The stunning rise of “I’m BOTH spiritual AND religious” in America

Church at Sunset

Photo Credit: cmiper

A fascinating analysis of data on American religiosity today shows the rise of a new ethos in the United States: a stunning 48 percent of Americans now describe themselves as BOTH spiritual AND religious, with another 30 percent preferring the “spiritual, BUT NOT religious” formula.

Now here’s the stunner: only 13 years ago, a majority of 54% of Americans described themselves as religious BUT NOT spiritual. If these surveys are correct, we are witnessing a hidden sea change whereby Americans have now largely accepted a divide between the religious and the spiritual, and the spiritual is winning in spades.

Author Diana Butler Bass sees the day coming when religion in the U.S. will virtually come to an end. In the Huffington Post today, she writes:

In a 2008 survey, Pew research found that one in 10 Americans now considers themselves an ex-Catholic. The situation is so dire that the church launched a PR campaign inviting Catholics to “come home,” to woo back disgruntled members. There was a slight uptick in Catholic membership last year, mostly due to immigrant Catholics. There is no data indicating that Catholics are returning en masse and much anecdotal evidence suggesting that leaving-taking continues. Catholic leaders worry that once the new immigrants become fully part of American society they might leave, too.

She does not talk about the developing world, however, where there are few signs of secularization. After describing the American decline of Protestant denominations as well as Catholic, she continues:

The religious market collapse has happened with astonishing speed. In 1999, when survey takers asked Americans “Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious,” a solid majority of 54 percent responded that they were “religious but not spiritual.” By 2009, only 9 percent of Americans responded that way. In 10 years, those willing to identify themselves primarily as “religious” plummeted by 45 percentage points.

In the last decade, the word “religion” has become equated with institutional or organized religion. Because of crises such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Roman Catholic abuse scandal, Americans now define “religion” in almost exclusively negative terms. These larger events, especially when combined with increasing irrelevance of too much of organized religion, contributed to an overall decline in church membership, and an overall decline of the numbers of Christians, in the United States.

There may be hope, however, regarding the future of faith. Despite worry about the word, “religion,” Americans are extremely warm toward “spiritual but not religious” (30 percent) and, even more interestingly (and perhaps paradoxically), the term “spiritual and religious” (48 percent). While “religion” means institutional religion, “spirituality” means an experience of faith. Large numbers of Americans are hankering for experiential faith whereby they can connect with God, the divine, or wonder as well as with their neighbors and that lead to a more profound sense of meaning in the world. Maybe Americans once called this “religion,” but no more. Americans call it “spirituality.” (Emphasis mine.)

If all this sounds bleak for religion, she does note a silver lining:

Some Americans want to be spiritually left alone, without complications from organized religion. But nearly half of Americans appear to hope for a spiritual reformation — or even revolution — in their faith traditions and denominations. Congregations that exhibit a vibrant spiritual life embodying a living faith in practical ways succeeding, even in the religion bear market. These sorts of communities are models of what might be possible to renew wearied organizations…

Read the whole thing.

The drama in the future of American consciousness will apparently be played out not in a war between the spiritual and the religious, but between those who are BUT NOTs and the BOTH ANDs. World Spirituality must find a way to include and embrace both groups of people. ┬áNevertheless, it’s the BOTH ANDs whose perspective probably holds the greatest promise for the rise of a more Integral worldview, one which recognizes the falsity of the distinction between spiritual and religious, and which works towards the greater integration of today’s theologies with modern and post-modern wisdom, and the revitalization of spiritual and religious organizations.

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