Getting inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious

What are they thinking about?  SBNRs have been misrepresented as “salad bar spiritualists” or “eclectic dabblers.” But when you really listen to them, you find they are thinking seriously about theological issues.  For more on this, see my recently published book with Oxford University Press: Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious.  Available in hardback at your local bookseller or through oup.org, or as an ebook, on Amazon Kindle and other ebook sellers.  See my blog posts as well on CNN.Com Belief, Oxford University Press blog, and The Huffington Post. Let me know what you think.

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The “Spiritual but not Religious” Show

Log on to the “Spiritual but not Religious” Show as host George Lewis interviews Linda Mercadante about her spiritual memoir and research project.  They also have a good chat on spirituality, religion, and mystical experience.  Listen and post a comment. 

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Encouraging Reflections on Spirituality, Theology and Young People

Check out this article in America magazine by a professor at a Roman Catholic school. His observations on the current needs and contributions of students, as well as their critique of religion, is well taken.  He calls them idealistic realists, which fits well.  Read it and let us know what you think.

http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=12681

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Are We Being Honest? Are We Being Respectful?

Recently I attended a Winter Solstice event held at a United Methodist Church.  On this evening, they did many of the things I have become familiar with from my three years researching alternative spiritualities and the ‘spiritual but not religious’ movement.  At this event they “called the directions”, had a guided meditation about finding spirit in nature, did some drumming, invited people to do a dance from Dances of Universal Peace, and had a hymn to the goddess Persephone.  Now, I realize that the mainline Protestant churches are more and more open to inter-faith dialogue and cooperation.  And I realize the white mainline Protestantism is rightfully concerned about its decline in numbers.  But is it honest or respectful to downplay the legitimate theological and spiritual differences between various faith traditions?  Is this the best way to promote greater peace?  When I look at you, do you want me to see a generic ‘person’, or who you truly are in all your individuality and heritage?  Any comments?

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In memory of Clark Pinnock

I just came back from the funeral of a dear friend and mentor of mine, Clark Pinnock, held this week in Hamilton, ON.  I met him when I was a student at Regent College, wondering how I — a journalist, feminist, and former atheist — ended up in a Christian graduate school. I wasn’t sure I’d last very long in that environment where there were no female professors and many still believed in ‘the subordination of women.’  But only when I heard that one of the professors had a wife who was a feminist, did I think there was a chance for me there. I figured I’d have to ask for Clark as my advisor, because of his wife, Dorothy. They became friends and mentors right away and were unfailingly warm, supportive, and generous to all of us. Clark was only at that school a few years, but he made a profound mark on everyone he taught. Clark was a theologian and, when he became ill recently, had been retired for a few years from McMaster Divinity School.  Clark was not ‘place-able,’ which is one reason I really respected him. For some, Clark was too conservative — one of my professors at Princeton called him  a  ‘fundamentalist.’  For others, he was so truth-seeking as to be called a ‘heretic’ – and many evangelicals did just that.  Yet whoever met him could not deny that he was a vital, generous, brilliant, spiritual person who lived with integrity, dignity and joy in God.  It’s funny how tricky the Spirit is sometimes, masquarading in individuals who puzzle and delight.  The upshot is that those of us who feel we must only get our wisdom and knowledge from ‘approved’ people are missing out on so much.  That goes for progressives, liberals, and free-thinkers, as much as it goes for conservative types.  When I’ve been in conservative theological circles, the progressives are clearly portrayed as heinous, enemies, destroyers of truth. But, oddly, when I’m in progressive circles, I hear very similar things about conservatives.  It gets very tiresome, like an endless loop from different vantage points.  The Spirit can’t be bothered with such constraints.  Yes, the Spirit is a very tricky character Herself!  Clark is enjoying her company right now. Save a place at the table for us, Clark.  Get the party started.

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A new “meta-narrative” for SBNRs?

I was walking on the beach in Isla Mujeres, Mexico and saw a wedding in progress.  I watched and listened, interested to hear what kind of spiritual approach was being used. I didn’t hear the word “God” used nor were there any religious undertones. Nevertheless, the union was being blessed and celebrated. Afterwards, I asked the officiant if I could interview her for my project.  This very pleasant woman readily agreed, so we met several days later in her office.  What I found most fascinating is that even though she was a European living in Mexico, her beliefs were very similar to the many people I’ve interviewed in the U.S. and Canada.  Especially her beliefs on the “transcendent” or “sacred” dimension, and her beliefs in after-life, were things I could have easily heard in Boulder, CO, northern Ontario, or rural Central Ohio.  I’ve interviewed and surveyed more than 80 people by now and keep hearing similar beliefs.  Therefore, I’m suggesting that a new “meta-narrative,” — in other words, a new theological world-view — seems to be emerging.  I’ll be conducting more interviews this year and would be interested in hearing from my readers:  Do you agree?  What beliefs do you think are emerging?

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Do you call yourself “spiritual but not religious?” Are you involved in an addiction recovery group? Do you think there is any connection?

The roots of the current “spiritual but not religious” movement (if one can call it a movement, since it isn’t organized as such) got a great boost from the addiction recovery movement of the 1990s.  The connections are both theological and sociological. Oddly enough, the roots of the addiction recovery ethos, particularly as advanced by Alcoholics Anonymous, comes from an evangelical Christian para-church group of the early 1900s known as The Oxford Group, led by Lutheran minister Frank Buchman. You can read more about this in my book *Victims & Sinners: Spiritual Roots of Addiction and Recovery.*   What do you see as potential connections or disconnections between the “SBNR” upsurge and addiction recovery movement?
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How have your religious or spiritual beliefs changed recently?

Many people say it does not matter what people believe, as long as their actions are good. Others insist that religious or spiritual beliefs are private, that they don’t need to be consistent with each other, or that spiritual things are too mysterious for anyone to come to any conclusions.  Yet when I have interviewed people who say these things, I find they do have beliefs and are grateful and relieved to be able to share them.  What about you?

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What’s good about religion?

So many people today say they are “spiritual but not religious.” I’ve spoken to hundreds of them and they give similar answers to what they don’t like about organized religion.  They say things like: “I don’t want anyone to tell me what to believe;” or “Religious services are just boring;” or “I get just as much from a walk in the woods,” or “All those people are hypocrites,” and other similar things.  But is there anything good about religion?  I’d like to know what you think.  Write me.  Dr. Linda

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