This brilliant commentary on the growing numbers of people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” was written for Huffington Post by Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda, which explores how India’s spiritual wisdom seeped into America’s cultural bloodstream.
SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS:
MISUNDERSTOOD AND HERE TO STAY
A great deal has been written about that ever-expanding group of Americans who check “none” when asked about their religious affiliations. The segment of nones who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) now constitute at least 20 percent of the population, and 30 percent of those under 30 years of age. I have interviewed hundreds of this important cohort for my books, and I find that the media commentary about them is riddled by misconceptions.
One problem concerns why people disconnect from the religious tradition of their birth. The most prevalent explanation is the one favored by scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell, authors of American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. They attribute disaffiliation mainly to the perceived link between religion and conservative politics—a turnoff to liberal-minded youth in particular.
I don’t buy it. There is no doubt that the judgmental moralizing of right-wing preachers has alienated a great many Christians, but that doesn’t explain SBNR. Believers who disdain fundamentalism have plenty of left-leaning denominations and apolitical congregations to turn to. I see it as more of a spiritual issue than a political one. The “S” in SBNR means something. In varying degrees, SBNRs are serious about their spiritual development, and they wish to pursue it wherever it leads them. The search itself is the chief identifier. It’s the questing, not the nesting. If traditional religion gave them the inner experience they yearn for; if it answered the big existential questions in a satisfying way; if it truly nourished their desire for spiritual growth, they’d stay instead of stray.
Which brings me to another misconception, that SBNRs are dilettantes, like serial daters who can’t commit. Yes, there are plenty of superficial dabblers among them, but not as many as commentators assume. In fact, I would wager that, on average, they spend far more time in meditation, prayer, study of sacred texts, devotional activities, group discussions and other actual practices than the conventionally religious. Let’s face it, a large percentage of people who call themselves religious engage their faith for a couple of hours a week at most, and many only on holidays. As someone once said, sitting in church and thinking you’re spiritual is like sitting in a garage and thinking you’re a car.
SBNRs who devote time to their spirituality are basically mystics—pragmatic, in-the-world mystics who probe the great mysteries from the inside out and try to live up to their spiritual standards. A 2009 Pew survey found that spiritual experiences, defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening,” occur much more frequently now than they did in 1962, 1976 or 1994, when similar studies were done. That tracks with the rise of the SBNR phenomenon, and indeed the report said that “these kinds of experiences are particularly common among the ‘religious unaffiliated.'”
Which leads to another misconception: that SBNRs are spiritual anarchists who reject all spiritual authority. Not so. They recognize the need for guidance, but they get it from multiple sources. A modern seeker can be, as anthropologist Richard Schweder put it, “the student and beneficiary of all traditions, and the slave to none.”
Finally, there is the assumption that SBNRs suffer from a lack of community. There is truth in this: clearly, one price of spiritual independence is the loss of fellowship, which the venerable religions do a good job of providing. Two things must be said about this. First, a great many SBNRs acknowledge that missing ingredient and try to fill the gap with informal, often leaderless and heterogeneous groupings. Interesting new forms of spiritual community will probably develop over time. Second, many SBNRs are connected to communities, only they revolve around a yoga studio, a Hindu guru or a Buddhist lineage.
This alludes to an important, but little recognized fact: SBNRs are heavily oriented to Eastern ideas and practices, only they’re more likely to check the None or SBNR box than the Hindu or Buddhist box. There are many reasons for this, among them the fact that the gurus, roshis, swamis and lamas who brought their traditional teachings to the West never asked anyone to convert, or to give up their own religions, or even to view their involvement as a religious rather than a secular pursuit.
SBNRs are as diverse and complex as any other spiritual cohort. They are here to stay, and their numbers will surely grow as pluralism evolves and access to the world’s wisdom becomes even easier. It could be the most important religious development of our time, so let’s make sure we understand it.
Click here to see all my posts featuring author Philip Goldberg.
ABOUT PHIL BOLSTA
If you feel more stressed than blessed . . . if you have more confusion than clarity about how to live your beliefs . . . if you long to live a richer, happier, more meaningful life . . . you will find a wealth of insight and guidance in Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World.
Through God’s Eyes is a road map for living a more peaceful, beautiful life. It’s the only book that explains how dozens of spiritual principles interact, how to weave them together into a cohesive worldview, and how to practically apply this spiritual wisdom to daily life.
Readers everywhere are discovering that when you challenge yourself to look through God’s eyes, the world around you changes, and so do you.
Who will benefit from reading Through God’s Eyes?
Anyone who is on a spiritual path, or wants to be.
Anyone who loves life, or wants to learn how to.
Anyone who is happy, or wants to be happier.
Click here to visit the Through God’s Eyes website.
Click on the link below to download a FREE 28-page chapter!
SEE EVERY MOMENT AS A GIFT
Click here to read endorsements from authors and thought leaders.
Click here to read unsolicited testimonials from readers.
Click here to ask Phil to add you to his e-mail list for updates on his blog and books.
Here is a two-minute video introduction to Through God’s Eyes.
• an overview of the book
• the complete table of contents
• the Foreword by Caroline Myss
• my Introduction
• chapter excerpts
• a sample end-of-chapter story
• endorsements from authors and thought leaders
Just click on the link below to download your free PDF sampler!
THROUGH GOD’S EYES PDF SAMPLER
Schedule a Mastery Mentoring phone session with Phil to learn how to apply principles of spiritual living more effortlessly and effectively. Priced affordably! Click here to e-mail Phil for details.
Phil’s eBook, The Logic of Living a Spiritual Life: Supporting a Life of Faith Through Logic and Reason, is now available for 99 cents.
Order it at GodIsLogical.com.
In this eBook, you’ll find answers to questions like:
• What is the cornerstone of a spiritual life, and why?
• What is the secret to liberating yourself from other people’s judgments and expectations?
• How do you reconcile the “free will vs. Divine Will” conundrum?
• Why is there an exception to “Everything happens for a reason”?
Those who worship logic instead of God are only half right. Not only is it logical to believe in God and to live a faith-based life, the existence of a loving, benevolent God that governs all creation is perhaps the only systematic worldview that explains every aspect of life.
Phil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent authors and thought leaders he interviewed. The roster of storytellers includes Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, Caroline Myss, Larry Dossey, Rachel Naomi Remen, Bernie Siegel, Dean Ornish, and Christiane Northrup. Sixty Seconds has been translated into four languages: Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories.
Click here to order Sixty Seconds.
Learn more by visiting the official Sixty Seconds website.
Click here to read unsolicited testimonials from readers.
Here is a three-minute video introduction to Sixty Seconds.