And Then There Were Nones:  How Millennials’ Flight From Religion is Transforming American Politics

And Then There Were Nones: How Millennials’ Flight From Religion is Transforming American Politics

November 17, 2016

In 1979, Jerry Falwell launched the Moral Majority, a “pro-family” lobby group for evangelical Christians that was aimed at thwarting the secular forces set in motion by the counterculture of the 1960s. In a speech at the time, Falwell told a crowd of fellow evangelicals that America didn’t really have a Bible Belt. Rather, he bellowed from his podium to the cheers of the crowd, “There’s a Bible cloak in America that covers the whole blooming republic, and they’re everywhere ready for the leadership [that] preachers [like] you and I can offer them —and let’s give it to them!”

For several decades Falwell’s Moral Majority, which was succeeded by Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition and eventually by the religious right of the mega-churches and of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, did just that, galvanizing religious conservatives on issues such as abortion and homosexuality and influencing the elections of presidents, congressmen, and local school boards. Falwell and his successors assumed that within a distinctly religious America, evangelical Protestantism was growing at the expense of mainline denominations, and that they would be able to turn these impassioned believers into conservative Republicans who could take the country back from liberal-leaning Baby Boomers and crystal-gazing New Agers. And for a time, that strategy seemed to work. But in the last decades, the Biblical cloak that Falwell believed to cover America has begun to fray.

Just over thirty years after Falwell gave his speech, the United States is becoming more secular rather than more religious, with fully 25 percent of the population claiming no religious affiliation. The religiously unaffiliated, called the “Nones” because they check the relevant box on surveys about their religion, are made up of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, spiritual-but-not-religious types, and people who just don’t care. In 1979, they accounted for less than ten percent of the U.S. adult population. Since the mid-1990s they have grown dramatically. They are now the largest “religious” group in the country and the only one growing in all fifty states.