Spiritual but not Religious

First of all, I want to say that I have no idea what this phrase even means.  But I am going to guess that for most people it means some kind of belief in supernatural phenomenon.  But it is a phrase you hear a lot in current culture and statistics seem to bear out this kind of sentiment in the US.

The United States is generally viewed as very religious country and we are probably the only Western industrialized country with such a vocal fundamentalist movement.  But while the fundies may be loud, their influence is fading and it may well be they have boxed themselves into a corner that will further erode their influence.

In a recent survey, the US was found to be the 5th most “religious country” in the world.   However, this headline is misleading because the survey asked about belief in god, not religion. Recent surveys have found that around 20% of the population identifies this way.  Which explains why we are in the top 5 in in belief in god, but not even in the top 10 when it comes to religious affiliation.

There is another factor in survey data that has to be kept in mind, it seems that here in the US, religion is generally seen as a positive influence on society and so, when asked people may claim more religion than they actually do.  For example, for years Gallup has asked people, “Did you attend church last Sunday?”   Over the years about 40% of those asked said, “Yes.”  While the people actually looking in churches were wondering where all the people were.  Turns out church attendance is actually about half of what the survey data says.    Which means that going to church is still the “right answer” to give to people who ask.  Does that mean that all measures of religious actions should be cut in half?  Probably not, but it is something to keep in mind.

Personally, I am not anti-theist, but I do hope that more people will use evidence to make decisions rather than authority, or especially a 2000 year old book that most people hear about rather than read for themselves.  So, I am pretty pleased with the 2014 “State of the Bible.”

Lots of good news in there.  People are less likely to view the bible as sacred, down to 79% from 86% just three years ago.  The percentage of people “engaged” with the bible is exactly equal to the number of skeptics, and that number is only 19%.  Lots of people own bibles (the “right answer!) but very few read them (and keeping in mind the church attendance statistics, even less may actually read it than say they do). And the best finding of all is that the younger generation is more skeptical, with 39% of millennials never reading the bible.  Which personally, I think they should, the more you read it, the more skeptical you get.

And I think especially the fundamentalist position is about to get worse.  Now that Islamic fundamentalism has come front and center, it is becoming apparent that they share some, perhaps many beliefs in common with Christian fundamentalists.  I almost hate to make this observation, but I think one of the reasons President Obama keeps mentioning the parallels is for political gain.  It is like playing the Hitler card, “You guys (who just happen to be his political opponents) are a lot like ISIS.”  And sadly, he is somewhat correct.  Their fundamentalism might be directed at different gods, but philosophically they are similar.

And some on that side just don’t get it.  It is one thing to call for ISIS to be wiped out because they are barbaric killers.    It is quite another to declare a “Holy War” which implies they should be wiped out for what they believe (Islam) rather than for what they do (kill people.)  People like Bill O’Reilly don’t understand that by declaring “Holy War” on ISIS, they become just like ISIS!

The “spiritual but not religious” people do see that.  And I think it will further drive them further from religion.   Islam at the moment is showing the really horrible side of the fundamentalist worldview and even many, perhaps most, Christians reject that worldview.

Here is a series of blog posts by a Christian blogger arguing that hell cannot be part of god’s plan.  I agree with him and have made many of the same arguments.  But one argument in particular is very interesting and telling.  He says that since we have rejected torture as human beings (and label those, such as ISIS, who practice it as barbaric) how can god possibly send us to eternal torture.  Are we morally superior to god?

It is interesting because it applies ethical reasoning and applies a human standard to god.  Which I applaud.  Whether he got his reasons from the Golden Rule or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is somewhat irrelevant, because either way it goes beyond just accepting received wisdom.

Although I see no evidence (or need) for god, I understand that some people do.  My objection to religion is when it shuts off intellectual development, like creation science,  or social and moral development like Wahhabism.

I feel like the “spiritual but not religious” people are  seeking knowledge (or truth if you will) and this is a fully human drive.   The process of seeking, not “truth.”  I see them on the same side as me.  On the other hand most religions claim to have found the truth, full stop.  Cutting off the search denies this human drive and is a main reason I find myself opposed to most religions.


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