I have begun a new reading project. It is Linda Mercadante’s Belief without Borders about people who claim to be spiritual but not religious.
Mercadante surveys the glory days of Mainstream Protestantism and religious America in the 1950s only to show how it has all fallen apart, She graphically and accurately looks at the present situation through the eyes of those who have nostalgia for the way things were:
“It is easy to hear the pain in their voices when they wonder aloud why their children–including the children of active members, pastors, and seminary professors–no longer attend church. And when even successful, well-trained pastors begin to doubt their own vocations, throw off culturally unpopular theological positions, and feel drawn to alternative spiritualities themselves, it is evident that for many mainstream people the pressure of change seems unrelenting. The changes have been so rapid that there are many people still around who have lived through all its phases. The skeletons of mainstream religion’s 1950s glory days are visible in the impressive but half-filled urban sanctuaries, convents turned into spiritual retreat centers, down-sized seminaries, and shrinking denominational offices throughout America (23-24).
Between the 1950s and the current situation came the cultural revolution of the 1960 and ’70s, the rise of conservative evangelicalism, and the reaction to conservative evangelicalism. This all led to the rise of the religiously unaffiliated as a larger proportion of the population. There was a natural tendency to attempt to import ’60s cultural consciousness into a spiritual world-view and to react against the culture wars associated with the religious right.
One way to understand the nones (the religiously unaffiliated) is to see academic postmodernism filtering into society in general. Another theory has to do with the mobility, and depersonalization of modern life. People are no longer joiners of organizations, whether churches or others. Also technology and media like the internet and television may have transformed our understanding of community so that it no longer has to be face-to-face.
There is also the upheaval in the American family. Fewer children are raised to be religious now. And who knows what divorce, blended families, and single parenthood are doing to people’s sense of trust and community?
The popularity of therapy and self-help may also be factors.
Yet, for most, being religiously unaffiliated is not the same as being nothing. This is where the spiritual but not religious position comes in. Many of the nones believe in something. So the SBNR identity seems to fit.
But Mercadante also notes that some of the people she interviewed were uncomfortable with the phrase. Some associated it with being a hippie. Some thought it implied shallowness. Some were unhappy with the implication of picking and choosing the most appealing parts of various traditions.
In one place Mercadante uses the phrase “behavior formerly identified with religion” (p. 33). I like that.
This chapter has been setting the stage for hearing from her interviewees. She has tried to look at how we got to where we are. She has looked at some of the speculation about why we have so many people who claim to be spiritual but not religious. All this is in preparation for her main approach, which is to actually hear from some of these people.