Findings & Footnotes

■  Surveys conducted last year by the PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) and by the American Enterprise Institute had discovered that about a quarter of white evangelicals believed in the conspiracy theories associated with QAnon, such as the allegation “that the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.” This raises questions about the reasons for the higher attraction to such beliefs in evangelical circles. “Losing My Religion: Evangelicalism and the Gospel of Q” is the topic of the new issue of the online Journal of Religion and Violence (Vol. 10, released in November). The loss of community during the restrictions brought by the pandemic that may have made people more vulnerable to online misinformation was not restricted to evangelicals. But according to Mia Bloom and Rachael Rollings (Georgia State University), QAnon resonated especially among evangelicals because of its dualistic “portrayal of good and evil, and a coming day of judgement,” along with beliefs about unseen forces at work. Moreover, “evangelicals also could appreciate the predictive nature of QAnon, commensurate with biblical revelations.” Widespread white evangelical support for Trump also encouraged openness toward QAnon theories.

According to Julie Ingersoll (University of North Florida), “by weaving their theological commitments to apocalypticism, conspiracies and persecution narratives into the larger American culture,” evangelicals actually facilitated acceptance of QAnon. The mistrust of a number of evangelicals toward mainstream media also made them less receptive to information that might put QAnon statements into question as baseless claims. Jeremy D. Beauchamp (Georgia State University) stresses that QAnon tapped into beliefs already important to evangelicals. Facing the pandemic, QAnon played “into evangelical fears of government over- reach on people of faith,” he writes. More generally, there is a sense among evangelicals that religion is losing its influence and that an increasingly significant segment of young people are turning away from Christian faith. QAnon seems to offer an explanation for that situation. “As long as that offer of comfort and understanding exists, QAnon will only grow in influence among evangelicals,” Beauchamp writes. Acknowledging criticism of QAnon within the evangelical milieu and changing minds can only come “from inside their faith communities,” not from the mainstream media. For more information on this issue of the Journal of Religion and Violence, visit:


■  If American religion is exceptional in many ways, British sociologist Stephen Bullivant makes the case that the same can be said of those Americans who are rejecting religion. His illuminating book, Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America (Oxford University Press, $29.95), is both an empirical study of Americans dropping out of their religions and an interesting snapshot and analysis of the shifting Christian terrain in the U.S. Even those who take issue with Bullivant’s diagnosis of American secularization will learn a great deal from his study of “nonverts”—those who have disaffiliated from religion. Of studies of the “nones” there seems to be no end, but Bullivant brings both his qualitative and quantitative skills to bear on this fast-growing population, helped along by a conversational (though sometimes too chatty) and jargon-free style of writing. Bullivant takes a crack at the puzzle of this fast-growing population of nones—now up to at least 23 percent of Americans—through the lens of the nonvert phenomenon. He notes that only 30 percent of America’s religiously unaffiliated adults say they were brought up as nones, so understanding the population of 41 million nonverts is central to explaining this puzzle.

The fact that even a high-retention faith like the Latter Day Saints is reporting a greater loss of young people today than in previous generations shows how much disaffiliation is a widespread phenomenon. Bullivant looks at nonverts in Mormon, Catholic, evangelical, and mainline Protestant contexts, noting that their “ex-” backgrounds are important not only for describing where they came from but also for understanding their current and future trajectories (for instance, their association more with fellow nonverts of similar backgrounds). He also writes provocatively of an “ex-effect,” where the involvement of nonverts has had some influence in everything from the reception of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code and the new atheism to strict church-state separation activism, intensifying the culture wars in general. Rather than being merely a matter of checking the non-affiliated box on surveys, Bullivant asks interesting questions about how all these Americans are leaving their very different kinds of religions to actively adopt a “none” identity, indeed using the term as the media increasingly serves it up. This identity doesn’t necessarily mean becoming secular or atheistic.

As Bullivant notes, many nonverts and nones in general “either retain religious/spiritual beliefs and practices from their background, whether whole or in modified form, or else have acquired others somewhere along the way.” It is true that nonverts from strict conservative traditions are likely to jettison beliefs as well as religious identities. Yet it is also true that nones are also becoming more like the general population “for the simple reason that they are becoming more of the general population,” Bullivant adds. The author dissents from the standard view that conservative churches and their involvement in the Christian right and the culture wars has been the main factor in the rise of nones and nonverts. Bullivant’s compelling historical account of how making the break from one’s religion has become gradually more acceptable, in a country where there was once a close fit between being American and having a religious affiliation, suggests that the nonverts would have emerged regardless of politics (or religious scandals for that matter). He argues that it was the Internet more than anything else that accelerated this break for many, forming and reforming “tribes” that overrode older forms of religious transmission (such as based in the family).

All this leads to Bullivant’s sober concluding thoughts about how the decline of Christianity (institutionally and socially) in American society increases the number of nonverts (at least in the short term, since their children will just be nones), leading to further de-Christianization. For these reasons, Bullivant argues that the nonverts and nones are here to stay for the foreseeable future, with studies suggesting that nonreligious retention is strengthening while religious retention is weakening. But these trends can lead to a new countercultural resilience of Christianity, helped along by birthrate and immigration, he concludes.


■  Atheism in 5 Minutes (Equinox, $24.95) is a unique and, as the title suggests, concise resource on secularist and non-religious history, culture, beliefs, and practices. The book, edited by Finnish religion scholar Teemu Taira, collects 64 contributions from about 50 writers and scholars, testifying to the amazing growth of scholarship (and scholars) on atheism and secularism in the past decade. The topics, in the form of questions, cover everything from conceptual, historical, and methodological issues in studying atheism (such as “How do we measure atheism?”), to the relation of atheism to various religions (“What is Christian atheism?”), to concerns more about atheist attitudes and lifestyles (“Do atheist parents have atheist children?”). There are also recommended readings after each of the contributions, which are usually around 800 words. [RW’s editor and co-author Christopher Smith contribute three chapters on atheists and rituals, atheists and men, and atheist organizations.]

Because of the diversity of scholars and disciplines, there are differences in definitions even of atheism and secularism (is it just the absence of belief in God, or a more positive statement arguing that God does not exist?). In the conclusion, Taira assesses the future of atheism, noting that predictions about the growth of either religion or atheism have rarely been on the mark. He observes that there is a demographic disadvantage in atheism, as non-believing parents have fewer children than religious ones, but also that religious non-affiliation (which is distinct from atheism) has a greater retention rate among young people than religion, which could serve as fertile ground for atheist growth.