Nones, Dones, and Atheists

what is a none

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Recently, I have read blog post comments by people who describe themselves as former atheists who later turned to religion. Their description of the term “atheist” differs from what I think of when I use the term. Dictionary.com describes an atheist as “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” So as to not employ the “No True Scotsman” fallacy with regard to people who purport to be atheists-turned-religionists, I thought it would be a good idea to research the similarities and differences among people who are “nones,” “dones,” and atheists. What I found helped me to understand these demographics a bit better.

“Nones” is the name given by pollsters to represent the growing number of people who report that they do not identify with any particular religion; people who are indifferent towards organized religion. This seems to be a broad category that consists of a variety of different groups. Some people identifying as “nones” were not raised in religion, or had limited exposure to religion, and thus do not identify strongly enough with any one religion to don a religious label. Other “nones” used to be active in a religion, but are no longer affiliated with any particular sect or congregation. Some of those who are no longer affiliated with a particular congregation consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious” while others say they do not believe in the supernatural. There are some “nones” like my brother, who refuses to be part of a church congregation but who is very devout, choosing to follow wherever he believes “the Holy Spirit” or some other deity leads him. (Honestly, I am not sure if my brother would identify as a “none.” It would depend on the wording of the question, as he refers to himself as “a follower of Christ.”) Agnostics and atheists are “nones” by nature, as they do not identify with a religion. While agnostics and atheists characterize themselves as “nones,” not all “nones” may be characterized as agnostics or atheists. As you can see, the moniker “nones” encompasses a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs regarding the supernatural or deities.

The “dones” are people who were once very involved in a religion but who have chosen to walk away. They are often referred to as being “unchurched” or “dechurched.” While many (like my brother) retain their faith, they no longer attend traditional religious services. Some “dones” are a subset of the “nones” to the degree that they do not consider themselves members of a congregation, but they may still identify with a religion to the extent that they did not lose their faith. As I am an atheist and my brother is a devout though unchurched Christian, I consider us to be polar opposites in the “done” category.

Not to be forgotten are agnostics and atheists. Agnostics and atheists would fall into the category of “nones” in that they do not express affiliation with a particular religion. Some agnostics and atheists may be atheists by default, having not been raised in a religious household — my kids fall into this category. My kids can offer reasons why they do not believe in a deity or deities, but they do not feel strongly either positively or negatively toward any religion. Some default agnostics and atheists may not possess strong reasons why they do not believe in deities other than the fact that they were not indoctrinated into believing in the supernatural; other agnostics and atheists not raised in a religion may have strong arguments as to why they are atheists. Some agnostics and atheists were raised in a religious household, and we became “dones” to the extent that we are finished with religion and then took it a step further by ceasing to believe in deities. Those of us who are “nones,” “dones,” and agnostics or atheists have often studies a great deal about our former religion’s claims as well as history, archaeology, biology, mythology, and so forth. We seek evidence that either supports or does not support religious claims, and we can generally give reasons to support our claims that deities do not or are likely not to exist. Some of us who are “nones,” “dones,” and agnostics or atheists feel strongly that certain sects of religion are harmful to members and to those that members themselves persecute outside their religion.

Do you consider yourself to be a “none”, a “done”, an agnostic or atheist, or perhaps some combination?

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25 Comments

  1. Mary

    I was born a none and was not raised in a religious atmosphere, although I did go to church and Sunday school a few times.
    Over the years I’d classify myself now as an atheist, as I feel more strongly about the damage religion does to people and society. It is so evident to me now and we are in a particular time in history where this damage is at a heightened degree, once again and this is very concerning for humanity at large and our planet.

    Reply
  2. GeoffT

    I’m very much of the view that a properly considered atheist point of view can never regress to religious belief, but that the reverse can happen, namely that even fervent religious belief can progress to atheism (as Bruce demonstrates).

    The trouble is that this can be badged a ‘no true Scotsman fallacy’, but I don’t think that’s true. Where a point of view is based in reason then it isn’t a ‘belief’ as such, rather it’s an understanding of the world based on evidence. I believe the world is round, or that evolution is a fact; I can’t physically demonstrate either, but I can construct arguments which, based on good evidence, show that they are true. So my belief is well grounded and only arguments from ignorance can possibly run counter.

    Religious belief is not at any point based on evidence, though many will disagree. When called upon to provide the evidence they invariably falter, whether it be Ray Comfort, Francis Collins, or William Lane Craig. Every single argument based on evidence fails, and it is only the overwhelming body of equally uninformed support that keeps alive the notion that religious faith can be based on evidence.

    Reply
  3. Michael Mock

    I really don’t self-identify in religious terms (which was, I think, part of why the transition from being raised as a Christian to just giving up on trying to make sense of religious beliefs was, in my teens, relatively painless). That said, if someone asks, I will tell them I’m an atheist; when it comes to religious beliefs, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing there. (Except people, so not exactly nothing, but nothing supernatural.) I’m also to some extent agnostic; my lack of belief isn’t any sort of dogmatic assertion; it’s just a lack of belief. If the Almighty were to drop by for a cup of coffee and a quick chat, I might be willing to reconsider my views, but the older I get the less likely that seems.

    Reply
  4. Lydia

    I’m basically in the same spot that you are, Michael.

    I used to be a “done.” Now I identify as an Atheist but think about the topic of religion/faith so rarely that even that label isn’t all that meaningful in my daily life. There are simply so many other things to think about in life that I don’t really bother with the stuff that doesn’t interest me any longer.

    Reply
  5. EllieEss

    After 55 years of believing:

    Been there.
    Done-did that.
    Over it, forever.
    Hallelujah! LOL

    Reply
  6. dale mcinnes

    Here’s an interesting question. How would U categorize someone like myself …. if U were 2 put a label on me ? First let me say that I identify myself personally as a pretty staunch atheist. I believe in a cosmic hyper being and raising the dead. This, surprisingly is outside religion but deeply embedded in FAITH. The evidence for my belief is purely circumstantial [at best]. So why atheism? Its what religion says about science in general that ‘Science cannot save you’ despite the growing evidence that every ‘supernatural’ line that religion has drawn in the sand, science has managed to cross. Religion is now in the corner with its back up against the wall. It is hiding behind its last three lines drawn in the sand that science supposedly cannot cross. It is here that atheism jerks to a stop and will not cross these lines, thereby giving religion the benefit of the doubt. Most atheists switch directly to agnosticism here. There are several reasons for this. Most atheists do not believe in inter-stellar travel, worm-holes, multiple dimensions and/ or a multiverse. To believe in any of these requires a BELIEF in STRING THEORY. It has been with us now for some 50 years [more properly regarded as an hypothesis]. There R still NO contenders to challenge ‘string theory’. There is nothing more atheistic than a belief in String Theory. The postulation regarding the existence of worm-holes strongly suggests ‘backward time travel’. This alone would support a scientific version of ‘raising the dead’ = an afterlife. It would also support the concept of instantaneous cosmic travel. If there are no gods, then future generations will become the first gods. Wielding ‘god-like’ power, if there is no ‘afterlife’, and we desire it badly enough, future generations will most certainly create one.

    Now, evangelical religion emphatically tells us that only their ‘god’ can save us. I predict that science will eventually cross all 3 of those lines, making religion finally irrelevant even to evangelicals. To not believe in that is to concede to these evangelicals that science not only has limitations, but it gives evangelicals a reason to continue to exist and preach. As the ultimate atheist, I will challenge them directly on these issues.

    Now. Your turn. Label me. Tell me what you think. Is my form of atheism more dangerous to evangelicalism or is yours?

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I keep atheism and agnosticism simple and uncluttered. This way, there is no confusion about atheism. Atheists and do believe many things, and can be bigoted, irrational, misogynistic, and racist just like Christians can. Atheists have all sorts of political beliefs. They also have a wide spectrum of science knowledge. None of these things are inherent to atheism. Making them required components of atheism only muddies the water and causes confusion.

      Reply
    2. GeoffT

      I have to be honest and say I don’t really understand your comment. For example, you say “I believe in a cosmic hyper being and raising the dead.” How and why can you make this claim? I know you say it’s ‘faith’ based, but I could just as easily lay claim to the existence of pixies and leprechauns!

      Then you put in some pretty confusing stuff: “Most atheists do not believe in inter-stellar travel, worm-holes, multiple dimensions and/ or a multiverse. To believe in any of these requires a BELIEF in STRING THEORY. It has been with us now for some 50 years [more properly regarded as an hypothesis]. There R still NO contenders to challenge ‘string theory’. There is nothing more atheistic than a belief in String Theory.” Firstly, none of these claims necessarily requires a reliance on string theory, which is rapidly developing a minority following. Essentially it seemed like a good idea when first conceived in the 1970s, but it is now regarded as a dead end, though it still has its supporters. The various things you refer to as those in which atheists don’t believe are, firstly, chalk and cheese; interstellar travel already happens, just not yet by people, only rocks, whereas the other things you refer to are hypotheses, supported only by theoretical physics. Secondly, though, I don’t understand why you refer to atheists not believing these things. I doubt that most atheists have the slightest understanding of quantum physics though, as most scientists are atheists, it might be possible to adopt a causation/correlation confusion.

      I might also say that, whilst physics doesn’t distinguish a directional arrow of time, it doesn’t imply either that time travel of the type you describe might be possible. Any consequences of time travel of the sort to which you refer occur only at the quantum level.

      Reply
  7. Tony

    Done! Sums it up perfectly.

    Reply
  8. dale mcinnes

    I sympathize with you on that one Bruce but it really doesn’t work. We live in the real ‘muddy’ world of religion and politics. its all about labels my friend. Those without labels and/ or dogmas R at best very limited in organizational capabilities. No member of the Republican Party would get up on stage and reveal themselves as a hard-core atheist. People vote 4 labels. It’s these people that have political power. Labels ARE important. It’s like the scientific labelling of species. It’s just an ideology but it helps us to categorize different life forms where none really exist. Political Power or Economic Products require absolutely very strong labelling. That’s how your product or political ideology prevails in the market. My form of atheism is strongly Darwinian. We MUST compete or submit. I feel very, very strongly about this. It’s the way I’m wired.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      That’s fine, but most atheists I know make a distinction between their atheism and other beliefs. These other beliefs do not require atheism. Muddying the water, then, brings confusion and a lack of clarity. No wonder most Evangelicals think atheism=evolution. Atheists should insist on the clear definition of terms — especially those involved in public discourse.

      Reply
  9. dale mcinnes

    A clear definition of terms does invoke a dogmatic declaration. Nothing wrong with that. I totally agree. As well, atheism does not equal evolution. But I will challenge U on this one. Evangelicals believe atheism = evolution because most evolutionists identify themselves with atheism. Muddies the water, doesn’t it?!? It’s not surprising. The same reasoning behind Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, JWs, Muslims, Hindus all identifying themselves as God’s children. So we in our turn identify all these ideologies as simply variants on a common theme. The dictionary definition of atheism or for that matter the word ‘deity’ is outmoded because it makes no room for a scientific version of ‘deity’. The outmoded definitions are referencing religious concepts …. not scientific ones.

    Reply
  10. ObstacleChick

    Dale McInnes, not all atheists are equally well versed in studying science. My husband is an atheist, and he would be right here with you discussing string theory, work holes, etc. And I sit over here thinking, that is cool, but I have no interest in exploring those topics in depth. On the other hand, my husband has no interest in studying how the bible was written and canonized, what were the influences through the centuries on Christian thought, what modern archaeology corroborates or doesn’t corroborate regarding bible stories. What he and I share in common is that neither of us believes in a deity or deities. Now, ancient aliens, on the other hand…..(just kidding).

    Reply
  11. dale mcinnes

    I really have to agree with U, ObstacleChick. U hit the nail on the head here. Many atheists coming from a multitude of background ideologies. And I think that that is really, really important. I’ve told Bruce on more than one occasion that his background makes him far more lethal to evangelicalism than Richard Dawkins could ever be. So ya. Point well taken.

    Reply
  12. ObstacleChick

    Yes, atheists are definitely a diverse group. If we were somehow unified, we would probably end up breaking off into sects like the religious do.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Atheists have already done so with groups such as Atheism+.

      Reply
  13. dale mcinnes

    If the groups R already breaking off into small entities so early B4 they R economically or politically viable, it is simply because they don’t have their ‘dogma’ well positioned/ entrenched as of yet. So it’s understandable. Time will tell whether or not such a Caesar will rise from the scattered remains 2 pull it all together.

    Reply
  14. dale mcinnes

    Hello GeoffT. String Theory is far from dead. It has simply expanded into Branes research. Most physicists R getting out of this because the energy levels required 4 testing is beyond the capability of engineering. That does not make String theory a dead concept. U just can’t get Collider time. That’s the downside. IF backward Time-Travel were conceivable, we would of course recognize it at the quantum level first. Same as teleportation. Up until recently it too was thought impossible. We now know it works at the quantum level. We R beginning to punch it up to the atomic level. Within 15 or so years …. the molecular level. Proof of concept must always come first and it usually comes at the quantum level. After that it ‘ain’t a science project anymore. It’s an engineering one. Backward Time Travel may not even invoke Time itself but multiple dimensions. Anything that exists at the quantum level, provides the scaffolding at the cosmic level as well. B 4 we learned to fly, we had to understand aerodynamics at the insect/ bird level. Once we achieved that, engineering took over and now we fly 300 ton machines. My type of atheism is NOT straight jacketed by what we presently know, but what we may soon know. It’s atheism towards the future. Science is the exploration into the unknown. If you research what we presently know, it’s called library research. This is where the confusion presents itself b

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  15. dale mcinnes

    If anybody still cares, String theorists have made another breakthrough in our understanding of worm-holes. For the 1st time in the history of String Theory, the Autonomous U. of Barcelona, did the impossible by creating a worm-hole in the lab by swapping gravity for magnetism. They did it via material science in creating a sphere of special conducting materials that respond to magnetic fields in completely different ways. The devise acts like a worm-hole by modifying the way empty space transmits magnetic fields. One immediate application of this new breakthrough is that in getting an MRI scan, the patient no longer is confined to a machine. Using worm-hole technology, the magnetic fields generated by the machine can be programmed to open up in another room around the patient lying on a bare table. Good bye claustrophobia. Another breakthrough [mathematically speaking], is that String Theorists have found a way to circumvent the deadly Einstein-Rosen “neck” connecting two worm-holes. It was only thought that a quantized beam of particles (light) could pass safely through. Now, by entangling the two black holes, the neck can open safely and permanently for an object as large as a man to pass safely through. The engineering is presently beyond comprehension. It is exciting however, as we work out the mathematics equivalent to the early 19th C work on the aerodynamics of flight. No one back then could have dreamed of the engineering applications to follow. Well, its starting small as everything does. As an atheist, I wouldn’t dare underestimate the power of science and engineering. Everything as they say is … Just A Matter Of Time. When it comes to backward time travel and the possibility of raising the dead, it will be atheists, not theists that will be guarding the Portals.

    Reply
    1. Becky

      Do you have a good link on that breakthrough, Dale? One that explains what is going on (hopefully so lay people can understand)?

      Reply
  16. dale mcinnes

    Not a good link but, it’s from the BBC. They also covered this in their magazine called Science Focus back in June 2018. The scientist behind the report was visiting Prof. Robert Matthews of Aston University, Birmingham. They got a long way to go but progress is being generated.

    Reply
  17. dale mcinnes

    I should comment that there are many types of worm-holes. Some prohibit backward time-travel because they collapse the moment they’re created. Such worm-holes require ‘exotic’ matter to pry them open. Worm-holes from what I understand leave a distinct shadow on their accretion disc if they are rotating. They’re slightly distorted compared to rotating black holes. We should be able to pinpoint them in deep space in the very near future. B aware that the (EHT) Event Horizon Telescope has begun operations to seek out these celestial maelstroms. From science fantasy to near science fact in just 50 years.

    Reply
  18. Ian for a long time

    Done, but pretty agnostic.

    I’m still interested I how Christianity came about and morphed into this huge mess we now have. I enjoy Bart Ehrman and the little bit of Christopher Hitchens that I have read. But, I’m picky about that stuff and don’t have a lot of time to read.

    For the most part, though, I don’t care. It’s not worth my time. At one point, I could have argued chapter and verse on most things. Now, I haven’t looked at a Bible in a long time, except to help my kids with Sunday School stuff, and I find I don’t miss it at all.

    I’m sure I could debate issues pretty well, since Christianity and the Bible were drilled into me, but that would require dusting off parts of my brain. The times I have argued, though, we spent time going around in circles and never got anywhere. I’m willing to learn, the other side isn’t.

    I do enjoy watching people like Bruce fight the good fight, though. It gives me ammunition for the few times I am questioned. The fact that he can do it without malice and hate is a good thing, and I commend him for that.

    Maybe, possibly, however slim of a chance, there is a being who created the universe. If so, the creator has been noticeably absent from our lives. I think of The Turtle in Stephen King’s “It”. The Turtle vomited our the universe, but has done very little to move it along. He is considered old, lazy and stupid. So, paint me as agnostic, because I believe there could be a turtle out there somewhere, but he’s not much of a help.

    Oh, wait, the turtle is now dead.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Some days, I find myself saying, I simply no longer care. If the time comes when my no longer caring is permanent, that means I’m done blogging. 😀😀

      Reply
  19. dale mcinnes

    I hear U Bruce. No matter what happens to U, we will always be able 2 reference U in the same way people reference ‘Hitch’.

    U may be ‘done’ talking, but this is just the 1st stage. We have to ignite that 2nd stage. All out economical and political competition, in order to achieve orbit.

    We’ve spent far too long ‘testing’ out that 1st stage. We grow weary of testing. We need to ignite that 2nd stage. That’s my job.

    Take care. You’re not alone.

    Reply

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