Interestingly, they might become institutional chaplains or church pastors. The current head chaplain at Harvard University is an Atheist. And one of the more famous Atheist pastors these days is Gretta Vosper with the United Church of Canada.
The “Nones” Have Beliefs
While the “Nones” typically claim to not have religious beliefs, the truth is that they actually do. These people have not given up religious beliefs at all. They may have left the Christian faith, either overtly or covertly, but they are, in fact, very religious people. It is just that they seem unable to identify their religious beliefs as religious.
So how do we know that the Nones are really not nonreligious? We do it by discovering how they answer the three essential worldview questions mentioned above. So how do these naturalistic Nones answer those questions?
- What is the nature of ultimate reality? - Ultimate reality consists of the natural universe operating by natural laws.
- What is a human being? - Human beings are naturally evolved animal creatures.
- What is the ultimate a person can get from this life (and how do they get it)? - On a macro level, the ultimate a person can get out of this life is survival. On a personal level, it is to maximize the achievement of one’s personal desires – and they do this by doing whatever is necessary to pull it off.
If you look closely at these answers, none of them can be derived by science. They are beliefs that must, ultimately, be believed by faith. Science can’t prove that the natural universe is all that exists, that human beings evolved to their current state by naturalistic evolution, nor can it show how a person can achieve their ultimate life desires. Naturalism is, then, by default, a religious belief.
The reason most Nones consider themselves nonreligious is not because they are really nonreligious. Rather, it is because their beliefs fall into a category that does not fit their personal definition of religion. But it is a faith point of view just the same, and is a distinction without a difference.
So what do we have here? What is spoken of in the media as an increase in “unbelief” is not really an increase in unbelief at all. Rather, it is a shift from one religious faith to another. And those who are engaged in actively trying to put down Christians and Christianity are actually religious zealots who are promoting their naturalistic faith.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books entitled The Truth Mirage, Rules for Christians Radicals, Liberalism vs. Conservatism, and his latest book Shattering the Truth Mirage and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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