Checking “None” Is No Indication of Atheism

atheists believersBill Maher, host of Real Time with Bill Maher, interviewed President Obama recently. One of the topics that appeared to be nearest and dearest to the comic’s heart was the topic of religion—or more precisely atheism. He questioned President Obama on the role of religion in politics.

Maher is an atheist who feels treated as a minority in society. He seemed eager to promote his position by citing statistics he feels reflect a growing number of atheists. One statistic he quotes has to do with the number of people who check “none” when asked to identify with religion.

There may be some confusion.

“Nones” are not necessarily atheists.

Many “nones” are a growing group of Christians who believe in God but feel shut out by today’s church. In this case, “none” means they feel they don’t fit in. They may very well be passionate about faith.

“Nones” have been hurt. They may feel labeled or excluded. They may feel judged or marginalized. They may feel bullied by church leadership. They may disagree passionately with views voiced by clergy without an equal platform to speak. In the case of our church, our denomination locked our entire congregation out in a land grab. Many of our members are lifelong Christians who are now “nones”—by edict of a bishop that wanted to benefit from the value of our land.

“Disenfranchised” may be the better word.

The growing number of “nones” should concern denominations. However, denominations are often too busy plugging the dike of membership loss to address the problems that cause the leaks.

Clergy were once able to shape church policy, but recent troubles have increased the numbers of sycophants—an oddity among Protestants and especially Lutherans who owe their identity to leadership that showed no fear in challenging the church of its day. Luther fought hierarchy in an age when church leaders actually wielded power in society. It’s harder to challenge power that exists in a system that has little power outside its own carefully defined worlds. It is much easier to discourage malcontents and keep the dwindling number of happy people happy.

Those in the church who don’t want to spend their lives whipping dead horses find it easier to adopt the label “none.” It’s sad. The church’s loss. The church needs to be challenged from time to time.