Spiritual but not religious

For Sunday’s sermon I’ll be interviewing CMCer and MTSO seminary professor Linda Mercadante.  For the last five years she has been interviewing people who identify as “Spiritual but not Religious” and has recently published a book titled Belief Without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious.  Linda begins the Introduction to the book by stating, “’Nones’ – those who do not claim any particular communal faith identity – are on the rise.”  She goes on to note that approximately 46 million, more than a fifth of Americans, have no religious affiliation, up from around 14 million in 1990.  Remarkably, there are now more “Nones” than mainline Protestants in the US.   

But Linda’s research is much more interesting than just detailing the decline of the American church.  The people she interviews are eager to share their beliefs, comfortable with spiritual language and practices, but aren’t ready or willing to identify with any one faith tradition.  They are, in their own admission, “Spiritual,” but not “Religious.”  Regular church goers and even clergy also claimed this title for themselves.  In the book Linda notes some generational differences in attitudes (Baby boomers were the most eager to talk about being Spiritual but not Religious); suggests five different types of Spiritual but not Religious (Dissenters, Casuals, Explorers, Seekers, and Immigrants); and details interviewees’ perspectives on four key theological themes (Transcendence, Human Nature, Community, and Afterlife).  By and large the Spiritual but not Religious reject religious exclusivism (our way is the only way), see religions as all having the same core ethical teachings, locate authority more internally than externally, and place a high value on personal experience.  Hey, maybe Spiritual but not Religious is an identity you’re quite comfortable with yourself, even if you have landed at Columbus Mennonite.  

So what’s going on here?  What exactly is “Spiritual” and how is this different from being “Religious?”  Are the Spiritual but not Religious a threat to the church? A prophetic witness to the church?  Is Spiritual but not Religious just the latest manifestation of American individualism or is there something deeper happening?  Are we undergoing a globalization of the spirit in which particular traditions fade into the background and things give way to a more open source spirituality?  Can you be spiritual and religious in the best sense of the terms, open to the wisdom of all traditions but grounded in a particular faith community? (I sure hope so).  WWMD – What Would Menno Do?  WWWD?  What Will We Do?  If you identify Spiritual but not Religious, what does this mean to you?

It should be a good conversation on Sunday.  I’m glad I’m the one who gets to ask the questions.  Linda has also agreed to stay around after the service (there is no regularly scheduled Sunday school) for a semi-formal Q&A with anyone who wants to ask questions of their own.