That term, “nones”

There’s so much wrong about the hand-wringing and lip-smacking towards adults who declare no religious identity, and it needs to stop. (I was prompted to write this after seeing Dan Harper’s latest blog post, but not to suggest that I find these bad habits in him.)

  1. If I was in a group of a group of people dubbed “Nones” (even as shorthand) I would read that as demeaning and minimizing.
  2. And while adults who declare no religious identity are assumed to be young, it seems more like a Boomer value, church-going habits notwithstanding.
  3. Really: do y’all listen to the lyrics of John Lennon’s “Imagine” when you sing them? (They fill me with a kind of unspeakable dread.)
  4. And since when has it been commonplace for young adults to flock to churches?
  5. While people around my age (44) who’ve lived a while, and known growth and loss — people who might want a church life — barely get a missological peep.
  6. But it’s not like Unitarian Universalism is really like a real religion or anything? So we deserve the so-called Nones? That’s the implication, and what hurts the most.

So stop it if you’re doing this. We’re all better than that.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. I prefer to describe these folks as ‘unaffiliated’ or sometimes SBNR (spiritual but not religious) depending on context. The difficulty I have with ‘nones’ is that in spoken conversation there is the risk of ambiguity and confusion – is the speaker referring to religiously unaffiliated persons, or to women who have taken holy orders in certain particular traditions?

  2. Scott, for an insight on this issue, go take a look at, which sells atheist-themed merchandise. The site is broken down into categories: “atheist”, “Humanist”, “freethinker”, and, yes, “UUA”. Frankly, “none” is the only inclusive term for this group. An atheistic naturalist has more in common with a religious humanist than with, say, a Baptist, but that doesn’t mean they have the same views, by a long shot. And “spiritual but not religious” doesn’t cover Richard Dawkins, for example.

    “None” also provides a fig leaf for those whose spiritual convictions are simply too complex to boil down to a single noun, or for whom publicly identifying as a nonbeliever is risky – Rep. Gillibrand of Arizona, for example. (Not that she necessarily is an atheist; she doesn’t say. Which is the point. )

    Personally, I don’t find “none” demeaning. Yes, it defines people negatively, as what they aren’t rather than what they are – much as the term “atheist” does – but it’s a useful bit of shorthand, regardless.

  3. I think you’re right on this…like many things in the church, we have a tendency to reduce something that’s complex to a soundbite, which doesn’t convey the range of experiences. I’ve been following the work of Elizabeth Drescher, who’s currently writing a book on religiously unaffiliated folks. I’m looking forward to seeing the result of her research, which promises to be pretty awesome. And as a fellow Gen-Xer, I too feel the squeeze from being forgotten in between the Boomers and the Millennials. Maybe we need to be planting churches targeted to Gen-X!

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