I am reading further into Linda Mercadante’s Belief without Borders. I am having a little trouble summarizing because she uses a lot of anecdotes. This makes the book more interesting, but I can not do too much with them in a summary.
She is intent on showing the diversity within the spiritual but not religious identity (SBNR). She says there are five broad types.
First, there are the dissenters. A few of these are reacting to a bad experience with religion. But she did not find many of these. More are rejecting particular teachings of some religion. They have theological and ethical objections to religion. Or they object to the whole notion of religious or church authority. Many of the baby-boomer and older groups are reacting against the religion they were raised in. Not many from more recent generations were raised in any faith. So they are usually not dissenters. She did find at least one Millennial who, based on the problem of evil, rejected the goodness of God, a doctrine he saw as held by many religions, even though he had not been taught it by any particular religion.
Second, there are the casuals. They use spiritual ideas and practices to cope with stress in their lives or find inner peace. Some come out of twelve step groups and have found spirituality helpful in dealing with addiction. Their spirituality is functional and does not involve long-term commitment. They tend to drop anything spiritual that does not help them feel better. Their resort to spirituality is in response to need. It is very much a therapeutic approach.
Third, there are the explorers. They are sometimes confused with seekers. But they are not seeking a spiritual home or journeying in hope of arriving at a destination. They just love the adventure of exploring spiritual ideas and practices. They often mix and match pieces from different traditions. Mercadante found the explorers to be a large component of the SBNR people she interviewed. There were especially numerous among representatives of the Boomer generation.
Fourth, there are the seekers. Sometimes Christian leaders have characterized the whole group of SBNR people as seekers. They hope that Christianity can accommodate to their needs and call them home. But many of the seekers themselves doubt their own ability to settle down. They come close to affiliating, but before long move or drift along.
Finally, there are the immigrants. These people are actually trying to connect to a religion or church. Some have gotten seminary or other advanced religious training. They are trying to settle down in a new religion. Some, attracted to Eastern spirituality, identify as Buddhist. They are trying to set up an outpost in new territory. But they are usually uncomfortable and feel that they do not fit. Moreover, Mercadante found only a few of these people.
One of the interesting things she brings out is the difference between generations. People who grew up before the seventies, tended to be exposed to a particular religion in childhood. Some remember when practicing a religion was the norm. But those who have grown up since then either had parents who exposed them to more than one tradition and expected them to find their own way, or had non-religious parents. Parents were often divorced. Many times the parents were religiously divided.
Now I think she wants to go on to show some broad common themes among the SBNR folks. So this typology of five varieties is to show that they differ and vary among themselves. This will save her from over generalizing when she says they also have some things in common.
I can’t anticipate exactly what common themes she will find. But I am already noticing something. There seems to be a high value given to personal authenticity. Mercadante says that many of those who try to connect with some existing tradition have a hard time because they can’t balance living with both doubt and faith. To accept both into their spirituality seems to them inauthentic. What I notice is that this often drives fundamentalism as well. Fundamentalist think they find authenticity be eliminating any doubt. But it seems that the same kind of thinking may lead others to reject any fixed faith as long as they have remaining doubts and questions.