Sunday, June 6, 2010

Generational Demographics of Religion, and SBNR

1) A new post at the always-awesome Epiphenom about what Mommy and Daddy believed - you get to see how many people are joining the Nones by generation, and from what religions, in the US. Really it's a discussion of a paper in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, but Epiphenom always has good analysis, and not everyone can get through journal paywalls. If you can, the overall journal is here.

As an aside, I'm thrilled that a Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion exists! What's interesting is that religious folks are the first to tell you that "it's bad to talk about religion", although what they usually mean is "it's bad for you to talk about religion critically, outside of the evangelical discussions that authority figures from my church/mosque/ec. are leading." (Try cognitively cutting and pasting this next time you hear this old saw, it's fun and profitable!) Of course, I'm sure there are plenty of honest religious folks who will see a journal with this title and say: I'm a good person, and my church is full of good people and I have nothing to fear from the truth; bring it on, come find out what makes us tick! And that's great! So what about the rest? Any religion that claims to be doing good things for sensible reasons should have nothing to worry about, right? Unless, that is, they don't think their beliefs and behavior won't bear the same scrutiny as secular enterprises like corporations and governments. Come on guys, be good sports about it!

2) The SBNR phenomenon is getting more air time (Spiritual But Not Religious; contrast with this Onion article.) This is a step in the right direction. By most definitions of "spiritual", yes, I think these folks are often asking silly questions about silly things, but bottom line, I'd rather have a few dozen people wandering around chanting with crystals than these same few dozen engaging in a Sith-like infiltration of America's most powerful institutions. Not all "religions" are equal in terms of their desire or ability to gain political power, and it's really the ability of socially-borne irrational thought to force us to do things we don't want to to that we're worried about. Not everyone will be atheists tomorrow, maybe not ever. But better a billion religions, each with five members, than the converse, which is what we have now. I hope it's self-evident that SBNR is much better than Dominionist or Jihadi.

If by "spiritual" these folks mean wondering why there is something rather than nothing, meditating, thinking that life wouldn't be worth living without music and life-passage ceremonies and looking up at the stars over the mountains to ponder our existence in the face of something so vast, then yes, I'm spiritual. In fact in that way I bet most self-labeled atheists are more spiritual than most self-labeled religious people. Even for the SBNR folks, I wonder why people insist on separating themselves from the damp silence of a redwood forest with terms like this, when the experience we have in that place is just as "mundane" and material and real and part of the same universe as the HP computer I'm typing this on. It's just an unfortunate choice of terminology that results from religion having a hold on these things in the West for seventeen centuries. But the quibble is with semantics, not with experience.

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