When religious surveys ask people if they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, or other spiritual categories, a growing number of people are needing one that represents what they believe, which is “so what?”
According to a USA Today report, several surveys indicate that a growing number of people simply do not care very much about religion or spirituality, saying that they do not question matters of the afterlife, or wonder if they will go to heaven when they die.
“The real dirty little secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal,” says Mark Silk, professor of religion and public life at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.
To some, this attitude is called “apatheism,” which is defined by ReligiousTolerance.org as “apathy towards all religions or belief systems, not just toward a belief in God.”
Jonathan Rauch, who describes himself as an apatheist, said that people who share his views consider passionate atheists to be similar to passionate Christians. Writing in The Atlantic, Rauch says “Apatheism concerns not what you believe but how. In that respect it differs from the standard concepts used to describe religious views and people. Atheism, for instance, is not at all like apatheism; the hot-blooded atheist cares as much about religion as does the evangelical Christian, but in the opposite direction.”
This viewpoint is not to be confused with agnosticism, Rauch says, because many apatheists do believe in God. However, they just do not care very much about him.
“They do care a bit,” Rauch says. “But apatheism is an attitude, not a belief system, and the over-riding fact is that these people are relaxed about religion.”
USA Today cited several surveys that indicate many people have attitudes or beliefs that correlate with the Rauch's definition of apatheism.
According to LifeWay Research, an evangelical Christian research agency, 46 percent of Americans do not wonder if they will go to heaven, 28 percent say “it’s not a major priority in my life to find my deeper purpose,” and 18 percent said that God does not have a purpose or plan for everyone.
Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington D.C. laments the growing trend, telling USA Today that she believes it is “very sad because the whole purpose of faith is to be a source of guidance, strength and perspective in difficult times. To be human is to have a sense of purpose, an awareness that our life is an utterly unique expression of creation and we want to live it with meaning, grace and beauty.”
However, those who empathize with apatheism do not believe it has any effect on their lives.
“God? Purpose? You don’t need an opinion on those things to function,” says Suhas Sreedhar, 26, a engineer in a Manhattan computer company, who grew up in New Jersey with a devoutly Hindu mother and atheist father.
“I was saturated with both views and after a while, I realized I don’t need either perspective. There may be unanswerable questions that could be cool or fascinating. Speculating on them is a fun parlor game, but they don’t shed any meaning on my life,” Sreedhar said.
Rauch goes even further, claiming that apatheism is a sign of societal advancement. Describing religion as the most “divisive and volatile social forces” that appears to be wired in the thinking of mankind, but apatheism means people are finally learning to control those passions.
Apatheism “is the product of a determined cultural effort to discipline the religious mindset, and often of an equally determined personal effort to master the spiritual passions. It is not a lapse. It is an achievement,” Rauch says.
However, Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay Research says this is not a cultural advancement, but a dangerous and risky way of thinking.
“If you’re not worried about heaven, you won’t notice or care if Jesus is essential your salvation,” McConnell said. “You’re not thinking about any consequences.”