For decades, Americans have been turning toward spirituality as a protest vote against conventional religion. In the last dozen years, American religious institutions have undergone a myriad of crises--abuse scandals, conflicts, schism, and partisan political entanglement, to name a few--resulting in a great religious recession. Poll after poll reveals that organized religions --mainline Protestant, evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Jewish --are in varying states of disarray and decline. Sadness, even doom, has gripped many congregations, as the formerly faithful disaffiliate, and those who remain struggle to pay clergy and fix leaky roofs.
The bored and wounded have fled religion seeking new spiritual connections. Some 30 percent of Americans now identify as “spiritual but not religious,” around 9 percent are atheists and post-theists. But the growth of these two groups is not news. Their numbers have been rising for thirty years.
What is new? In my research, it’s the “ands.” Those who say they are “spiritual and religious.” In 1999, 54 percent of Americans said they were “religious but not spiritual,” while six percent said “spiritual and religious.” By 2009, the percentages had reversed: “religious but not spiritual” fell from 54 percent to nine percent as the “spiritual and religious” rose from a mere six percent of the population to nearly half, an astonishing 42 point change.
“Ands” want religion revolutionized by spirituality; they want spirituality grounded upon (but not guarded by) ancient wisdom, theologies, and practices. They demand more authenticity, meaning, justice, and community from religious institutions, not less. In these longings, the “ands” voice an older way of understanding religion, where faith should and must be an experience of God that transforms one’s life for the sake of the world. If the “ands” are the vanguard of change, then the great religious recession is about to give way to a great spiritual awakening. Is this the end of religion or only the beginning of a new, and better, form of faith?
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