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Having none of it

"Having none of it" Continued...

Issue: "All-American adoption story," Nov. 21, 2009

He found a second mentor in college-one who told him, "One of these days it's just going to click for you and it's just gonna all make sense and you'll be all set." It didn't work that way: "I wanted it to so badly. But it just never did." Now, it's Trevor Agatsuma, the NYU InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staffer Heinkel met when he was filling out a survey to get a free iPod. They meet once a week. Agatsuma has all the same questions, but he's thought through them deeply.

When I asked Heinkel if he thought God put those people in his life, he said, without a breath of hesitation, "Absolutely."

Heinkel thinks faith is dynamic. There are periods of doubt and periods of strength. It ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes. He is hitting on another trend in American religion-and one that may mean we will one day see a different picture than the one we're seeing now.

Other surveys have found that American religiosity is fluid. The Pew Research Center's Religious Landscape Survey, for instance, found that more than one-quarter of American adults have left the faith they were raised in for another faith. If you count Protestants switching denominations, 44 percent of adults have switched their religious affiliation.

And even though this group-the Nones-is growing, it actually has a rather leaky retention rate-one of the lowest of all religious groups. Nearly 4 percent of the adult population says it has switched from being unaffiliated with a particular religion as a child to identifying with a religious group. "Religious switching is quite common in the United States," said Wheaton's Black. "I can't speak to what the current generation of Nones will do in the future, but it does point to a large group of potential converts."

Heinkel has always prided himself on not being part of a group. He hates having people label him: Luke's a Lutheran, Luke's a Democrat. This is where another facet of the Nones comes out in Heinkel, a political independent who voted for Bush, voted for Kerry, and would have voted for Obama if not for a misplaced ballot. Like Heinkel, 42 percent of Nones consider themselves politically independent, 34 percent are Democrats and 13 percent are Republicans. In the general population, 29 percent of Americans are independents, 34 percent are Democrat, and 24 percent are Republican.

Now that Heinkel finds he's part of a group-the Nones-he's actually a little distressed to find that pollsters can slide him neatly into a box: Male (like 60 percent of all Nones), aged 18-29 (30 percent of the Nones), votes independent, comes from a religious background, and believes in God but claims no religion. Still, he says, "I'm glad to find that there's a growing population of weirdos like me."

While he lives life walking squarely in the middle of the road, Heinkel still seeks out people who can answer his questions: "I'm trying to get there and I just haven't been able to get there yet. And it's a leap of faith, right? I don't know. Maybe I'll get it."

"I don't know," but "maybe": the bywords of the Nones.

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