Spiritual or Religious?

We seem to have passed through that period when people self-identified as either spiritual or religious. Remember when you would hear someone adamantly proclaim: “I’m not religious, but I am deeply spiritual”? Well, we’re in a new era now, one in which people are more likely to declare themselves “spiritual and religious.” In fact, the National Survey of American Life, based on a series of studies over the past decade, concluded that 79 percent of Americans – nearly 8 out of 10 – characterize themselves as both spiritual and religious.

What exactly is the distinction between the two?

A few weeks ago I had opportunity to hear Dr. Diana Butler Bass speak on that question, among others. Dr. Bass, whom Wikipedia refers to as an independent commentator on American religion, suggested that when people say they are “religious,” what they mean is that they relate to rules and regulations that are externally authoritative, and when they say they are “spiritual,” they mean they want an experience of connection with God that has internal validity.

For me, that boils down to: “religious” means Bible-based; “spiritual” means meditation-based. And I find myself with leanings in both directions.

If 79 percent of Americans see themselves as both religious and spiritual, no longer much more heavily one than the other, surely that results in society-wide, even culture-wide ramifications.

You can learn more about Diana Butler Bass’s work at www.dianabutlerbass.com.


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