This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is an interesting trend in American religiosity — or in this case, the lack thereof. U.S. NewsDan Gilgoff reported this week on the growing numbers of a group some call the “nones.”

If current trends continue, a quarter of Americans are likely to claim “no religion” in 20 years, according to a survey out today by Trinity College. Americans who identify with no religious tradition currently comprise 15 percent of the country, representing the fastest growing segment of the national religious landscape.

While the numbers portend a dramatic change for the American religious scene — “religious nones” accounted for just 8 percent of the population in 1990 — the United States is not poised to adopt the anti-religious posture of much of secularized Europe.

That’s because American religious nones tend to be religious skeptics as opposed to outright atheists. Fewer than 10 percent of those identifying with no religious tradition call themselves atheists or hold atheistic beliefs, according to the new study.

“American nones are kind of agnostic and deistic, so it’s a very American kind of skepticism,” says Barry Kosmin, director of Trinity’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. “It’s a kind of religious indifference that’s not hostile to religion the way they are in France. Franklin and Jefferson would have recognized these people.”

I tend to think “nones” won’t stick as a label — if for no other reason, it sounds like “nuns” — but the trend is rather dramatic. And the impact on American politics is likely to be significant if we reach a point at which, in just one generation, a fourth of the U.S. population does not identify with any faith tradition.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Turnout at the “Islam on Capitol Hill” event was modest, with about 3,000 attendees. Some Christian protestors shouted at those praying, but the gathering was largely without incident and was considered a succcess by organizers.. “We wanted to bring people out to show you don’t need to fear America,” said Imam Ali Jaaber of Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth N.J., the service’s main organizer. At the same time, he said, he wanted to remind non-Muslims that “we are decent Muslims. We work; we pay taxes. We are Muslims who truly love this country.”

* Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia chatted with the Brooklyn-based Orthodox Jewish newspaper Hamodia this week, and reiterated his opposition to the principle of government neutrality on religion. The conservative jurist said he believes the government should prefer religion to non-religion, state neutrality on religious matters, he said, “is not an accurate representation of what Americans believe.” Scalia added, “I am not sure how Orthodox Jews feel about the Establishment Clause, but I assume they do not like driving God out of public life.”

How would government staying neutral on matters of faith “drive God out of public life”? Scalia didn’t say.