Blog Post

Why the “Nones” Are Leaving the Church – And What You Can Do About It

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

A recent survey has found that a majority of religiously unaffiliated Americans say they left organized religion because they question a lot of religious teachings. This is hardly news to most Catholic parents, but the poll gives some surprising clues about what can be done to stem the tide of children leaving the Church.

The Pew Research Center conducted a poll of 1,300 of so-called “nones” – people who were raised in religion but have since left it. The categories include people who identify themselves as atheist (no belief in God), agnostic (a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God), and those who believe “nothing in particular”.

In the poll, participants were asked why they choose to be “nones” and were given several options as to why. These options ranged from not believing in God to disliking religious leaders.

The majority (60%) of respondents across all three categories say questioning religious teachings is a very important reason for their lack of affiliation.

The second-most-common reason is opposition to the positions taken by churches on social and political issues (49%).

Forty-one percent say they dislike religious organizations; 37 percent say they don’t believe in God; 36 percent say religion in irrelevant to them, and; 34 percent say they dislike religious leaders.

Although all of the above people fit into the category of “nones,” this is about all that they have in common with each other. For example, 89 percent of atheists say their lack of faith in God is why they don’t affiliate with a religion, but only 37 percent of agnostics and 21 percent of “nothing in particular” respondents say the same.

“Atheists also are more likely than other ‘nones’ to say religion is simply ‘irrelevant’ to them (63% of atheists vs. 40% of agnostics and 26% of adults with no particular religion)," the study found.

The results of this survey point out several areas where Catholic parents and educators may be able to dissuade young people from turning away from the Church.

For example, a majority of “nones” cite questioning Church teachings as a reason why they choose to be unaffiliated, with the rejection of those teachings coming in a close second. The obvious solution is to improve catechesis so that young people are introduced to authentic Church teaching in ways that are engaging and geared toward their age-group. This would include programs such as those presented by Bishop Robert Barron, Jeff Cavins, and popular personalities such as Chris Stefanick.

It also points to the need for Catholic institutions of education to take responsibility for hiring committed Catholic instructors, particular those who will be teaching theology.

Parents, play the most important role of all in educating their children in the faith. They know their child better than any educator ever could. They know their child’s particular needs, their likes and dislikes, the family history that may be impacting them. No one can speak the truth of Jesus Christ to their souls better than their parents. But a parent cannot do this unless they have a strong personal relationship with Jesus and a firm grip on the teachings of His Church here on earth. Yes, being educated in the faith might take some work, but the amount of time put into this effort is miniscule when compared to the eternal life they are ensuring for their offspring.

While it’s true that the “nones” among our loved ones are being heavily influenced by the forces of this world - the materialism, the relativism, the constant scandals and distorted interpretations of Church teaching - it’s also true that our young people, just like the rest of us, are searching for the one thing that binds us all together and makes us truly human – love.

No one does that better than Jesus Christ.

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