There’s an old joke which asks how the Canadian census is done. The answer: Take the American census and divide by ten. But for religious faith, the numbers are quite different – the proportion of Canadian non-believers is 20-30%, roughly twice the US rate. So when an article on the rise of non-believers in the US Congress came to my attention, I wondered about the corresponding Canadian statistics. I know of two “out” atheist MPs: Carolyn Bennett and Jinny Sims – roughly 0.6%. As for the US, according to the article, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) was “the first member of Congress to publicly describe her religion as none.”. However, Sinema has recently released a statement* saying that she “believes the terms non-theist, atheist or non-believer are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.” (This comes as rather a disappointment for those who were hopeful that Sinema would assume the mantle of the recently defeated atheist Pete Stark.) Interestingly, the article goes on to point out that “10 other members of the 113th Congress (about 2%) do not specify a religious affiliation, up from six members (about 1%) of the previous Congress.”
So who are the nones? One of the first commenters on the article vehemently objects to the assumption that as a none he is assumed to be an atheist (accusing those who do so self-identify of engaging in “fundamentalist closed thinking”). Others talk about people who rarely even consider topics of theology or spirituality. Still others suggest that it would be best if everyone called themselves “none-of-your-damned-business-ists”.
Perhaps atheist groups should take a caveat from this and be cautious about artificially inflating our numbers by appropriating all the nones. But beyond that, for those who really are atheists, and choose simply to say they are non-believers, it would be informative and useful to find out why. Are they really “apatheists” who only give thought to the existence of gods when explicitly asked? (Lucky for them, if their daily experience allows them to avoid the question.) Are they afraid of repercussions from family, friends, co-workers? Do they think people who call themselves atheists are inherently rude, mean, strident, militant, fundamentalist? Is there any value in trying to determine ways to engage them and involve them in groups like CFI? Or is that too much like evangelism?
*H/T to Butterflies and Wheels