America is not a Christian nation, as every schoolchild knows. The Founding Fathers were Deists, who were intentional in laying the groundwork for religious freedom and the separation of church and state, with the intent of being mutually beneficial. Of course, Christianity has been–and is– a vocal and influential majority.
Every faith represented by American believers influences our national consciousness and culture.
In On Faith’s end of the year wrap-up, panelist Brad Hirschfield, rabbi and President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, writes about a shift in attitudes toward religion. He says America has always rejected the “spiritual status quo” in favor of faith re-negotiated for this spiritual/intellectual climate:
Americans are increasingly interested in the role faith plays in their lives, but not in how a specific doctrine or dogma directs them to vote or otherwise behave. So faith remains strong in this country even if religion as a set of rules is taking it on the chin. A new religious America is emerging.
This new religious America will reflect the rise in secular spirituality.
The Vancouver Sun lists secular spirituality as a ‘religious trend to watch in 2010‘, but it is nothing new. Witness the practice of yoga for fitness instead of meditation.
It’s commonplace for people now to oppose religious organizations, while embracing a host of spiritual practices and beliefs. This “secular spirituality” manifests itself in mainstream publishing, widespread nature reverence and pop culture figures such as Oprah, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra.
“Secular spirituality” is also making a rare foray into academia. Hundreds of university based researchers are studying the scientific benefits of “mindfulness” and various forms of meditation and contemplation, which have been practised for centuries by Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Jews, not to mention artists, musicians and poets.
Acting as a middle ground (gateway belief?) to secular spirituality is, well, semi-secular spirituality.
The authors of the National Study of Youth and Religion, including sociologist Christian Smith, noticed an odd trend in their research. Many of the surveyed youth, whether they described themselves as Christian or not, had similar beliefs–so much so that Smith dubbed this prevailing belief system Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.
The observed characteristics of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:
- A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
The spiritual shifts show a lack of relationship with the divine,personal dimension, and purpose.
Are these symptoms of 21st Century Syndrome?
This is America; you can customize just about anything, you can have it the way you want it.
Listen to “Watching the Planets” by The Flaming Lips here. I usually find Pitchfork reviews pretentious, but this one I enjoy:
“This is Embryonic‘s tent-revival theme, its barnburner, its soul side, its statement of purpose. Wayne Coyne measures his “YES YES YES” with the clutch and conviction of a preacher. And yeah, “killing the ego”– it’s one of those dizzying side effects of taking a substantial dose of psychedelics, but it’s also what happens in fits of religious epiphany: You– the “you” kept separate from the rest of the world– evaporates.”
Due to copyright restrictions, I cannot quote The Barna Group’s report on American spirituality. Follow the link to read more insight and statistics about secular spirituality.