Marcus Mumford is the 26-year-old lead singer of the phenomenally successful British band Mumford & Sons. Mumford is the son of John and Eleanor Mumford, the national leaders of the Vineyard Church in the U.K. and Ireland, part of the international evangelical Christian Vineyard Movement. He recently married actress Carey Mulligan, whom he’d met years earlier at a Christian youth camp.
As the main lyricist for the band, he has lavished the music of Mumford & Sons with the themes and imagery of faith, often drawing specifically on the Christian tradition. As Cathleen Falsani has observed, they “explore relationships with God and others; fears and doubts; sin, redemption and, most of all, grace.”
Yet in a Rolling Stone interview, Mumford declined to claim the “Christian” label as his own.
The reporter asked Mumford whether he “still consider(s) himself a Christian.”
Mumford replied, “I don’t really like that word. It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was… I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.”
Describing his spiritual journey as a “work in progress,” Mumford said that he’s never doubted the existence of God and that his parents are not bothered about his ambivalence toward the Christian label.
Before anyone makes a rush to judgment, Falsani suggests that we “consider why he chose to answer the way he did.”
“What I heard in his reticence to label himself a Christian was not a denial of faith, but instead something that falls between Dorothy Day’s famous, ‘Don’t call me a saint—I don’t want to be dismissed so easily,’ and Soren Kierkegaard’s, ‘Once you label me, you negate me.’”
She also hears echoes of another rock star whose own Christian faith has been a topic of conversation. When Bono was the same age Mumford is now, he shied away from Christian labels and stopped talking about his faith in public forums. When asked about his faith in 1987, also by Rolling Stone, Bono said: “I am a Christian, but at times I feel very removed from Christianity. The Jesus Christ that I believe in was the man who turned over the tables in the temple and threw the money-changers out.”
Fifteen years later, in 2002, Bono told Falsani, “By the way, I don’t set myself up to be any kind of Christian. I can’t live up to that. It’s something I aspire to, but I don’t feel comfortable with that badge.”
Such statements by Mumford and Bono, and the legions of “nones” like them, are not disavowals of faith or beliefs. Instead, it is the rejection of a label related to faith or belief.
In years past, an unchurched individual might still claim to be “Baptist” or “Catholic.” Now there is great cultural freedom to drop the label entirely.
But it’s more than simply being “nothing.”
Perhaps one of the more disconcerting marks of the typical “none” is that they are very content with holding their “nothing in particular” stance toward religion.
Among those who say they believe in “nothing in particular,” 88 percent are not even looking for a specific faith or religion.
Think of their stance like this:
A specific religion? “Not for me.”
But at least seeking? “No, not really. Not a priority.”
The breakdown for a church or denomination could not be more complete. It is akin to having a world full of people being open and even interested in coffee, but purposefully driving past Starbucks with complete disinterest.