None of the Above

7 October 2020

None of the Above: Nonreligious Identity in the US and Canada
by Joel Thiessen and Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Toby A. Welch
$34.95 ISBN 9780889777460

Once a decade a book comes along that you didn’t realize that you needed to read. This is that book!

None of the Above is about “religious nones” – people who claim that they do not belong to any religion. This is the fastest growing religious tradition in Canada and the US. Statistically speaking, religious nones tend to be younger than their religious counterparts and more males than females make up the group. Religious nones also tend to be born in Canada versus foreign born. 

This book is meaty, not something you take to the cottage for some light reading. It covers both Canada and the US in its quest to comprehend religious identity. It is rarely a single trigger that leads to someone becoming a religious none. Even things like political positioning and charitable practices play a role in religious views. 

An interesting detail came up in this book. While religious nones don’t belong to an organized religion, a fair number of them believe in spirituality. Only 13% of religious nones in the US consider themselves atheists. After all, in both Canada and the US, just under two-thirds of religious nones say they believe in God, in a higher power, in a universal spirit, or in an inexplicable force. The book summed it up: “Many nones hold some religious or spiritual beliefs.”

I found it fascinating reading why people had “religious exits” and became religious nones. A common reason was parents giving their children the choice. For example, a child who had been attending church for years is given the option to continue going or not when they turned 16 or 18. Often the choice was not. Intellectual disagreements are another common reason, things like the science versus faith theory and life experiences butting heads with religious teachings. Other triggers are social influences, life transitions, and childhoods devoid of religious practices. 

This book touches on some sensitive topics and how being a religious none affects them. We delve into abortion, same sex marriage, environmental regulations, women in the workplace, government funding for the poor, immigration, politics, and social issues. We also get a glimpse into the discrimination that many religious nones experience. On the reverse side, we get a feel for how some religious nones view religious individuals and groups. The book wraps up with a hypothesis as to how the future looks for religious nones and society in general. Riveting stuff!

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has the slightest interest in this topic. The two authors of this fact-filled book – both are professors at Canadian universities – did a phenomenal job of making the potentially dry reading material as entertaining as anyone could. 


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