Religiously unaffiliated fast-growing religious group
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When Allison Besio was a child, she and her family clung tightly to the Lutheran faith tradition.
She attended church weekly and served alongside the clergy as an altar girl at Trinity Lutheran Church.
God was then synonymous with Christianity, church attendance, and a divine Jesus.
But as she grew in adolescence and began dating a legalistic Baptist, her ideas about Christianity and faith observance expanded beyond the Protestant-Lutheran checkbox.
"I'm not saying anything bad about the Baptist church, but I had an issue with someone telling me and others I was going to hell because I didn't believe in God," said Besio, 27, who works as a therapist for the Devereux Foundation. "I have friends who are Druids, some worship Buddha, others were Hindus. Were they all going to hell?"
Besio said her friends, who represented a variety of faith ideologies, were God-fearing in their own way. They also lived, in her opinion, more righteous lives than many of her Christian friends.
"I didn't feel comfortable believing that those good people are going to hell," she said, mentioning her years of spiritual seeking before electing to drop her Lutheran title. "I realized the things I was taught as a child, I didn't believe anymore."
These days, Besio has adopted a more open notion of faith and spirituality, to which she credits her stepmother, an affirmed atheist.
So, while maintaining a real connectedness with God and the cosmos, Besio chooses to remain outside any defined religious identity. When people ask about her faith, she replies, "I don't affiliate with a religion."
Besio is a "None," or a religiously unaffiliated person, which the Washington D.C.-based Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life recently determined to be one of the fastest growing religious groups in the United States.
Since 2007, the religiously unaffiliated Nones have jumped in numbers from about 15 percent to about 20 percent of U.S. adults - or about 33 million people who describe their faith as having no particular religious affiliation.
The study also indicates that Americans are moving away from mainstream religion and traditional ideas of what it means to be religious and a member of a church.
Of the 2,973 adults who made up Pew's sample group in June 28 to July 9 this year, 958 respondents said they chose to remain without a religious identity; 327 claimed an atheist or agnostic belief system and 631 were "nothing in particular."
Overwhelmingly, the Nones - which makes up about one-fifth of the American public and one-third of adults 30 and younger - are God-believing and, therefore, not evenly secular. About one-in-five Nones pray every day, and many believe churches do benefit society through strengthening community bonds and participating in charity work, such as aiding the poor.
Nones also tend to be white, politically liberal and non-faith-seeking, as in, they are not seeking to affiliate with any specific religion. They are content being undefined and without a specific title.
"For me, that's spot on," said Besio. "I would say that's a pretty accurate picture of what I am. Maybe not in this area because Victoria is highly religious, but I can see that in a bigger picture that would be pretty true."
Another religiously unaffiliated Victoria man, Mark Garcia, said he, too, is highly spiritual, but rejects a religious identity.
Garcia, 40, said he believes he can gain knowledge and spiritual connectedness from all the world's religions and has gained knowledge and growth from the practices of Native American shamanism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.
"All the religious traditions in the world have something I can benefit from," said Garcia, a self-employed printing owner. "All these religious words that have been spoken throughout the world are basically the same, they're just spoken in different forms.
People come to their own beliefs in God in different ways."
Garcia said he defines God as pure love and energy and has varying ideas of the afterlife.
"It's hard to define that which is undefinable. You can see God in your children's eyes or when somebody is helping another person," he said. "A lot of times I won't even say God. I'll say Goddess, energy, universe. God is basically anything and everything as well as nothing."
Garcia isn't surprised in the Pew numbers indicating a rise in the Nones group in American society. He believes it's symptomatic of a more informed people who are choosing to challenge the faith traditions of the earlier generations.
"I've seen a lot of the younger generation become disassociated with the brick and mortar establishment. I feel that people are getting away from the dogma of religion, no matter if it's Islam or Christian or any other one," he said. "Everybody is going to have a variation of what God and divinity is to them ... in our world, a lot of people are lost. Their eyes are still closed."
Both Garcia and Besio are content in their spiritual assignments and are not necessarily interested in convincing others to join their detachment from faith traditions. They believe religion is personal, and a person's faith identity is molded by each individual.
"Within myself, I became a spiritual person and I developed a code of morality. I feel like I'm a good person. I'm a dependable friend. I'm a moral person. I try to do the right thing. Who am I to say that some religions are right and others are not?" she said. "It kind of bothers me when people try to put a label on what I am. I'm not seeking a label. It's more about spirituality."
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