Nones, NE and NW

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Yesterday, the Connecticut legislature set its good housekeeping seal of approval on the state Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex marriage, adjusting state law to bring it into line with the ruling. A probably unnecessary provision, borrowed from Vermont, was written in to give religious organizations–but not individuals–the right to refuse gay couples facilities and services. There were plenty of Republican votes, and the Republican governor says she’ll sign the bill. So it goes in the Land of Steady Habits.

cascadia.jpgI’m writing this from Tacoma, WA, where yesterday I participated in a little conference at Pacific Lutheran University on Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia, a collection of essays on spirituality in the Pacific Northwest (including British Columbia) edited by Doug Todd of the Vancouver Sun. Out here, there’s been a bit of good humored distress at the revelation of the new ARIS survey that New England is now vying with the Pacific Northwest for the highest proportion of “Nones”–those who, when you ask them, “What is your religion, if any?” say “none.”

The question I posed was why, in public policy, the mark of “none-ness” in New England should be same-sex marriage (now approved in half the region), while in the Pacific Northwest, it’s physician-assisted suicide (where in the last election Washington joined Oregon as the only two states where that’s allowed). My surmise is that New England is a culture of egalitarianism, shaped by annual town meetings where all citizens have a voice in making decisions for the community at large; there, the cause of “marriage equality” has real force. By contrast, the Pacific Northwest is a libertarian land shaped by an ethos of the individual and nature; if Cascadian individuals want to kill themselves, well, that’s their privilege.

So while both same-sex marriage and assisted suicide may violate traditional Judeo-Christian norms, those who embrace them may differ. Not all Nones are created the same.