Monday, December 14, 2009

Groping Toward a New Spirituality



In Saturday's
New York Times, columnist Charles Blow drew attention to a remarkable new survey about spirituality in America. In his piece, Paranormal Flexibility, Mr. Blow wrote...

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a report on Wednesday that is bound to stir conversation about the increasingly complicated cacophony of spirituality in America — a mash-up of traditional faiths, fantasy and mythology.

Entitled “Many Americans Mix Multiple Faiths,” the report points out that many Americans are now choosing to “blend Christianity with Eastern or New Age beliefs..."

The report is further evidence that Americans continue to cobble together Mr. Potato Head-like spiritual identities from a hodgepodge of beliefs — bending dogmas to suit them instead of bending themselves to fit a dogma. And this appears to be leading to more spirituality, not less.

As the author of The Mustard Seed - a novel that expresses a vision of "Spiritual Rationalism" - this is wonderful news, indeed. The need to harmonize faith and reason is the most urgent task for human beings today on a personal level, and for society at large. Our goal should be to modernize and deepen Christianity to take account of objective logic and Eastern spirituality. Thankfully, the Pew survey reveals that up to 25% of Americans are incorporating this goal into their religious practice. They are - dare I say - groping toward a new spirituality.

The Pew report includes the following statistics...

*24% of the public overall and 22% of Christians say they believe in reincarnation…

*23% believe in yoga not just as exercise but as a spiritual practice. Similar numbers profess belief in elements of New Age spirituality, with 26% saying they believe in spiritual energy located in physical things such as mountains, trees or crystals…

*Among Protestants, high levels of religious commitment are associated with lower levels of acceptance of Eastern or New Age beliefs…Among Catholics, by contrast, frequency of church attendance is linked much less closely with these kinds of beliefs…

*Older people (those over age 65) consistently express lower levels of acceptance of these kinds of beliefs compared with younger people…

*29% of Americans say they have felt in touch with someone who has died. Nearly one-in-five say they have been in the presence of a ghost (18%), while 15% say they have consulted a fortuneteller or a psychic.

*The proportion of Americans who say they have interacted with a ghost has doubled over the past 13 years (9% in 1996 compared with 18% today). The number saying they have felt in touch with someone who has died has also grown considerably, from 18% in 1996 to 29% today…

*In total, 65% of adults express belief in or report having experience with at least one of these diverse supernatural phenomena (belief in reincarnation, belief in spiritual energy located in physical things, belief in yoga as spiritual practice, belief in the "evil eye," belief in astrology, having been in touch with the dead, consulting a psychic, or experiencing a ghostly encounter)...

*In response to a separate question, 49% of Americans say they have had "a religious or mystical experience - that is, a moment of religious or spiritual awakening." This is roughly the same as the number that said this in 2006 (47%), but it represents a sharp increase over the past four decades. In 1962, only 22% of Americans reported having had such an experience, which grew to 31% in 1976 and 33% in 1994...

*Among the unaffiliated, 3-in-10 have had a religious or mystical experience.


**UPDATE, DEC. 17, 2009**


Justin has written about the Pew survey too. I posted the following comments…

I’m genuinely surprised that 1 out of 4 Americans believe in reincarnation. Considering that reincarnation is persona non grata in our churches, media, and popular culture, that seems like a high number to me. Where are people learning about reincarnation? And how does it affect their opinion of other religious issues?

Second, the racial breakdown was also surprising to me. I would have thought whites would be most likely to believe in reincarnation. They seem to be predominant in the New Age movement. And yet whites are the bottom and blacks are at the top. How do you account for that? Perhaps the low support among white Evangelicals suppresses the total for whites as a whole.

Then…

I just did some research. The first poll on reincarnation was done in 1968 by Gallup. 20% said they believed in reincarnation, 64% said they didn't, and 16% had no opinion.

Those numbers have barely moved in the last 40 years. Nearly every poll conducted over the last 4 decades has the number of believers at between 20-25%.

2 comments:

Justin said...

WTH is belief in the evil-eye???

Todd White said...

According to the article, "evil eye" equals "certain people can cast curses or spells that cause bad things to happen to someone."

I don't believe in the "evil eye." Except when my fiance gives it to me ;)