spiritual but not religious
A new survey shows in stark relief that what some are calling the Great Decline of religion in America continues: Since 2012, the U.S. has about 7.5 million more Americans who are no longer active in religion.
Last week, the 2014 General Social Survey was released. The GSS is the gold standard for sociological surveys. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this multimillion-dollar study gives us the most accurate data on American society — including religion.
(An important point to remember as you see the data: Each percentage point increase represents a growth of 2.5 million adults. So a 3-point rise in secularity, for example, means that about 7.5 million people left religion since 2012.)
If you’ve been reading our blog or have checked your iTunes last week you’ve noticed the power couple of Steve Jobs’ ghost and Bono working together again. (Anyone rememberthe U2 iPod?) I’ll leave it up to music critics to debate the musical quality of the album and the potential violation of the now infamous iCloud downloading music for each Apple user. But there is one other issue to discuss regarding the U2’s recent release: God.
In a recent article published by The New Yorker, author Joshua Rothman takes an in-depth look into the spirituality of what some would call the world’s most popular rock band. Throughout the years, Bono’s religious roots have not been a secret. Books such as Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog and We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel according to U2 have been published within the last decade. The Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed Bono in lectures and Bono has preached at the National Prayer Breakfast.
One of the most interesting aspects of Rothman’s article was the citing of “churches around the world celebrating U2charists.” Churches as far as the Netherlands, Austria, Mexico, and as close as Iowa, Baltimore, and Maine have celebrated U2charists, a communion service accompanied by U2 songs in lieu of traditional hymns. Rev. Paige Blair, of St. George’s Episcopal Church of Maine, was one of the first religious leaders to host such a service. According to Rev. Blair:
“the liturgy itself is pretty traditional — it has all the usual required elements: a Gospel reading, prayers, and communion from an authorized prayer book. The music is really what is different. And yet, not so different. It is rock 'n roll, but it is also deeply and overtly spiritual.”
Perhaps you heard. U2 has a new album. You can download it from iTunes for free right now. Go. I'll wait. It's free.
Yes, free. This is what has my mind spinning right now. Bono wrote:
"It’s also free to everyone on iTunes thanks to Apple. To celebrate the ten year anniversary of our iPod commercial, they bought it as a gift to give to all their music customers."
So, free to us thanks to the largesse of Apple. Why would that be? Well:
"We’re collaborating with Apple on some cool stuff over the next couple of years, innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed. We’ll keep you posted. If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience. It should be ready soon enough … although I know I’ve said that before …"
It baffles me when people who are deeply concerned about peace and peacemaking define themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” In pursuit of personal and/ or global peace, they shun organized religion in favor of indigenous spirituality. Celtic music, eastern spiritual disciplines like yoga and meditation, and the Native American relationship with nature all seem so attractive and obviously non-violent. I actually have nothing against any of those expressions of spirituality – allow me to offer as proof the trip my husband and I will be taking in July. We will be touring Northern Ireland to enjoy the “storytelling, music, art and peace” of Celtic culture “ancient and new. Great food, inspiring art, and beautiful journeys on foot will form the heart of this soulfully unique and transforming experience.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Normally this sort of description would not entice me. It sounds vaguely new age-y, all too “spiritual but not religious.” So why am I going? Because one of the tour leaders is my friend and brilliant cultural critic, the founder of the Wild Goose Festival, Gareth Higgins. Gareth understands that alternative forms of religiosity and spirituality are a necessary part of the revival of Christianity that is going on today, but he also understands that without “religion,” the pursuit of peace is at a serious disadvantage.
I am aware that such a claim runs counter to the primary reason many people give for being spiritual but not religious. They blame religion for violence and war, and there is no denying that many people have killed in the name of their beliefs. Somehow those who abandon organized religion believe that the cure for violence is to purge themselves of religious texts and doctrines that have any reference to violence in them. Why read the Old Testament or believe in a God who requires the death of an innocent victim to be reconciled to us? How could that possibly lead to a more peaceful world?
A couple years ago, a survey found that one in five Americans don’t identify with any religion. For Americans under 30, the number was far higher – more like one third. This report is being cited constantly throughout the religious-nonprofit world. In many quarters, there seems to be a deep sense of shock at the decline in religious membership.
Me? I’m not surprised at all. What does surprise me is our failure to see that affiliation with a traditional, God-centered religion is no longer the primary way that many Americans express their deeply rooted need for faith. We humans are relentlessly religious animals, and post-modern America is no exception. We’re just embracing a different kind of faith.
So, I'm wrangling with Lillian Daniels. Smart. Savvy. Informed. Yep. I respect her a great deal. And I disagree with her assessment of the "Spiritual But Not Religious" Thang almost completely. In a recent email exchange (where I got rather worked up, I admit), I offered a response to a comparison a friend made between Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove and Lillian Daniels, their visions, and their understanding of Christian community (Johnathan, for those who don't know, is a Baptist minister and new monastic serving at Rutba House).
Jonathan is a monastic. He has a very rigorous sense of a call to Christian community, of how one follows the way of Jesus the Christ. Read the twelve marks of a new monasticism and get a sense of his understanding of Christian "intentional" community. My understanding from Daniels' work is that it is far more rigorous than her congregationalism (even though the UCC has roots in a congregationalism that might today be called monastic if they were to live into the fullness of it.)
Making an ultimatum about church attendance to a sleep-deprived teenager may be my own version of hell on earth.
“We are leaving for church in 10 minutes,” I said, summoning my most authoritative voice before the lifeless lump under the covers.
My seven-year old Annie Sky watched the tense exchange between me and my 14-year old daughter Maya, who made periodic moans from the top bunk. With furrowed brow, my first grader sat on the couch, as if observing a tiebreaker at Wimbledon with no clear victor in sight.
For a moment, I wondered why I had drawn the line in the Sabbath sand, announcing earlier in the week that Maya would have to go to church that Sunday morning after an all-day trip to Dollywood with the middle school band. Somehow I didn’t want Dolly Parton’s amusement park to sabotage our family time in church. (The logic seemed rational at the time).
When Maya lifted the covers, I glimpsed the circles under her eyes and sunburn on her skin. But I repeated my command, with an undertone of panic, since I wasn’t sure if I could uphold the ultimatum.
When she finally got into the car, I breathed deeply and turned to our family balm, the tonic of 104.3 FM with its top 40 songs that we sing in unison. As the drama settled, I realized one reason why I made my teenager go to church: I want my daughters to know that we can recover from yelling at each other (which we had) and disagreeing. We can move on, and a quiet, sacred space is a good place to start.
Here are the criteria for post-Christianity according to Barna:
1. do not believe in God
2. identify as atheist or agnostic
3. disagree that faith is important in their lives
4. have not prayed to God (in the last year)
5. have never made a commitment to Jesus
6. disagree the Bible is accurate
7. have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
8. have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
9. agree that Jesus committed sins
10. do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
11. have not read the Bible (in the last week)
12. have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
13. have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
14. have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
15. do not participate in a house church (in the last year)
As I read through the list I am struck by the evangelical bias. There are very specific practices included in this list (Bible study, house churches, sharing the faith, small group attendance, Sunday school) that reveal this bias. They are asking about practices they consider normative, their presence and their absence. There is no mention of receiving the Eucharist, charitable giving, or social outreach such as volunteering in a soup kitchen.
Let me be clear, I am not judging them positively or negatively on their list. Instead, I'm intrigued ... deeply and profoundly intrigued, truth be told.
I’ve been reading with interest about the “nones” and the increasing number of people who identify themselves as SBNR — spiritual but not religious. Though I try not to get sucked down Internet rabbit holes, I have to admit this one’s got my number. I think it’s because I identify with both groups in some real ways.
Like many people I know, I stand in the gap.
As a Catholic Christian, I’ve watched countless friends and neighbors walk out of the church. Some linger at the door on their way out with a wistful look, wishing things could be different. Others hit the ground running and never look back. I understand both exit strategies and have been tempted to join them, but I haven’t, not yet. I am spiritual, but also still religious, albeit reluctantly so at times.
As much as I appreciate the conversations that are going on, we “religious” aren’t going to change anyone’s minds by talking about it, by beating our breasts, or wringing our hands. The “nones” aren’t going to walk back into church, because someone tells them they should, or because it would be good for them. Shoulds are rarely effective with adults and if churches were actually good for them, in some tangible way, the “nones” would still be there in the first place.
I think the only way for churches to reverse the exodus of the “nones” is by becoming different churches.
The only reason that I am Christian is because I am spiritual-but-not-religious.
Right. That's it.
Let me first say that in my own thinking, I don't separate these two things, religion and spirituality. I get that many do and I can see the rhetorical advantages to doing so. I just don't do so for any other reason than popular conversation has done so.
Here's why, and please forgive the autobiographical nature of this post. It's a testimony of sorts and dreadfully difficult to summarize. I'm pretty well convinced that I'm not all that unique in what I'm about to share. Also, if you have been paying attention (assuming you've known me for some time or been reading my blog) none of this should come as a surprise.
The only reason that I am Christian is because I am spiritual-but-not-religious.
There will be, I assume, a thousand different ways to dismantle what it is that I am about to say. I get that. I respect it. I invite it. This is a conversation that we need to have and, thankfully, are having at a national level. That said, sometimes I wish we still lived in a time when talking about one's faith in public was considered inappropriate or rude. Sometimes, that is. Only sometimes.
Lillian Daniel has a new book coming out. I'll refrain from sharing my opinion about the book until after I have read it. You can read Robert Cornwall's review here. The book is entitled WHEN "SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS" IS NOT ENOUGH: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church. There are some handy quick reviews on the amazon.com page. My favorite is from Shane Claiborne.
Lillian is as fed up with bad religion as anyone else, but she's also careful to celebrate good religion and good spirituality that brings people to life and makes the world a better place. May her book invite us to stop complaining about the Church we've experienced and work on becoming the Church we dream of.
There are a lot of emergent folk who shun creeds. They have let go of much of their free-range evangelicalism, but the anti-creedal posture still holds a principal place. Still, I am thinking about music and liturgy, spiritual formation (that troublesome word again, formation), and the creeds we keep in our hearts though no agency has "approved them for community use." Instead these creeds are "sanctified by use," if you will. Here's mine.
How do we find a job? How do we find work? Maybe we shouldn't worry so much...LEAN into what feeds you.
Get out beyond the castle walls. The Kingdom of God is not a castle. It's a kingdom.
Sometimes it is our friends who remind us there is this kingdom and there is this Christ...
And a lot for "The Nones" to chew on here, too.
See the latest Busted Stuff video inside...
It was December of 2000, but I remember the occasion as if it were yesterday.
It was a few days after Christmas during my senior year of college. I was quite nervous, and I wondered how my friends and family would react.
How would my basketball teammates respond? Would my roommates treat me differently? And of course, what about my girlfriend? She had no idea our relationship would take such a dramatic turn.
I could hide no longer. I had to be honest with who I was. And so, after a great deal of delay and long nights of nervous planning, I finally decided to share what I had been keeping secret.
Beginning with my girlfriend, then my parents, brother, sister, and eventually friends, roommates, and teammates, I shared the news: After a significant amount of prayer and discernment, I was no longer planning to attend law school following college graduation, but instead, I wanted to attend seminary in order to become an ordained Lutheran pastor.
As to be expected, I received mixed reactions.
My parents were confused and surprised, as they – like most people – had not perceived me as “religious”," especially not to the point of pursuing ordination. Nevertheless, they accepted the news with delight and affirmation.
In addition, my girlfriend (who is now my wife) was wonderfully supportive. So was my brother, sister, and closest friends.
On the other hand, some others were not sure how to react. My friends – mostly uninterested in religion – wondered about future plans. Basketball teammates were a bit uneasy. And even the campus priest and a few professors had an assortment of reactions. While a number of people were anxious and apprehensive, those within my closest circle of friends accepted the announcement with open arms.
I continue to thank God for such a wonderful web of support.
[The "nones"] recite history and Christian leadership's collusion with the agents of empire-building and warfare. Then they say something like, “I'd rather live like Jesus than be a Christian.”
They see the Church as the rich young man and they wonder if anyone actually follows Jesus anymore.
Of course, this is not the only demographic shift at work in the religious life of the world.
There are more Anglicans in Nigeria than there are in England.
More Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland. ..
More Baptists in Southeast Asia than in the Southeastern United States.
More Christians go to church in China than in Europe.
In 1900, 71 percent of the world's Christians were in Western Europe. By 2000 that percentage dropped below twenty percent in some European nations.
Here's the real kicker: these are not problems to fix. They are simply realities to be faced.
Editor's Note: This is the sixth and final installment of Presbyterian pastor Mark Sandlin's blog series "Church No More," chronicling his three-month sabbatical from church-going.
They say you can never go home again.
The thinking is that, having left and experienced new things, you have changed and the people back home have continued in their lives just as you left them. Your experience of going back home again necessarily will be very different from your experience of home as you remember it, even though it may have changed very little.
In many ways, Church is one of my homes and I left it. I walked away for three months and experienced a bit of life outside of it. The three months are up and I'm going back home. This coming Sunday (Sept. 2) will be my first Sunday back.
The saying “you can't go home again,” probably originated from Tom Wolfe's novel, You Can't Go Home Again. It's the story of an author who leaves his home, writes about it from a distance and then tries to go home again. It doesn't exactly go well. The folks in the town are none-too-happy about him airing their dirty laundry so publicly.
So, you can't go home again? Well, I'm going to try.
Editor's Note: This is the fourth installment of Presbyterian pastor Mark Sandlin's blog series "Church No More," chronicling his three-month sabbatical from church-going. Follow the links below to read his previous installments, beginning in June.
- Church No More: Part 1 — Walking Away From Church
- Church No More: Part 2 — Church That Doesn't Steal Your Joy
- Church No More: Part 3 — The 'C' Word
- Church No More: Part 4 — I Don't Want to Go Back
A little over two months ago, I decided I'd spend my three-month sabbatical not going to church. Which might seem like a perfectly normal thing to do – except that I'm a minister. I've had some strange and wonderful experiences which I've written about, but possibly more strange and more wonderful than the experiences are the responses I've received.
From the very beginning the most frustrating response I get is not folks telling me I'll lose my faith if I leave church (and they have), or the ones telling me I can't begin to understand what it's like to be Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) in three short months (lots of those were also disturbingly aggressively worded), but rather the ones that say, “Oh, 'sabbatical!' Thanks. Now I have a word to call what I do! I stopped going to church years ago.”
“No!” I'd think while unsuccessfully trying to figure out how to reach through my laptop screen and shake some sense into them, “You are not on sabbatical! The sabbatical I'm taking about has to do with taking a rest, not leaving. It's rest and recuperation — communion with God in a way that is restorative. It's not about leaving! Sheesh.”
More than two months into my sabbatical, I now have to say, “Boy was I wrong.” They are on sabbatical, more so than I am.
I love the Church. I have literally been going to church my whole life — that is, until two months ago.
Then I stopped cold turkey. You can read about it in my post "Walking Away From Church."
Masses of people responded. It astounded me. Most ministers expressed concern saying things like, “My Brother, I am worried that you may be on a dangerous journey,” or, “I fear you may lose your faith.”
Frankly, what I heard them saying was, “Faith is so fragile it needs the Church to enforce it,” which only made me more certain I was making a remarkably healthy spiritual choice.
Former church-going folk frequently told me things like, “There is a large disconnect between the 'Church' of today and the teachings of Jesus,” and “I have found God in a dynamic, deep way and I love God so much more and for real now than when I was unwittingly trying to fit in with my church culture.”
I've been away from church for two months now and I have to say, I am more at peace than I ever have been. My faith is stronger than it ever has been. My family life is healthier than it ever has been. My desire to seek out God and follow the teachings of Jesus is stronger than it ever has been.
I do not want to go back to Church because life outside of Church is better. It just is. There's no dogma complicating the path to God. It is more than refreshing to escape the games church-folk play with the intent of establishing control and “rightness” on their part; it is life-giving to escape it.
I have been thinking about the church of my youth. I have been remembering, if you will, as a guy who has read too much Updike (I'll never forgive him for the Rabbit books) might remember his youth.
There is a melding of nostalgia for what was as well as what might have been. It's a mess, to be honest, a kind of lie that draws me in no matter how often I tell myself it is a lie. Sometimes these lies of memory are the heart's truth.