Humanist Voices in Verse: “Nones Are People Too”

This week’s poem is by Neil Doherty. Neil is an economist and Professor Emeritus from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has recently moved cross country to Bainbridge Island where he indulges his passion for poetry, hiking and a 1951 Morris Minor car.

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 “Nones” Are People Too 1

Two “nones” in my home — me and my spouse,
there ain’t any “nones” in the Senate or House, 2
the “nones” in our nation, the numbers will tell,
are one out of ten, and growing as well.
With not one politico fitting the bill,
there aren’t any “nones” up on Capitol Hill.

Then given the number of “nones” in the land,
I’ll ask if it’s prejudice, tacit or planned?
If not partiality, you can be sure,
the absence of “nones” is but luck of the draw;
when no-one, but no-one, in Congress declares,
then what is the chance of this state of affairs?

The chance that no “nones” in the Congress you’d see
is one out of ten to the twenty and three. 3
For no “nones” at all in that pious pavillion?
it’s only one chance in a hundred, billion, ……..
(and pausing for breath or I’ll turn quite vermillion)

Now, what is the chance that the numbers would show,
you winning the Lotto 4 three times in a row?
The chance is so tiny, too tiny to view,
it’s one out of ten to the twenty and two.
Less likely by far is that you and I will
encounter no “nones” up on Capitol Hill.

What chance from a bet on the stars in the skies,
you’d choose the right one 5 and so win the big prize;
or choosing from all of the sand on our shores
that one special grain 6 that our fortune ensures;
Such chances are puny, but punier still
is finding no “nones” up on Capitol Hill.

So, chance doesn’t cut it  – we now understand,
and testing for office – that stuff is banned,
but me and my wife would consider it odd
to find that no “nones” was a message from god.

—Neil Doherty

1 I have adopted a narrow definition of “nones” to focus on the “non-religious.” A common, broad definition of “nones” includes all those “unaffiliated” with any particular religion, both “secular unaffiliated and “religious unaffiliated.” Using 2013 Pew Survey data, I have counted only atheists, agnostics and secular affiliated as “nones.” In combination, these represent 10.3 % of the adult population.

2 One member of the 113th Congress (Kyrsten Sinema) admits to being “unaffiliated”, but does not go as far as to say “non-religious”. In the 112th Congress, there was one declared atheist, Pete Stark. Also, Barney Frank admitted to being an atheist after leaving Congress; though apparently did not feel able to do so when in office.

3 Given about 500 members of Congress, and the probability that a person chosen randomly from the population being a “none” is 0.9, then the probability of finding no “nones” in Congress should be 0.9500; or about one in a hundred, billion, trillion. If you were to count the “unaffiliated” Sinema as a “none,” then the probability of encountering only one “none” is 125 times larger, but still unbelievably tiny. With this classification of Sinema, the math changes marginally but the substance of the poem is preserved.

4 I have used the probability for first prize in the New York State Lottery, with a $1 bet – a chance of about one in twenty two million for each try.

5 The chance is about one in seventy, billion, trillion. This much more likely than having no “nones” in Congress.

6 About one in 7.5 million, trillion. Again trillions of times more likely than no “nones” in Congress.