'Who are the American Nones?' studies people without religious affiliations

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:04 a.m. CDT, Friday, May 24, 2013
Mid-Missouri residents are among those nationwide who identify as a religious "none," choosing no religious affiliation when asked to designate a religious preference on surveys or forms.

In 2008, Pew Research Center added “none of the above” to its questions about faith. Since then, there has been a 5 percent increase in the number of people who affiliate with no particular religion or call themselves atheist or agnostic.

This report, "Who are the American Nones?" published fully online as Project 573 "None of the Above,"  looks at their profiles, preferences, philosophies and lifestyles.


Editor's note: Now in its third year of reporting on sensitive issues, Project 573 devoted its attention during 2012-13 to the growing group of people who check "none" when asked to designate a religion.

In 2008, Pew Research Center added “none of the above” to its questions about faith. Since then, there has been a 5 percent increase in the number of people who affiliate with no particular religion or call themselves atheist or agnostic.

This report, "Who are the American Nones?" published fully online as Project 573 "None of the Above," looks at their profiles, preferences, philosophies and lifestyles.

Project 573 is made up of seniors at the Missouri School of Journalism who studied print and digital news, radio/TV journalism, magazine, photojournalism, convergence journalism and strategic communication.

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Project 573 is made up of seniors at the Missouri School of Journalism who studied print and digital news, radio/TV journalism, magazine, photojournalism, convergence journalism and strategic communication.

Here is a look and beliefs of a few people who place themselves in a non-religious category.



Occupation: Student, MU University of Missouri.

Affiliation: Atheist.

Raised: Nonreligious. “I went to a Baptist church. … I come from a nonreligious family, but I would attend church socially.”

I can’t live without: My iPhone and social media.

I have faith in: Those close to me. “To me, the only things I think I can have faith in are the things that are closest to me.”

On morality: “Morality means conducting your life in a way where you are making the lives of the people around you better and you are making the world better.”



Occupation: Systems analyst, Commerce Bank.

Affiliation: “I don’t call myself agnostic, or whatever (it is) where you don’t know what’s the right answer. I’m pretty accepting of a lot of things, but I don’t even totally identify myself as a particular religion.”

Raised: Methodist.

I have faith in: People and friends.

I’m troubled by: Those you can’t rely on and don’t keep their end of the bargain.

I believe: “There is a lot of knowledge out there, and I’m never going to understand it all.”



Occupation: Student, Rock Bridge High School.

Affiliation: Atheist.

Raised: Catholic.

I believe in: Myself. “I really believe that if I try and do something, then I will do it.”

I wonder about: The universe and where I am going to be in five years.

I have faith in: My fellow man and my friends. “I always know they’re going to be there for me, through thick and thin.”



Occupation: Retired.

Family: Divorced; one daughter in college; one son in a Columbia high school.

Affiliation: Atheist “comes closest to what I am.”

Raised: Catholic.

I believe in: Humanism. “We need to look outside of ourselves, but we need to cultivate the humanness that’s within us.”

I can’t live without: My children. “As I grow older, I want to make sure I’ve shared with them the things I think will help them make their way through the world and to be better human beings.”



Occupation: Student, MU .

Affiliation: Agnostic, but leaning toward atheism.

Raised: Presbyterian.

I have faith in: Humanity.

I can't live without: Sports.

I’m troubled by: My self-consciousness. “I never feel smart enough, strong enough, fast enough for anything I really do, and it kind of depresses me to a point where I give up. … I don’t quit on other people because I refuse to let somebody down, but I’m likely to give up on myself.”



Occupation: Student, Hickman High School.

Affiliation: Atheist, with some Wiccan beliefs.

Raised: Muslim.

I can’t live without: My best friend.

I have faith in: What science can prove.

I believe: That everyone’s soul has a purpose, “and they go through multiple lives trying to fulfill that purpose.”



Occupation: Student, MU.

Affiliation: Atheist.

Raised: Jewish.

I believe: What you see is what you get.

I can’t live without: Music.

I wonder: “What might happen if I told my dad that I was atheist.”



Occupation: Unemployed.

Affiliation: Skeptical.

Raised: Christian.

I believe: “When the shit hits the fan, some people will almost always find something they’ll put before themselves.”

I can't live without: An escape, such as things to read and think about.

I wonder about: Limitations on our senses. “I’m wondering if there could be an afterlife right in front of us that we could see if we could manage to open our senses up a little bit more.”



Jefferson City

Occupation: Student, Jefferson City High School.

Affiliation: Spiritual but not religious.

Raised: Presbyterian.

I wonder about: Everything. “I just kind of wonder what I’m doing and why I’m doing it and what’s going to happen next.”

I believe: That the universe has a plan.

On the existence of a higher power: There is a general higher power, but not a central one. “I don’t want to live with a central power governing how I live or being in the back of my mind all the time determining whether that action I just made was the right thing to do…”




Occupation: Retired. Farmer and owner of Broadway Brewery.

Affiliation: Atheist.

Raised: Catholic. “My mother was a Catholic. My dad … went along with things, but didn’t go to church.”

On faith: “Faith is believing in what you know ain’t so.” – Mark Twain.

I wonder about: Life’s deep questions. Why am I here? How did the universe get here?

I can’t live without: Water.




Occupation: Administrative assistant in a dental office.

Affiliation: Unaffiliated.

Raised: Baptist.

I believe: There is a God. That people know the difference between right and wrong. “If you’re a good person, you have nothing to worry about.”

I wonder about: The Bible. “How much has been translated word for word and how people interpret it over the years.”

I can’t live without: My kids. “They’re young ‘me’s,’ in a sort. I’ve molded them into what they are.”




Occupation: Student, Fayette High School.

Affiliation: Atheist, but “I’m still trying to figure it out for myself.”

Raised: Baptist.

I believe: In the common good of all people.

I wonder about: The God Particle.

I can’t live without: Being able to think. “That’s one thing people can’t take away from you. They can’t take away your thoughts, how you feel about things.”


Project 573 team members are James Ayello, Matt Evans, Derek Hamm, Jian Chung Lee, Matthew Patane, Elizabeth Pierson, Melissa Roadman, Hannah Spaar, Lukas Udstuen and Blake Ursch.

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Corey Parks May 21, 2013 | 8:12 a.m.

I have command of roughly 20 Soldiers and have seen the ID tag request forms and can tell you that it is very rarely that any of them put a religion anymore. Some do it because they were raised a certain way but i have yet to see any of them go to Chaplin services even though I make it available.
I myself for years classified myself as Atheist until in recent years when all the nuts around the country using the term Atheist started making the news for frivolous lawsuits and the media to make them look ignorant. I took up a different term.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders May 21, 2013 | 1:17 p.m.

If these people state they have no preference, then why do they claim the religious beliefs of atheists?

Shannyn seems to be the only one who understands that atheism is a religious BELIEF that god does not exist.

Then again, these people all likely were educated in public schools, so it isn't like they've been adequately exposed to logic.

As for the belief in God. Well, that all depends upon what one CHOOSES to define God as. For example, if you define God as the sum of all things, then it is quite obvious to everyone that God HAS to exist. On the other hand, if you define God with specific traits and features, then the subject is very open to interpretation.

(Report Comment)
Nathan Whitaker May 22, 2013 | 6:18 a.m.

Richard, if "atheism is a religious BELIEF", then my favorite hobby is NOT collecting stamps.
I think the problem that many religious people have with understanding atheism is that they have been raised with religion their entire lives, and simply cannot understand life without it. They are unable to comprehend the concept that people simply don't believe in the things they do.
Do you have a statue of Buddha in your house? How about a shrine to Shiva? Do you believe that Zeus will appear to you as a bull? Or do you believe that Odin will lead you and the other faithful in the great battle of Ragnarok at the end of the world?
No? You don't believe any of that? Well, neither do I, so in that respect, we're both atheists to a degree. From your perspective I just take it one step further, and don't believe that Jesus is my lord and savior. This has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of "religious atheist beliefs". Atheism is NOT a replacement for Judeo-Christian faith, but rather an utter lack of ANY religious beliefs.

(Report Comment)

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