It has been a couple of years since I heard Professor Linda Mercandante speak on the subject of her recent book and research - the SBNR people who are growing in numbers. Saturday I heard her again in a talk she gave for a Wellstreams Fundraiser - it was called "Spiritual, Religious. Restless?"
SPNR - is shorthand for "Spiritual but not religious." More people (25%) identify themselves this way in our country and around the world. It speaks to the decline in the confidence of religion
She spoke of the social factors:
1. Rise in diversity of religion and thnicity in our country
2. Decline in :"felt" importance of religion.
3. Disaffiliation and unaffiliation. I learned that there were more people who just had not been exposed to religion and fewer of the "church hurt" folks
4. More "mixed" marriages - people who come from different religious traditions and do not raise their children in either
5. Fewer children raised with religion period.,
6. Competition in the religious marketplace with the growing "commodification" of relgion.
7. Concern over mixing of religion and politics
She also spoke of the intellectual changes over the last 50 years.
- distrust of authority
- commitment is less valued
- no claims of universal truth
- we have lost our "meta narrative" and each person creates their own meaning and identity. She introduced the term "spiritual tinkerers" as people are finding their own faith journey.
Their rejection of religion has to do with rejecting what seems superstitious on the one hand and then claiming exclusive truthfulness on the other. There is a fear of religion taking away freedom. And what she said is that people want to be "customers" and not subscribers."
She also said that people seem proud to assert this identity - "Spiritual but not religious" because it is seen as non-offensive. Unlike perhaps the way Christians can be seen to be judging and recruiting!
There was alot of content to her talk and it has me thinking.
There were two aspects that I found particularly interesting. One of the learnings for me was the fact that they believed (as I do) in this energy force of divine power however - unlike me - there is often not a sense of personal encounter with God.
And the second was the sense of community on our own terms - as in a meditation community or a yoga class.
I found myself thinking about this as I stood in front of the congregation on Sunday morning at the table. And realized that this is what is central to my understanding of religion.
We separate our communion into two parts - first the congregation passes out the bread and we eat it individually and then I come to the table and invite us to drink the cup together.
And that represents both aspects of faith in a religious community like the church - we do have a personal relationship with God. The God who calls us by name and invites us - not only into relationship - but also a life of growing in love and service to others. I have - throughout my life - experienced that very real guidance.
At the same time in the Christian faith we are called into community, church - we call ourselves "the body of Christ" which is a mystical union with God. There are ways that God is present and guides us together that are holy and truly awesome. The church also is an institution made up of very flawed people. That is the "both - and" of being in a church. We sometimes call our church a "family" and it is like a family in which we are stuck with each other - and some people without a doubt rub us the wrong way. But also like a family, when we are in trouble we find there is genuine love and care.
I certainly understand the lure of being spiritual but not religious. As I prepare for retirement I do not know what the religious community is going to look like in my life. However, I also know that without it - I lose that sense of being really challenged to love. I miss out on the modeling of a life of following Jesus in the saints and I miss out on the possibility of working together to make something new happen that I could not do myself.
And so, I am spiritual for sure.....and also find comfort and challenge in religion. . Call me an SBR. Spiritual but Religious!