CHICAGO — OK, I’ve now become a “none.” That’s what the Pew Research Center calls those of us who either don’t practice a faith or prefer to keep our beliefs to ourselves.
Pew’s findings from a global study of religious practice also called people like me “unaffiliated.” But “none” has a more authentic ring to it.
According to Pew, about one of every six people worldwide has no religious affiliation, making “nones” the third-largest group worldwide, with 16 percent of the global population — about equal to Catholics.
For better or worse, in the last five years alone, unaffiliated Americans have increased from just over 15 percent to almost 20 percent of all U.S. adults. Pew data from October 2012 said that the “nones” include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation, which is where I count myself.
I wouldn’t feel the need to count myself in any religious category if it weren’t for the supposed hand-wringing occurring in spiritual communities across the country about whether the “nones” had adequate responses to the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, or whether they’re ripe targets for being attracted to congregations that meet in hipsterish coffeehouses or art galleries.
In two recent articles — “In a Crisis, Humanists Seem Absent” and “Building Congregations Around Art Galleries and Cafes as Spirituality Wanes” — The New York Times seems to be concerned that the spiritual needs of “nones” are going unmet. Their lack of community even has enterprising evangelists intent on bumping into us in movie theaters, child care centers and workout facilities for some impromptu witnessing.
As one devout “unaffiliated,” I can tell those good shepherds that I am not looking for fellowship before or after squeezing in my daily exercise or as I contemplate the appeal of a mocha latte. I can’t speak to the anger with which an atheist or agnostic might react to the subtle environmental cue of finding my coffee place dedicated to rejoicing in the Lord, but I’d probably never return for fear of being recruited.
I also can’t speak for those who had bad experiences with religious dogma or have moral qualms about certain orthodoxies, but I can say that introverts may be a lost cause, no matter the event or incentive.
Compared to the average “Chreaster” — defined as a Christian who only goes to church on Christmas and Easter — I’m probably way out on the devout practitioner end of the belief/nonbelief spectrum. But I just (ordinarily) keep it to myself.
Not to extrapolate my own feelings too far out onto the millions who describe themselves as deeply connected to something even while disconnected from religious organizations, but some of us like to experience that connection privately. If you can believe it, many people don’t need to express — or even, dare I say, brag about — their spirituality publicly.
It seems obvious to me that the rise of the unaffiliated who want to practice their religiosity behind closed doors is a natural outgrowth of our increasingly intimately connected modern lives. Maybe it’s not that spirituality is waning but that privacy is.
Today we tell everything about ourselves in our blog posts, as well as put up pictures on Instagram of every meal we sit down to eat, so is it any wonder that for many of us, our relationships with our deepest selves — and with whom or whatever we see as our maker — have become the only off-limits thing we have left?
Though I eagerly share any number of personal details on my social networks, I’m not a lost soul just because I’m not publicizing my “prayers” for the victims of a massacre in the same way. Some people would rather bowl in a group but worship alone, and that’s OK.
In a world where everything is done out loud in a “crowd,” don’t fret about the “nones” — most of us are simply wired to keep the important stuff quiet and private.
Esther Cepeda is syndicated columnist and an NBC Latino Contributor.