None of the Above: The Rise of the ‘Religiously Unaffiliated’

The 2012 presidential election is the first time that a Protestant is not running for President, if we assume that President Obama is a Muslim. You might have seen the story that he wears a ring with a particular religious inscription. The following was reported by Jerome Corsi on the WND website: “[A]ccording to Arabic-language and Islamic experts, the ring Obama has been wearing for more than 30 years is adorned with the first part of the Islamic declaration of faith, the Shahada: ‘There is no god except Allah.’”

On the Republican side, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan is Roman Catholic as is Joe Biden on the Democrat ticket. Of course, Mitt Romney is the first Mormon (more correctly a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) running for President who has a chance of winning. Keep in mind that Jon Huntsman, a Mormon, is also running for President as a Libertarian.1

Even with the rise of secularism, religion still matters to many American voters. Religion remains a topic of discussion when it comes to politics, as it should. The founding of the United States cannot be understood without knowledge of our nation’s religious history.

There is growing religious discontentment in America. It’s being given a name by pollsters — the “religiously unaffiliated”:

According to the Pew Research Center, one in five American adults — nearly 20 percent of the US population — now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentage ever in Pew’s polling.

“The Nones,” as they are being called, aren’t necessarily atheists. In fact, many describe themselves as “spiritual.” Not surprisingly, being “spiritual” means different things to different people: a universal spirit, a deep connection with nature and the earth, and “spiritual” but not “religious.” Religion is like eating at the buffet line at Ryan’s Steakhouse. You get to pick what you want to believe.

I found this statistic in the survey interesting:

The majority of the religiously unaffiliated are Democrats or lean Democratic, and 67 percent of them believe churches and other religious institutions are too involved with politics. Large majorities of the unaffiliated say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power (70 percent) and focus too much on rules (67 percent).

While the religiously unaffiliated believe it’s wrong for churches and other religious institutions to be concerned with money and politics, it’s OK for the political party that they’re affiliated with to be obsessed with money and politics.

Many of the religiously “non-affiliated” remind me of a study that was done some time ago that went by the moniker “Sheilaism.” Sheilaism is based on the moral philosophy of Sheila Larson, “a young nurse who has received a good deal of therapy.” Sheila believes in God but in the end, her faith is in herself. “My faith has carried me a long way,” she says. “It’s Sheliaism. Just my own little voice.”2 If there is “Sheilaism,” then there is Maryism, Tomism, Michaelism, and every other ism.

Atheists, agnostics, and the religiously unaffiliated are living off borrowed capital. They are drawing from a moral bank that was built up over millennia by people who believed in a personal creator and an objective ethical standard through which to view the world. In time, that moral capital will be drawn down. What will replace it? Upon what ethic will the replacement worldview be based?

If the religiously unaffiliated migrate to the religiously uninterested, the next step will be religious intolerance and everything associated with religion. If consistency sets in, here’s what we have to look forward to:

“In the universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.”3

  1. Newell Bringhurst and Craig Foster forthcoming book, The Mormon Quest for the Presidency, explains that nine Mormons have run for president prior to Mitt Romney’s successful bid. []
  2. Robert N. Bellah, ed., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985), 221. []
  3. Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: HarperCollins/BasicBooks, 1995), 133. []
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