The religious landscape of America is more fluid than ever. Parade Magazine’s Spirituality Poll http://tiny.cc/YdvnW reveals that 24% of Americans refer to themselves as “Spiritual but not religious”. Confirming the trends tracked by the Pew Forum, http://tiny.cc/IXH41 , around 70% of us believe in God or a higher power. The “spiritual but not religious” include those who are religious but who do not want to be labeled as rigid, legalistic people. This has hopeful implications.
The Parade and Pew data point to a more generous and hope-filled spiritual landscape in America: our spirituality may change the way we look at each other; replacing old lenses of absolutes with God or the Holy discovered in each of us. Irrespective of our particular spirituality.
The good news is that these upward trend lines reflect a more compassionate spirituality. There will always be a place for religion that is exclusionary and which fuels division. The data reveal increasing numbers of us making choices to ignore the exclusionary or legalistic side of religion in favor of a more authentic path of compassion, understanding and love – the very principles at the core of most religions!
A few weeks ago a senior pastor of a large urban church confirmed what I have experienced. He said that at least 60% of those who attend his church would describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” The Parade poll reveals that only 12% of us believe that our own religious tradition is the only path to God or salvation. These numbers don’t reveal a lack of spirituality or faith – 77% of us pray outside of religious services. Instead, the data reveals we believe that God existed before religion and that spiritual values are more compelling than creedal constraints.
Parade poll data present an America in which increasing numbers of people are separating the rigidity of organized religion from their own vibrant spiritual lives. The fear factor used by many religions no longer has the commanding power that it once did. In addition, 59% of us believe that all religions are equally valid. The implications of this for how we engage with one another are compelling. Instead of demonizing others, are we discovering that we can dignify difference?
The Parade and Pew data suggest a more fluid American spirituality than we are led to believe is true. Fluidity should not be confused with lack of faith, purpose or the eternal spiritual values of compassion and love.
Many religious leaders are baffled by these new realities instead of seeing them as an opportunity to engage the spiritual but not religious, many of whom sit in their pews! In the meantime, Americans are finding their needs for authentic spirituality met in a myriad of ways.
This more fluid, expansive, compassionate spiritual landscape may reflect the generosity of spirit of Americans. The data tell a story of a generous, hopeful spirituality. We wait to see how our involvement in civic issues, global engagement and civic discourse are affected by such compassionate generosity.