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Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Spiritual and/or Religious

One hears occasionally, especially in the left-hand part of the country, a comment on the order of “I am spiritual, but not religious.” This is a relatively new formulation. What does it mean? And why is it increasingly popular?

Religion and spirituality usually imply one another. Most Americans by far describe themselves as both spiritual and religious. The small yet growing number of spiritual-but-not-religious people seem to mean a variety of things by this declaration. But it is not so much a rejection of faith as a rejection of organized religion. Most spiritual-but-not-religious Americans say they believe in God and 40 percent of them believe without any doubt.* In the last generation, many Americans have lost confidence in churches, denominations, and clergy. For some, saying they are “spiritual but not religious” expresses this alienation.

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Make-Your-Own Religion

In their best-selling 1980s book on the tensions between community and individualism in America, Habits of the Heart, my Berkeley colleagues Robert Bellah and Ann Swidler, along with three other coauthors, described the version of religion that a woman whom they called Sheila had described to them. She believed in a faith of loving and being gentle with oneself; she labeled this theology “Sheilism” – “just my own little voice.” The authors of Habits saw her declaration as an expression of a growing tendency in America toward isolation and self-absorption raised here to an ethical principle.  (The term “Sheilaism” is now so well-known it has its own Wikipedia entry.)

(spiritualpracticefoundation.org)

There were and are other signs of a make-your-own religious boom. Outside of the standard religious structures, we see the excavation of old, pagan traditions like Wicca and the construction of hybrid, New Age faiths and Eastern blends with practices such as yoga and Kabalistc mysticism. Inside standard religious structures, variants such as independent churches, new liturgies and rituals, and even re-defined theologies have emerged. Some religious leaders describe all this as “cafeteria-style” faith: take what you like and disregard the rest. (And there is a Wikipedia entry for “Cafeteria Christianity,” too.)

Such religious inventions may well have burgeoned in recent decades, especially since the 1960s. Getting good numbers to test that assumption would be difficult, especially when so many “new religious movements” are informal and some even hostile to becoming formal institutions. But one thing is clear: This is not new.

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