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“Nones” to go Buddhist? Andrew Sullivan and the God and Country Blog

posted by Greg Zwahlen
by Greg Zwahlen

The US News and World Report God and Country blog reported last week that a recent Trinity College survey found that in the next twenty years, the percentage of Americans who report “no religion” may increase from 15% to 25%. The survey reports that the “nones” are more “religiously indifferent” than atheist.  

Over at the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan opines, “This is the fertile ground on which a new Christianity will at some point grow.”
I doubt it. Christianity in every variant has been around a long time–the “nones” would have found what they were looking for already, if that’s what they wanted.

Buddhadharma, on the other hand . . .



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Becca Faith

posted September 29, 2009 at 6:08 pm


Maybe more “no religion” correlates with more “unbridled, passionate, curious spirituality that can’t be defined”…It might be wishful thinking, but it might just be too complex for a census.



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Anon

posted September 29, 2009 at 6:41 pm


I think does not follow that Christianity won’t be on the rise in the “nones” category, but Buddhism will.
In general – most people have major misconceptions about the teachings of Christianity and what following the Gospel actually entails. The major teaching of Christ was love. Love of God, from which follows love of self, love of others, and love of the world.
I am not denying that the way Christianity is interpreted and carried out is not often in line with the Gospel (how very ironic). This does not excuse those actions. However, it also means that many may have only been exposed to a version of Christianity that is not really in line with Christ’s teachings. In fact, talking with many people about Christianity I find this is the case.
Therefore, I don’t necessarily think this excludes Christianity – real, Gospel centered Christianity – from increasing in the “nones” category. Just because its been around doesn’t mean people get it. I’m not saying that this means Christianity will definitely increase.
However, as a student of Buddhism and a Christian, I don’t find the two in conflict. Nor do I think we need to be criticizisng one practice because we personally find a difference practice more fulfilling.
One can have “unbridled, passionate, curious spirituality”, and chose to define it or not.
Shouldn’t we all be trying to find our similarities rather than highlighting our differences?



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Greg

posted September 29, 2009 at 10:22 pm


Anon, I don’t see anyone criticizing Christianity. I just find Sullivan’s argument–that Christianity will be the next big thing among the people who lost interest in Christianity–kinda unpersuasive.
Maybe that’s just my bias as a former Christian turned agnostic turned Buddhist.



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Dharmakara

posted September 29, 2009 at 11:36 pm


Yes, unpersuasive. Even if a person embraced the Sermon of the Mount in and of itself, but rejected the confines of the institution, they would still more likely identitfy themselves “Christian”, not as a “none”.



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Ethan

posted September 30, 2009 at 9:52 am


This is really interesting. Do you think this rise is the result of genuine questioning, or just a consumeristic ennui?



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Greg

posted September 30, 2009 at 10:26 am


I think it is usually a combination of both. But that is a good question. I suppose you would have to interview people who are nominally Christian but generally unobservant, or formerly Christian, and ask them why they are not more into it.
Just speaking for myself, when I decided I was done for good with Catholicism, I considered joining a liberal Protestant church, something more aligned with my conscience. But ultimately I decided that it was the whole paradigm that didn’t work for me, and there was no point in continuing with it in a lukewarm variation. That last leap was a big one though – the residual identification with the religion of one’s birth can be strong and hard to cast off. It is pretty easy to just continue to identify as “Christian” even when you don’t believe any of it anymore.
I guess that is partly why I feel that the people who actually take that last step and identify as a “none” are not going to look back.



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Evelyn

posted September 30, 2009 at 10:45 am


I’m not sure where the “nones” will end up (assuming they’ll choose a religious identity at all) but I wouldn’t underestimate Christianity. Sure, it’s been around for a while and most people were raised Christian but it’s constantly evolving and changing to fit modern sensibilities.
Also, Christianity proselytizes much much more than Buddhism (if I had a penny for every time someone stopped me in college and asked me “if you died tonight, are you sure you’d go to heaven?”). So as newer and more progressive churches grow, they’ll be more likely to pick up the “nones” than Buddhist groups will. Really, in most of America, Buddhism is the fringe and there are some progressive Christian congregations out there who are learning the lessons of the Evangelicals and are reaching out to the non-religious. Around here, I see advertisements for a church “where it’s safe to be a thinking, questioning Christian” on a regular basis. If I were a “none” who had left my more conservative Christian upbringing, I would be much more attracted by the idea of returning to the fold than checking out the elusive, New Agey “Zen” center.
I mean, if things had gone a little differently for me, I might have ended up in a church like that. I just happened to find Buddhism first and it works well for me. If I were a “none” and I heard something like that ad (I can question!) I’d check out the church. As you mentioned, leaving the tradition of your birth can be tough and it’s also not un-heard of for people to leave the church, turn outright atheist and then end up back in the fold (Anne Rice comes to mind)
Now, I’m speaking as someone who grew up in the “Black Church” and went to Catholic school most of my life, turned Unitarian/Universalist and then finally Buddhist all while living in the Midwest, home of the mega-church. So, my views are understandably informed by my own experience.
There’s no way to know where the “nones” will go but (from my knothole) the odds are that most of the ones who actually want religion will end up Christian, even if Buddhism (or actually, Islam as well – it gets a fair amount of converts) picks up a few here and there.



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Dharmakara

posted September 30, 2009 at 10:53 am


Evelyn: Good points. In hindsight, I might have gravitated toward the Unitarians with their Buddhist fellowships.



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Greg

posted September 30, 2009 at 12:00 pm


I think there could be a revival of intellectual Christianity, I just think it is more likely to happen among the 70% of the population who continues to identify as Christian rather than the relatively small percentage who come to disidentify with it. Intellectual, progressive Christianity has been around for 200 years – better marketing might help, sure, but I just don’t see that making a huge difference.
Just so I’m clear, I don’t forsee a massive adoption of Buddhism either, particularly. I just think as a general principle, to put it in economic terms even though that may be slightly crass, when a monopoly loses its monopoly, the only place its market share can go is down.



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Patrick

posted September 30, 2009 at 2:47 pm


I grew up a “none” and married into the Baptist church. I found out real quick that the “church” does not want members who think for themselves. They wanted fundamentalist sheep who will blindly follow their leader. I searched for the next 30 years and finally found Buddhism. A religion (more of a life style than religion) that I can live with.



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A. Jesse Jiryu Davis

posted September 30, 2009 at 8:21 pm


Looking at the U.S. historical record, there’s multiple renewals of Christian enthusiasm in the past 300 years, on a national and regional scale:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_revival
You argue, “Christianity in every variant has been around a long time–the “nones” would have found what they were looking for already, if that’s what they wanted.” But your argument would have been just as plausible in the 18th Century, or the 19th, and just as wrong: Christianity had been around a long time then, too, but that didn’t preclude massive Christian revivals. I haven’t heard yet why 2009 is so different from 1857, say, at the dawn of the Third Great Awakening.
Instead, I think Christianity in the U.S. follows cycles of apathy and renaissance depending on the zeitgeist, but, Black Islam excepted, there aren’t any instances of mass conversion to some other religion in our history. I love practicing Buddhism, but it seems unjustified by history to hope that formerly Christian Americans are going to convert to Buddhism en masse.
(Full disclosure: I’m an atheist Jew practicing Zen.)



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Greg

posted September 30, 2009 at 9:58 pm


Jesse, you appear not to have read my previous comment (“Just so I’m clear, I don’t forsee a massive adoption of Buddhism either, particularly.”)
But as for why 2009 is quite different from 1857 – again, per my previous post, one huge difference is the loss of Christianity’s monopoly.



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