Who would have imagined that a Mormon candidate for the Presidency of the United States would be mainstreaming cafeteria spirituality? John Huntsman, the former Governor of Utah, is doing just that and giving voice to the nuanced and rich spiritual practices of tens of millions of Americans.
Huntsman says that his Mormon practices are “tough to define” and that he gets “satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies.” That may be startling to hear from a Mormon because it upends what many Americans perceive as monolithic Mormonism. Huntsman’s courage in naming his truth reflects the satisfaction he describes as much as it breaks open stereotypes about Mormons and spirituality.
Is Huntsman just a postmodern spiritual person? He describes himself as more spiritual than religious but so do countless numbers of people who, like him, profess a primary grounding in the teachings of one tradition.
This so-called cafeteria spirituality can be more aptly thought of as a balanced spirituality. It describes those who, like Huntsman, are secure in their Christian, Jewish or Mormon identity but know that the spiritual practices, wisdom and mystical truths revealed in other traditions enhance rather detract from their spirituality. They are not fearful that life-giving transformative truths are revealed beyond their chosen or cultural religious background.
A few years ago I sat with a group of 30 people exploring membership in a Christian church. Every person spoke of their spiritual journey being enriched by practices learned from the spiritual wisdom of traditions as diverse as Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and Wiccan to name just a few. The fear expressed by each person in the room was that they would be asked to abandon or never speak of those riches in their new spiritual community. They were not interested in playing God with truth or being agents of religious certitude.
Those who are more spiritual than religious yet choose to be religiously affiliated are less likely to be doctrinaire because they know that eternal truths are not revealed in pronouncements; they have distinguished between religion’s institutional needs and the journey of the spirit. They have learned the importance of navigating competing truths and intuitively settling on core truths. They’re more likely to place their energy in life-giving pursuits than those that are negative.
Spirituality is after all about the “breath of life” – by its nature it invites expansiveness and inquisitiveness. John Huntsman’s truth-telling invites an expansive embrace of spirituality as part of the reality of American life.
So where do you place yourself on this spectrum?
Share your story of Cafeteria Spirituality or Balanced Spirituality here