Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Patheos Atheist” has just changed its name as a Patheos channel to “Patheos Nonreligious”. The reasons for this are to have a greater pull on a larger audience and include those who don’t narrowly, or cannot openly, call themselves atheist. Technically, I call myself an atheist-agnostic. Dale McGowan, who runs the show here, stated on his own blog:

I’m an atheist — even wrote a book on the subject. I’m also a humanist, an agnostic, and a freethinker. I’m secular and I’m nonreligious. When I describe my world view, I choose among those labels depending on what I want to emphasize. Thanks to the luck of family and geography, I can usually make that choice freely without consequences. It’s an unearned privilege.

Not all nonreligious people are that lucky. Some, especially those from fundamentalist families or communities of color, are not as free to call themselves atheists even if they want to. Others just prefer labels that say more about them than whether they believe in gods.

If I demanded they all embrace atheist, I’d be leaving a lot of people outside of the tent. I’d also be failing to recognize the privilege that makes it so much easier for me to do that.

Through my secular parenting work, I’ve met thousands of people around the country who are raising their kids without religion. Many use atheist as their primary label, but a huge number have zero interest in the movement or the label. Other than that, our perspectives are pretty much the same. They represent a segment of our community that’s too often invisible to those of us on the movement side. And the term with which they are most often comfortable is nonreligious. 

Nonreligious identification is growing rapidly. I’m not just talking about the “religiously unaffiliated,” a term so fuzzy it’s almost useless. According to the Pew Research Center, about 20% of Americans were religiously unaffiliated in 2012, up from 8% in 1991. But many of those continue to hold supernatural beliefs, which is where the categorical fuzz comes in.

I’m more interested in those who have separated from religion in belief and in practice, so here’s a better number: 15% of US adults in that study identified as neither spiritual nor religious. That number is rising fast as Millennials take more seats at the table.

By contrast, atheist identification has inched up just 1 percent in a quarter century, from 2% in 1991 to 3% today.

Yes, the site has new owners now, but this didn’t come from them, but internally, from Dale, and put to us to share our thoughts on, within the back-channel. It will make no difference to the content of what people say. You still have the same bloggers, and the same style and content that you are all used to.

As Dale ends:

The channel name is the only thing that’s changing. No, the word atheist is not being banned. Hemant’s blog is not changing to “Friendly Nonreligious.” And no, we’re not somehow going to open the floodgates for woo — there’s already a Spirituality Channel for that. We are the same writers and thinkers we were last week. The point is to keep that spectrum as it is but widen the door.

Though some might see this as a retreat, I see the exact opposite. This is us moving more decisively out into the culture. The nonreligious world view is surging, with millions more each year stepping away not only from belief in gods but from the whole culture and system of religion. We’re forming community, finding meaning, defining morality, facing death, and experiencing wonder without the comforts or constraints of that outmoded world. Nonreligious captures this greater shift in the way people are living their lives.

So welcome to Patheos Nonreligious.

My own position is that I agree with all of the reasoning, and think that it is conceptually a better name, just that pragmatically, it’s not as catchy and forceful, though there might be good reason for the latter. Let me know what you think, or if you couldn’t give two hoots.

Avatar photo

Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...