When I got back from Dallas, I had the opportunity to attend the Indiana Network for Higher Education (INHEM) Connections Conference.
Here are the notes on the Keynote Presentation:
Keynote Presentation: “Allergic to Religion: The ‘Spiritual but not Religious’” by Dr. Linda Mercadante (Professor of Theology at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio; Healthy Beliefs- Healthy Spirit at www.healthybelief.org)
· Religion is not an alien territory, it is God’s home for us.
· In her family, religion was not a good thing—her Jewish mother associated religion, particularly Christianity, with the killing of Jews.
· She was a newspaper reporter on a diocesan paper and then became an atheist.
· “Unfettered Beliefs, Untethered Practice” – her Henry Luce Theology Award… she was investigating an ethos which
o rejects all organized religion
o feels all religions are the same
o minimizes belief—belief doesn’t matter
o is highly individualistic
o verges on the non-theistic
o experiments with monism, pantheism, paganism, and dualism
· This is a generalized, large ethos that is coming on like a tsunami and we’re on the shore
· Outline for her talk:
o What’s going on
§ social, intellectual, demographic changes
o Changes within organized religion
§ “Spiritual but not Religious” movement (SBNR)
o Strategies going forward
§ What to avoid, what to promote
o Hope and Challenge
· Surveys confirm a dramatic change
o Pew Forum
o News Week (“A Post-Christian Nation”)
o Parade Magazine
o every few months since 2007, there’s another survey about religion
· Decline in religious loyalty: 6 in 10 Americans have switched religions at least once
· A less “Protestant” America
o In 1992, >66% was Protestant
o In 2007, <51%
o In 2011, even lower
· There has been a rise in the “Unaffiliated”
o This is the largest growth of any group
o In 1990, 8%
o In 2007, 16%
o In 2011, 20-25%
o And this is especially among millenials (among millenials it may be as high as 75%)
· Decline in Religious Involvement
o 50% rarely or never attend services
o 22% say Religion has no place in their lives
o 24% say they are “spiritual but not religious”
· Why is this happening?
o Changes in social landscape
o Changes in intellectual landscape
o Demographic changes
· Social Changes
o Rise in diversity of religion and ethnicity
o Decline in “felt” importance of religion
o Disaffiliation and unaffiliation
§ The millenials and gen x’s are not bothered by a lack of identity (as a member of one of these groups, I would disagree with this. We’re ALWAYS talking about “finding ourselves.”)
o More (religiously) mixed marriages
o Less children are being raised with religion
o Competition and the “Spiritual Marketplace”
§ America is like a spiritual mall
o Mix of religion and politics
· Intellectual Changes
o Fragmentation of knowledge, information, roles, meanings, etc.
§ There is an information explosion, but it causes fragmentation
§ We have fragmented roles that keep us from having a core identity
o There are no longer claims of a universal truth—we hide behind subjectivity
o Humans have lost their place—we’ve lost the sense of being human beings created by God and having a special place in the universe.
o In the midst of the chaos, each human is alone to create their own meaning.
§ Spiritual Tinkerers
· Changes in Belief Patterns
o Believing without Belonging?
o Anti-rationality—reason is not to be trusted
§ In AA, they say that “your best thinking got you here,” in other words, don’t trust your own reason
§ “Leave your mind at the door.”
o Retreat into emotive, experiential
· Demographic Changes—Seven Key Trends
o Delayed marriage—this means we’re waiting longer and longer for the prodigals to come back to church
o Fewer children and later
o uncertainties in work and money—maybe I’ll have to move, so I don’t want to make ties at this church or parish; maybe I’ll have to work on Sundays; I don’t want to join when I don’t know if I’ll have money to tithe
o Higher Education—young people are exposed to more and more
o Loosening Relationships—people are afraid to commit
o Globalization—leads to spiritual tinkerers
o Information Explosion
· Spirituality has become a big business—look at all the different ads on tv for “spiritual” or religious groups
· SBNR ethos is shaping American faith
o many are less loyal
o many within religion are increasingly attracted to the eclectic spirituality of SBNR
· “Unchurched Spirituality is gradually reshaping the personal faith of many who belong to mainstream religious organizations.” –Robert Fuller
· Example: one of her friends is Mennonite, but claims to find God through Buddhist meditation.
· “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (Christian Smith at ND) is what my generation is looking for.
· “Moralistic” to my generation means
o act so other people will like you (Jesus didn’t do this)
o fulfill your personal potential
o don’t be socially disruptive (He certainly didn’t do this)
o Don’t be interpersonally obnoxious
o Feel good about yourself
o The goal is to feel good, happy, secure, and at peace.
o Gain subjective well being
o Able to solve problems.
o get along with others
· “Deism”—a mild form of theism
o 18 Century Deism with a twist… the distant God is selectively available for taking care of your needs.
o God is a divine creator, lawgiver, keeps a safe distance, and is not demanding.
o God’s job is to solve your problems, make you feel good, not get too personally involved
o God is the divine butler and cosmic therapist.
· Basic tenets of “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (MTD):
o God exists, created, watches over
o The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself and your life
o Good people go to Heaven
o All religions teach these things, so we don’t have to choose one.
· What does it mean to be SBNR?
o 3rd largest group among young adults, after Roman Catholic and Baptist.
o More among Gen Xers and Millenials (can I just say I hate these terms?)
o Less likely to attend services of any kind
o about 20% of Americans and 50% of unaffiliated are SBNR
o Show little interest in church attendance and orthodox beliefs
o Ethos prevalent in much of the industrialized west (I saw it particularly in Italy).
o More likely to practice alternative spiritualities
o More interest in mysticism
o More likely to experiment with unorthodox beliefs and practices
o Negative feelings towards clergy and churches
o The idea that being an SBNR is a badge of honor
o Religion is seen as a roadblock
§ Many reject claims to absolute truths
§ many believe religion demands abdication of personal liberty
§ many feel entitled to be patrons rather than subscribers… not have to have loyalties to partake
o Trying to separate spirituality and religion
§ spiritual vs. material
§ individual vs. institutional—people don’t trust institution/authority
§ Interior vs. exterior
§ private vs. public
o What do they believe?
§ there is something sacred—a universal energy source… no actual God, it’s an energy that you plug into and use as you like.
§ human nature—the self becomes God, the self is sacred… there is no God that is outside you.
§ community vs. freedom—not a lot of community, there is no long term relationship or commitment to community
§ life after death—balancing between feeling of eternity and individuality with a droplet going back into a pool of water… energy returning to energy
o There’s a lot of hybridity here.
· There is an emerging meta narrative here…
o We are all one.
o There is no personal God out there. Instead, he’s a universal energy source that exists but is non-conscious, non-communicative.
o We are on par with nature
o The self is sacred
o You need to find your “true self”
o Tradition stifles the individual
o nothing left when we die, except perhaps energy
· How different is this? She gives a long comparison to the Abrahamic traditions, but I think we all know these.
· What are possible outcomes?
o secularization like Europe?
o highly individualized spiritual practices?
o Changes in social structure?
o More egalitarian, less community?
o New Reformation?
o “Leaner” more effective religions?
· This may be the most dramatic religious, intellectual, and social change since Christendom took root in Europe.
· Strategies that WON’T work:
o minimizing it
o ignoring it
· Style vs. content
o Some congregations won’t change their style, but will change their content.
o Some change style but won’t change their content… won’t address contemporary needs… or, more positively, won’t give up their basic beliefs.
o Can we change our style while still promoting our core content?
· A generalized spirituality is inadequate to provide
o a moral compass
o individual and corporate responsibility
o real human identity
o guidance for spiritual formation
o true moral freedom
o lasting conversion
o clear, guiding vision
· Promising strategies
o revitalizing our own faith
o communicating our spiritual experience
o creatively encountering SBNRs
o Thinking theologically about our culture.
o Becoming the alternative—the counter culture (isn’t this what the Catholic Church was originally?)
· Possible Scenarios?
o Organized religion as
§ believing and belonging
§ community and credibility
§ open minded yet confident and trusting
· Good news…
o this generation is seeking
o many want to talk theology
o searching for meaningful spiritual practices (Catechetically, this means we need stop saying, “We do this because it’s tradition” and start showing them why what we do has meaning.)
o searching for spiritual community
o 31% of millenials list being spiritual or close to God as one of their life goals.
· Things to avoid:
o unclear, anemic worship
o lack of confidence and joy
o over organizing
o judgment, intolerance
o stunting enthusiasm and creativity
o top-down leadership
o minimizing the spiritual experience
o separating mind and body in worship
o squelching honest questions and doubts
o theology disconnected from life experience
· Things to do:
o be hopeful
o show vital community
o listen, listen, listen
o figure out what’s been missing in their lives
o renew your own faith