A great deal has been written about that ever-expanding group of Americans who check "none" when asked about their religious affiliations. The segment of nones who call themselves "spiritual but not religious" (SBNR) now constitute at least 20 percent of the population, and 30 percent of those under 30 years of age. I have interviewed hundreds of this important cohort for my books, and I find that the media commentary about them is riddled by misconceptions.
SBNRs who devote time to their spirituality are basically mystics -- pragmatic, in-the-world mystics who probe the great mysteries from the inside out and try to live up to their spiritual standards. A 2009 Pew survey found that spiritual experiences, defined as a "moment of sudden religious insight or awakening," occur much more frequently now than they did in 1962, 1976 or 1994, when similar studies were done. That tracks with the rise of the SBNR phenomenon, and indeed the report said that "these kinds of experiences are particularly common among the 'religious unaffiliated.'"
SBNRs are as diverse and complex as any other spiritual cohort. They are here to stay, and their numbers will surely grow as pluralism evolves and access to the world's wisdom becomes even easier. It could be the most important religious development of our time, so let's make sure we understand it.
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Could it be that the "nones" are those who are discovering the joy and intimacy of personal spiritual experience? Could it be that they are discovering that their experiences transcend the "dry sands" of traditional religious thought?
I agree with this author that this phenomenon is a VERY important religious development, and not at all a black-and-white issue, easily explained away. Perhaps when the churches are more accepting of personal spiritual experience, and the authority of God within each individual, and less concerned with making their congregants toe theologic lines, they may find that the flocks might return - if for no other reason than that the social aspects of religion are so satisfying.
103:5.12 The security of a religious group depends on spiritual unity, not on theological uniformity. A religious group should be able to enjoy the liberty of freethinking without having to become "freethinkers." There is great hope for any church that worships the living God, validates the brotherhood of man, and dares to remove all creedal pressure from its members.