Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I don't go to church. But I make steeple hands often, as I am doing right now, as I'm figuring out what it is that I want to say about the NONES.

I never heard the term "NONES. They are people who, asked about their religion, reply "none." They aren't atheists or agnostics, just folks who gave up going to church, but chose to meet with others in order to share thoughts about spiritual things and help others -- the poor, the sick or needy.

Researching, I learned NONES are the fastest-growing religious group in the U.S. Their numbers have more than doubled since 1990; major surveys put them at 16% of the population. Many people, who have given up on organized religion, have not given up on faith. Surveys say only 4% of Americans identify as atheist or agnostic.

Diana Butler Bass, who's published books and articles about religion, has written a new book, "Christianity After Religion." In it, she notes that the past decade has been particularly challenging for organized religion in the U.S., from the Catholic sex-abuse scandal to the entanglement of faith in heated political campaigns, resulting in a "sort of 'participation crash.'"

A 2009 Pew Forum survey on Religion & Public Life, that asked people whether they believed in God, how often they prayed, and whether they were affiliated with a particular religion, found that 40% of the unaffiliated people were "still hoping to find the right religious home."

The Huffington Post, USA Today, and other surveys, suggest that young people are inclined to be NONES; the poor economy has created NONES; NONES are 18 % men, 12% percent female.

I think I am, unofficially, a NONE. When I was a child we were the only Jewish family in Winnetka, a wealthy white, Christian, Chicago suburb. In my novel, "Somebody, Woman of the Century," with my heroine Cordelia, here's how I used some of my personal experiences:

"The next morning was Sunday. Mama was sleeping. Cordelia got out her grandma's prayer book that she'd put under her pillow. Gramma said, "This was my book when I was your age. If you keep it under your pillow, the words will perhaps find their way into your mind and your heart."

Generally when church was mentioned, someone changed the subject. Learning how to pray seemed to be one of those "You'll understand when you're older" things. like why Mama and Jeorg weren't married. And why Mama had moved the two of them to Kenosha to work for "Uncle Charlie."

Prayer book in hand, Cordelia tiptoed downstairs to the street.

The grey stone-slabbed church on the corner had a sign that said Lutheran. As Cordelia peered in a man said, "Why aren't you in Sunday school little girl? Who are your parents?"

Cordelia replied, "Rosalind Benedek and Jeorg Zerega are my parents."

The man had a grey slab face. He said, "I don't recognize the names. If you want to attend Sunday school, your parents will have to register."

The next church in the next block was red brick with a white door. Cordelia was prepared when a man opened it and asked with a cheery smile, "May we help you?"

"I'd like to learn how to pray. I was thinking about joining your church," Cordelia said.

"You were, were you? And how old are you?"

"Almost eight. My parents aren't members. I'm not a Lutheran."

"This is the new Christian Science church. Have you ever heard of Mary Baker Eddy?"

"No, but I heard of Mary Mother of God."

He looked at the book she was holding. "Oh ho! And is that your bible?"

"No, its for praying in Czechoslovakian--my grandma gave it to me."

The man tapped the cross on the book's cover. "Why don't you try the Catholic church, two blocks that way." He closed the white door before she could say goodbye.

The Catholic Church had a tower with a steeple that looked like a finger touching the clouds. The windows were on fire with colors.

A Nun stopped Cordelia as she peered into the huge room with pews. Eyeing the prayer book, the Nun asked, "Where are Father and Mother today? Does your Mother go to confession and pray?"

"Sometimes Mamma prays for a Hoover vacuum ," Cordelia said like a nice little girl but she was getting to feel not nice. She wanted to learn to pray and she was tired of questions.

The Nun handed Cordelia a booklet. "Poor child, take this home, and let your Mother read it to you."

"Oh, I can read," Cordelia said, trying to keep politeness in her voice.

"You can crayon each of the pictures, child." The Nun brought out a small box. "This is a present for you." She opened the flap. There were six melted looking crayons inside. She pressed it into Cordelia's hand.

"You're a good girl. The Holy Mother Mary and the Blessed Saints have guided you here." The Nun pinched Cordelia's cheek affectionately. "We will pray for your soul at our shrine."

Cordelia smiled as well as she could with the Nun pinching. "Thank you."

Back in her room in Uncle Charlie's house, on a shelf she arranged the globe Grandpa gave her, Jeorg's postcards, the Nelly Bly doll Mama had made for her.

She placed Grandma's prayer book in the center of those precious things, put the Nun's booklet underneath and the crayon box on top. It made a perfect shrine.

She kneeled and clasped her hands and sent up a prayer like a smoke ring, picturing the words dissolving in the clouds --"Please God, keep your fingers crossed and watch over Mama and Cordelia in our new home in Kenosha."

So that's more or less my story. Though I am not officially a NONE, I send prayers up into the clouds.


Carola said...

What a great scene. And so well-written. I was brought up to be an atheist, but as a little girl I used to pray especially during difficult and worrisome times. I made up prayers based on what I had heard my little Methodist friends quote from Sunday school.

Ameer S. Washington said...

NONE, atheist, agnostic...there's always a term to group people into. I guess for identification purpose, and perhaps for eradication purposes if the times ever came to that.

I'm like you. I was raised in a Christian church, the Church of God in Christ/Pentecostal. My mother was a firm believer and we were carted off to church weekly for most of my life before my mother left this world. As I grew older I still held God close to heart, but not necessarily church, i.e. the people therein. The redundant services became predictable and sometimes seemed fake.

While I was in college The Passion of the Christ came out, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq was in full swing, and the loved Pope John Paul II had died and Pope Benedict was being elected. I dove deeply into religion and felt a connection of some kind and then I began traveling to different Christian churches to see what was the major difference and really found none.

When I graduated my trips to church were almost non-existent but I continued to read the bible. I had a conversation with a Muslim that changed the way I studied, which was a blessing. I continue to read the bible, I read the Nag Hammadi Library, about Zen Buddhism, Tao, the Dead Sea Scrolls and a host of internet articles. One of the most important books I've read was A History of God by Karen Armstrong which looked at Judaism, Christianity and Islam from a historical perspective. Much of my reading showed me that religion splinters man.

With all my studying, all my looking at the world, and reading, I realized that like me, know one really knew anything at all. No one could prove or disprove God and all of these doctrines that were written appear to be a collection of stories meant to confuse and keep man apart. I'm sort of rambling, but essentially what I'm saying is I don't define myself as anything, even a NONE. Because even in the same religion, belief is largely based on individual interpretation. I like to say these days, "I believe what I believe," which is all that any of us do. I'm a IBWIB, because the only person that can change my beliefs/belief system is me. I am the master of my own universe.

Maureen Jacobs said...

I say to all the NONES out there, live your life, ad live it well.

I, too, feel like staing I am a no one, but I do have a belief system based loosely on Catholicism. I call it catholic light. I hold the main rule to be, be good to others and go through life treating others as you would like them to treat you.

If that is a none, I am all in.

Anonymous said...

This is a hard subject to discuss. I grew up in the church and sang in the /sunday choir. Now that I am disabled I cannot attend, but God is in my heart and I say prayers alot. Maybe I am a NONE too. My Hospice chaplain has told me I blessed and a child of God and am going to Heaven. Will I be the only NONE in Heaven? I doubt it... kam

Linda Phillips said...

I really want to read your book "Somebody". It is on a note on my computer. I know I would love it and I will get around to it.

I was also born and raised (sort of) Jewish, but I have never had any interest in ANY organized religion. As a child, I was asked if I wanted to go to Sunday School and my answer was..."No, I'd rather watch The Children's Hour ( TV show with child performers) and that was that.

I don't consider myself "None". I consider myself a non practicing Jew. It's my heritage and I honor that.

I do "practice" New Age Spirituality. It answers my needs and gives me strength and guidance. I am not an atheist. I am more like an agnostic. I see God as love. I do not believe in any kind of deity, but I do believe that the Universe is filled with love and connection. I believe in Karma and I believe in reincarnation.

To me we are all Souls who have found new bodies and that we have to work to overcome the errors of our current personalities in order to lead happier lives. There is no punishment if I don't work at this, I just would not move forward in my spiritual growth.

Unknown said...

Ima "SOMES" although now a a listed member of a Lutheran denomination.
* * *
Mama was a 'God hardliner' and a Conservative Baptist. Daddy always managed to find some work to be done especially on Sunday mornings. Some years after daddy died and Mama became very ill, I was sent to a Catholic boarding school for a while. Daily Mass attendance was a requirement that was waived for me, but the need to 'fit in' compelled me to attend on my own. They were in Latin. Took me a long time to figure out that hellfire and brimstone wasn't going to come through the roof or the walls and take me out. The nuns were my schoolteachers there.

Somewhere in time, I just became 'comfortable' being a Lutheran in denomination. I've been widowed twice. My first husband was a Lutheran, my second husband was a Catholic (albeit a non-church attending Catholic).
* * *
While I don't attend church as regularly as I was attending, I do pray for approximately 1 -1 1/2 hrs. each day. I read the Bible only about 15 minutes to half an hour daily.

When I was attending church regularly, I also would attend Catholic services several times during the year.
* * *
Do I believe in God or that something which is greater than all of us somewhere out there, yes I do. Am I the world's greatest Christian, nopers, sure am not. Do I have questions about how God, the Universe, science and all that work or thread together, not so much 'is there a connection' but how does it all connect? I sure do. Those answers may never be revealed to me before or even after I die. I just learned to try to be content on the FAITH I currently have, and keep moving forward.
* * *
Prolly a very good thing I'm not running for any public office like Newt Gingrich. I think he got hammered upon a bit for his changing of religions.
* * *
I'm @grammakaye on twitter.

Nicole said...

I'm a none. I grew up in a religious free household. We never went to church and we didn't even own a bible in our home. Despite all of this, my grandmother (Who raised me) was a very spiritual mystical woman. Me and my older sister were encouraged to walk our own spiritual path.

Like Linda wrote in the post above me, I "Practice" New-Age (I hate this term) spirituality and mysticism. I'm also an Astrologer, who works with crystal healing.

Linda Phillips said...

Nicole, I hate the term also, but have not found a better one to describe it.

MikesFilmTalk said...

The lovely scene with Cordelia makes me think of when I was in the USAF. While we were in basic training we had to fill out a form with information for our dog tags. One bit of information on the tags was Religious Preference.
I did indeed put down NONE. This got a bit of a rebuke from the Base Chaplain. Who took it upon himself to explain that if I was Catholic then I could get last rites as I lay dying in the battlefield. Or if I was baptist (I did indeed attend the Baptist church with my Grandmother when I was a boy)... I explained that if I was dying? ANY words from anyone would do; Hell even a Buddhist Monk could read me last rites. I don't think the "Big Guy" upstairs it going to be that bothered about it. The chaplain did not agree, but as they were my dog tags, the choice remained NONE.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Very timely post for me, Emily. Recently posted about my self-described pantheism at my site and it stirred up an interesting discussion. It's hard to be a "none" or any other faith that might appear self-styled...or at least to talk about it.
Glad I found your site! (thru our FB connection)