Nonverts—people who once identified with a religious tradition but now identify with none—are the fastest-growing group in surveys of American religion. They make up the great majority of those (now a quarter of the adult population) who say they have no religion. In this study, Stephen Bullivant argues, first, that nonverts set the measure of what it means to be secular in America; and second, that nonverts remain heavily defined by their former faith traditions, even or especially when they have become bitterly antagonistic to religion of any kind. He suggests that nonverts’ experience of leaving a religious tradition helps to explain the origin and nature of today’s “culture wars” over—for instance—the removal of monuments, the public free exercise of religion, and the overriding of parental rights in guardianship decisions involving minors.
Alternating between vignettes and aggregate-level analysis, Bullivant describes nonverts from four major Christian denominations and discerns some patterns.
First, he finds that Americans, religious and nonreligious, increasingly construct their political views around those whom they see as friends and enemies, rather than through ethical principles or reasoned argument. Donald Trump, Bullivant concludes, did little to damage the evangelical brand outside the constituencies that were already disposed to dislike evangelicals. Bullivant interviews two ex-evangelicals, Rhett and Melissa, who fluctuate between anti-evangelical and anti-Republican sentiment with such fluidity that the two cohorts seem to merge in their accounts.