‘Nones’ Religious Group, Growing Nationwide, Has A Near-Forgotten History In The Ozarks

Apr 12, 2019

The Ozarks town of Liberal, Missouri was founded with an ideal of non-religion, historians say.
Credit Public Domain, Wikipedia

A national study has revealed new information about “Nones.”

Nones are people who, when asked about what religion they identify as, would answer, “none,” or “nothing in particular.”

According to the General Social Survey about religious identification, nones now make up 23.1% of the United States population, which is about equal to the percentage of evangelicals, who make up 22.5%. 

Dr. Ryan Burge, instructor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, tweeted out a graph showing the growth of the nones last month, and his tweet went viral.

“If you’re a non-religious person, it appeals to you greatly because it’s the first time in history that we can say that the ‘nones’ are the same size as the largest religious group in America," Burge said. "I mean, America is no longer dominated by Evangelicals anymore.”

Burge, who studies religion data, said nones have the potential to continue their unprecedented growth.

“In three to five years, the nones might be the statistically largest group in America," Burge said. "They’re not the largest group in the fact that the groups are broken out. Catholics, Mainline Protestants, Black Protestants, Evangelical Protestants, they’re still a large portion of America if you add all of the Christian groups together. But the nones would be the largest specific subgroup. They’d be larger than evangelicals and larger than Catholics in probably three to five years.”

Sinjin Sanders, a student at Missouri State University who fits the description of a “none,” was not surprised by the data.

“It’s interesting to see this group that I’m ostensibly a part of grow," Sanders said. "It’s sort of like; you know, even within this group, we’re going to have differences. Just as like, within with any religious affiliation, there’s going to be differences in understanding of world views. I think it’s both good, and I think it’s going to be its own thing down the line.”

 

Although nones continue to grow steadily nationwide, their numbers here in the Ozarks are significantly lower than the national percentage.

Dr. John Schmalzbauer teaches religion at Missouri State University. 

“The nones are, I think, a smaller percentage of people in this area," Schmalzbauer said. "It’s a little closer to between 10 and 15 percent.”

 

Schmalzbauer says there is an interesting history for nones in the Ozarks, dating way back to 1880. That’s when a town was founded by a man named George Walser. Its main premise was to be non-religious.

“The town of Liberal, Missouri was originally founded by freethinkers," Schmalzbauer said. "They were also interested in temperance, so they didn’t like alcohol or organized religion, which is kind of a combination you don’t see today very often. They named the streets after famous secular, skeptical thinkers. There’s a Darwin, there’s an Ingersoll on the street map there. The town’s not like that at all today. You visit there, and there’s a Baptist Church and so what. But in its heyday it was kind of the epicenter in the Ozarks for people with no religion, religious nones.”

The General Social Survey is released every two years.