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PostPosted: 05 Sep 2009, 07:46 
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Grand Poobah
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Outside faith, a rising tide of 'nones'
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by Jay Tokasz
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Updated: September 03, 2009, 8:29 AM
A few years ago, Tyler Manley would have considered himself a Presbyterian.

If asked about his religion today, he will confess he doesn't have one. Nor does he believe in God.

The United States remains one of the most religious countries in the world, but Manley is part of one of the steadiest trends in the national landscape of faith … the growing number of Americans who profess no religious affiliation. Social scientists often call them the "nones" … a broad category that includes atheists and agnostics, as well as those who believe in a higher power but don't cite a particular faith.

Studies indicate they make up as much as 16 percent of the U.S. population, and researchers expect that the numbers will continue to grow.

"You're just getting a lot of people drifting away," said Barry A. Kosmin, research professor in the Public Policy & Law Program at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

For Manley, who studies philosophy at the University at Buffalo, the drifting was the result of understanding that "human conscience comes before religion."

"It's important that you critically examine your own beliefs," he said.

Kosmin's latest American Religious Identification Survey, published in March, estimated the population of U.S. "nones" at 34 million … roughly 15 percent of the total … up from 29 million in 2001 and 14 million in 1990.

"It was quite amazing. It went up in every state," Kosmin said. Fourteen percent of New Yorkers did not associate with a religion, up from 7 percent in 1990.

A survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 16 percent of U.S. adults had no religious affiliation. Data from the General Social Surveys indicates that 16.4 percent of Americans are nonreligious, up from 5.1 percent in 1972.

Researchers once observed a familiar pattern of religious disaffiliation among young adults, who then would reaffiliate later on, said Darren E. Sherkat, a sociologist at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

But that pattern is breaking down, said Sherkat, who analyzes data from the General Social Surveys.

"We're seeing greater stability of non-affiliation, and we're also seeing greater numbers of parents raising their children without affiliation, which was really quite rare in earlier generations," he said.

Even in the Buffalo Niagara region … which had the highest percentage of residents in the country adhering to a particular faith, according to a 2000 study by the Glenmary Research Center … the slippage is evident in houses of worship, where empty pews have led to church closings and mergers.

Fred Mohr's faith journey once meandered through Billy Graham crusades, a liberal Protestant church and an evangelical Christian congregation.

Now "none" applies to him, too.

"If I'm honest, I mostly say I'm agnostic," the Town of Tonawanda resident said.

Mohr, 66, described a slow movement toward his agnosticism and doesn't recall any particular moment when his skepticism of religion set in.

"I still have a lot of respect for the church I belonged to," he said.

And he doesn't think he's all that different from many faithful parishioners.

"There's some people who go to church regularly, and they're basically skeptical, too," said Mohr, who occasionally attends functions at the Center for Inquiry, a national think tank based in Amherst that promotes secular humanism.

For Lauren Pollow, who attended services in a Reform synagogue in Albany until a few years ago, the principles of science began to take precedence over the Bible and the Torah.

"It's not that I didn't feel happy or content," said Pollow, who is studying psychology at UB. "Culturally, I do love Judaism. I think the stories in the Torah are beautiful, and I love them."

But religiously, Judaism lost its sway with her.

"I started to realize the value of critical thinking in my life," she said. "Science and secularism are very much hand in hand."

Raised Catholic, David R. Conners was educated by Franciscan friars and Jesuit priests. He still believes in God and occasionally attends worship services in various traditions.

But he doesn't identify with a single religion, he said.

"A lot of people just aren't finding the answers from institutions," said Conners, a retired banker from Amherst. "That doesn't mean they become godless."

There's plenty of debate about exactly who the "nones" are and what they believe or don't believe when it comes to faith.

A 2008 study out of Baylor University found 11 percent of Americans saying they had no religion, and researchers there concluded that two-thirds of those people were not so much irreligious as they were unchurched.

Yet an analysis of the General Social Surveys shows that the majority of those Americans who don't affiliate with a religion also don't believe in God, said Sherkat, who is writing a book about religious change in the United States.

"Not everyone believes, and it's a really large chunk, and it's a growing chunk," he said.

Kosmin plans to release more findings this fall about the "nones," who as a group are 60 percent male.

Otherwise, "just like the religious groups, they're not homogenous," he said. "The only thing they agree on is when you ask them, "What religion?' they say, "None.'"

Current data probably underestimates the extent to which Americans have drifted away from organized religion, because secularization happens on a continuum, with church attendance ceasing first, followed by belief, Kosmin said.

It takes a while for people to acknowledge in surveys that they're no longer part of a religious tradition, he said.

"The belonging," he said, "is the last thing to go."

In some parts of the country, small communities of secular humanist groups have been cropping up in recent years to fill a social need that churches often provide in society.

These new communities are "religious only in a slight sense. They are confronting issues of morality and the purpose of human life, but they don't do it with God, and that's a critical difference," Sherkat said.

The Center for Inquiry now has 10 affiliate centers throughout North America and "faith- free" communities for skeptics and the nonreligious in a dozen other cities.

"The centers we have provide a kind of alternative," said John R. Shook, vice president for education and research. "What it is essentially is people who have grown disenchanted with religion for whatever reason."

The centers offer programs such as secular parenting groups and secular celebrations and rights of passage … the equivalents of what religious people would find in churches and synagogues.

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PostPosted: 05 Sep 2009, 07:50 
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Grand Poobah
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Location: Buffalo, NY
my head will explode if I don't now say...

Inside faith, it's too dark to read...


:cheeky:

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PostPosted: 18 Sep 2009, 02:58 
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Guardian of the East

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What's interesting here is that many people are breaking the chain of transmission across the generations by not raising their children in a religion.

So it looks like we Americans will see the sort of collapse that many Europeans have seen.


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PostPosted: 18 Sep 2009, 09:29 
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Grand Poobah
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Joined: 18 Sep 2007, 11:26
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Location: Buffalo, NY
considering the rate Churches are closing out here, I think it's started...

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