What is most important to understand about the average none is that most are not atheists. In truth, most still believe in God, and many pray on a daily basis. They consider themselves spiritual, or at least open to spirituality.
The real mark of a none is not the rejection of God but the rejection of any specific religion. When it comes to content, dogma, orthodoxy—anything spelled out or offering a system of beliefs—they’ve gone from “I believe” to “Maybe” to “Who knows?” When pressed as to what they do hold to, they collectively answer, “Nothing in particular.” Simply put, they are spiritual but not religious.
They may not want to say “I’m a Baptist,” but that does not equate with “I don’t believe in God.” In other words, there is a strong reticence toward labels of any kind. It may help to visualize it in terms of a religious axis and a spiritual axis, creating four quadrants.
The caricature of a none places him or her in the “Not Religious, Not Spiritual” category—but that is inaccurate. The vast majority belong in the “Spiritual, Not Religious” quadrant.
Consider Marcus Mumford, the twenty-six-year-old lead singer of the phenomenally successful British band Mumford & Sons. Mumford is the son of John and Eleanor Mumford, the national leaders of the Vineyard Church in the U.K. and Ireland, part of the international, evangelical Christian Vineyard Movement. He recently married actress Carey Mulligan, whom he’d met years earlier at a Christian youth camp. As the main lyricist for the band, he has lavished the music of Mumford & Sons with the themes and imagery of faith, often drawing specifically on the Christian tradition. As Cathleen Falsani has observed, they “explore relationships with God and others; fears and doubts; sin, redemption, and most of all, grace.”2
Yet in a Rolling Stone interview, Mumford declined to claim the “Christian” label as his own. The reporter asked Mumford whether he “still consider[s] himself a Christian.” Mumford replied:
I don’t really like that word. It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was. . . . I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.3
Describing his spiritual journey as a “work in progress,” Mumford said that he’s never doubted the existence of God and that his parents are not bothered about his ambivalence toward the Christian label. Before anyone makes a rush to judgment, Falsani suggests that we “consider why he chose to answer the way he did.”
James Emery White, Rise of the Nones, the: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2014).