The Decline of the Nones in 2014

The Rise of the “Nones” is a common theme in the media. But AHA Treasurer Jason Torpy sees these “Nones” giving way quickly to thoughtful, outspoken, and positive humanists and other nontheists. He sees co-opting some of religion as a major indicator of “nones” becoming “somethings.”

I have three predictions for 2014 or the near future (every prediction needs a good hedge). With the rise of the Four Horseman of Atheism around 2005, we “nones” gained visibility. Shortly thereafter, nontheist leaders began burying the hatchet and embarking on more unified strategies, leading to the 2012 Reason Rally. The movement has spent the last few years trying to, as recently put it, “be less awful.” I think one form that transformation will take is for atheists to rotate from opposing to secularizing and adopting certain religious concepts.

I see the first target that atheists will embrace will be Christmas. I say this because, in 2013, I got more “Merry Christmases” from atheists than I have ever gotten before. The Richard Dawkins Foundation, American Atheists members—the vast majority of the atheists I know had a pleasant Merry Christmas on their social media or official pages. I saw fewer nativity scene and Christmas party violations than any previous year. That means the Christians are taking their Christian-mas back to church and homes where it belongs. Everyone—atheist,  Christian, whatever—is celebrating a secular Christmas with Santa (of whatever ethnicity), presents, charity, family, and good cheer. Christmas is a great holiday, especially when we take the holy out of it. And as atheists sing Jingle Bells rather than Silent Night, the ‘war on Christmas’ brigade of Christians will be chanting, “No fair! We stole it first!”

The second is that “spirituality” will be co-opted by nontheists. Most of us skeptics still hold on to the legitimate objection that we don’t have souls or spirits so we can’t be “spiritual.” That is true in the purely semantic sense. But large swaths of Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, Ethical Culture, and other humanists are perfectly fine translating spirituality for their own needs. Spirituality is becoming a recognizable umbrella term for concepts like core values, awe and wonder, and the most meaningful parts of life. The military has leaned heavily toward religiosity in their ‘spiritual fitness’ programs, but in return, those programs have become increasingly marginalized. At the same time, spirituality-without-spirits movements like Sunday Assembly, Humanist Chaplaincy, and secular kids camps are gaining momentum and popularity.

The third is the rise of atheist and humanist evangelism. Some will still act as if simply being atheist (or gay) is a belligerent attempt to convert others. And this will not be the debunking or religion-bashing so popularly associated with the Four Horsemen years. What we can expect is that humanists and other ethical, positive atheists are becoming more and more comfortable trying to enlighten others about the value of our beliefs. Having put a bow on the god-doesn’t-exist argument, we’ll talk more and more about family, charity, life and death, ethical mentorship and meaning-making, and public policy. We will be able to set the example for religious evangelists about the proper time, place, tone, and manner of presenting ideas and attracting converts to a better way of life. That is a challenge far more difficult, more exciting, and more fulfilling than disproving some old writings or cult practices.

Humanism, and the nontheist perspective in general, is maturing. We languished in obscurity for many years. The candid attacks of Letter to a Christian Nation, The God Delusion, Breaking the Spell, and God is Not Great demanded attention. In the fast-paced digital world, we are quickly moving out of our rebellion and setting up our philosophies, communities, and families. We are participating in the military, government, and the workplace.

In many cases like Christmas, spirituality, and evangelism, we are turning arguments into agreements. It’s clear that talking about our atheism, what we’re not, is a short conversation coming quickly to its end. Pop culture is paying attention, and they are looking for more substance. Positive atheism and humanism have been around for decades, but now the mainstream of ‘nones’—40 million or more Americans—are beginning mass movement toward being “somethings.” And there simply isn’t room to grow without co-opting some old religious concepts and practices in the process.