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-America is More ‘Spiritual’ but Less Religious?

by Dr. D ~ October 8th, 2009

(Image by Colin Purrington via Flickr)

I can remember being somewhat confused when I first heard someone say:

“I’m not religious but I am ‘Spiritual’”

I thought to myself-‘what the heck does that mean?’ I noticed that everyone one around seemed to completely understand so kept my peace and didn’t say a thing. Since then I’ve heard many different derivatives and combinations of that same phrase over and over again– it has definitely become a part of today’s culture in America.

This last week Parade magazine’s feature article actually addressed this issue: “Has America Become More Spiritual?”

In a survey of more than 1,000 Americans, Parade found that many Americans no longer commit themselves to one particular organized religion like their parents did but still consider themselves ‘spiritual’.

According to the survey nearly 70 percent believe in God, 51% pray daily, and three-quarters believe that parents should be responsible for their children’s religious training. However only 12 percent still believe that their particular religion is the only ‘true’ faith, 59 percent say all religions are valid, 50% say that they rarely or never attend worship services, and 27% don’t practice any kind of religion. Also, 24% Claim to be “spiritual but not religious”.

Americans are now far more likely to mix various traditions and define their own spiritual path—a kind of ‘pick and choose whatever you want’ process rather than just sticking exclusively to one particular religion like Christianity.

In the article, Randall Balmer a professor of American religious history at Barnard College and also an Episcopal priest, paints us a picture of the new style of "religious" American:

"A good, say, Presbyterian, and yet does tai chi in the park on Sunday Morning, consults the astrological tables in the newspaper and does yoga when she comes home from work at night, and sees no sense of contradiction among these various sorts of activities."

"You have all these religious options out there, and we Americans are good consumers. And the criterion seems to be, what can this do for me? How can this make me a better person? How can this make me happier?"

The survey also showed that 62% of Americans look forward to sharing an after-life with their loved ones when they die, while only 43% believed ones actions on earth determined whether one goes to a Heaven or Hell.

Response: It is a shocking survey for preachers or at least it is like a bad report card. In some ways American churches may have become for some another form of entertainment while maybe for many others a ‘take it or leave it’ social club. The teachings, doctrines, and rituals are obviously not taken as serious as they have been in the past. Either that or it calls into question whether churches and ministers are really teaching the traditional doctrines of the faith.

The numbers really do show that there may be a significant percentage of Americans that fall into the ‘spiritual but not religious’ category. Folks that are far more pluralistic towards understanding how God and spirituality fits into their everyday life and not particularly committed to one particular religion in the process.

Note–one of the more confusing stats in the article showed that 69% believed in God while only 5% didn’t and another 7% weren’t sure? The numbers just don’t add up here. Most recent polls show that close to 90% of Americans believe. I wonder how they came up with 69%? If you subtract the 5% and the 7% than that would leave 88% believing in God which is far closer to what other recent polls have shown.

In conclusion, one of the fun things with stats is the ability to slant a message based upon the numbers. If you read between the lines there is still a significant number of Americans, probably between 40-50%, that do believe in and still actively practice a traditional organized religion in this country.

The flip side shows that 41% continue to believe that not all religions are equally valid plus another 43% continue to believe in Heaven and Hell –folks that do expect their decisions and actions in this life to affect the life to come. These numbers continue to reflect the continued strength of traditional religion in America.    

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