Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – IV

The sixties was a counter-culture. Since then much of SBNR has moved to an “insightful wellbeing” culture.

In that guise, it is looking settled. The proportion of Europeans registering as SBNR seems to be about 15-35%, depending on the question and the context in which it is asked. The US seems broadly comparable, but the religious are more numerous there, so the category “both religious and spiritual” is probably more populous.

In Britain, Sweden, Denmark and Holland, some studies say SBNR now outnumbers Christianity. The UK government is adopting SBNR language in some areas as churchgoing continues its steep decline, indicating some degree of torch-passing.

In other words, there is a danger of getting too comfortable. The challenges ahead are by far greater than those SBNR has faced up until now.

“Sun Gaze” by Daniel Buss — click for more from this artist

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6 responses to “Spiritual But Not Religious in 2012 – IV

  • mirjhar

    Hmmm … we need a better language! I could say that I self-identify as LGBTQSBNR, but it’s not exactly the King James Bible, is it? :)

    • Jason Wingate

      Academics also talk about the ‘holistic milieu’, “spiritualities of life”, “occulture”, “grassroots spirituality” and so forth, depending on what exact areas they’re zooming in on and the constituency they’re epitomising.

      I like SBNR as relatively neutral, including from the aesthetic point of view. However it’s just a sociological shorthand — it isn’t anything anyone has to stick to. That’s kind of the point. Once you are talking about your subjective feelings you can go ahead and do your own research and name it how you like. It’ll all fit in with the same multiply-focused system. No-one has made up any rules about what to call everything, which is good, because there is no need for them and no way to enforce them. I still know some people who like “New Age” and consider it fairly coincident.

      Many investigators use different questions to show the shift — asking about the kind of “god” believed in, negatively correlating with churchgoing, whatever.

      Since SBNR means “Spiritual But Not Religious”, it is deliberately distanced from the bible as a yardstick.

      • mirjhar

        Believers in scientism can appeal to the notion of “reality”. Believers in organised monotheistic religions can appeal to the notion of “God”. Whatever anybody may think, intellectually, of either of these notions, they both carry a lot of intuitive weight, for everybody. The problem as I see it, then, is: what equally weighty notion can we believers in SBNR appeal to? (If “believers” is the right term.) Or are we condemned to sound merely woolly in the head? Is the required notion something a bit like “God”, and also a bit like “reality”, yet different from both? Or have I got the wrong end of the stick entirely? I’m trying to formulate a notion of something as vast as either “God” or “reality”, as personal as the former, yet also as susceptible to progressive, fallible, collective investigation as the latter. This is what SBNR means to me. But perhaps not to anyone else … (sorry if I’m off on a tangent).

  • Jason Wingate

    You’re going to have to wait for more of this series to unfold, but I don’t feel the need for one single “banner weighty notion” — if you do, you can acquire one by any convenient means. There is certainly no need for the seething masses of SBNR to have one single non-empirical idea which they then have to “have faith in” and follow — that in fact would be a religion. That’s why I wrote earlier in this series:

    This has happened with no particular leadership, no one message or organisation, no single mission, no scripture. Arguments about what SBNR is and stands for have been present throughout its spread, and despite general agreement that there are some features shared widely in common, few definite conclusions have emerged.

    Although SBNR has been a response to certain weighty notions as I’ll show, it hasn’t brought a particular one of its own.

    Some people find the habit of wanting to talk about belief in god of some kind with fellow-believers is persisting with them, others (like myself) don’t find this. The entirety of human thought on questions like this is available for anyone so the last thing I ever would do is set up boundaries based on mental categorisation. Personally this “woolly-headedness”, which for me is clarity unobscured by premature verbal definition of the unconveyable, suits me well. I don’t enforce it on all. You may be as unwoolly as you like as far as I’m concerned. :)

    I recall you’re a Whiteheadian (in a mathematical context) so you can use his ideas on process if they interest you, for example. It depends very much on what you are trying to achieve I suppose, and how your mind works etc.

    • mirjhar

      People also do science without banging on about “reality”, or imposing any particular philosophy, catechism, creed, dogma, or ritual; so we may actually be in slightly heated agreement.

      I’m sorry if I seemed to imply that I thought that being SBNR is “woolly”! I only meant to say that I think that people who are not SBNR tend to think that people who are SBNR are woolly; and I wonder if this is a cross we simply have to bear, or whether there is a rejoinder to it.

      It’s quite likely that I mentioned mathematics at some point (I forget), but I’m fairly sure I never mentioned Whitehead, so I’m not sure if I am or am not who you think I am! :)

      • Jason Wingate

        People also do science without banging on about “reality”, or imposing any particular philosophy, catechism, creed, dogma, or ritual; so we may actually be in slightly heated agreement.

        I certainly hadn’t noticed any disagreement. :)

        I’m sorry if I seemed to imply that I thought that being SBNR is “woolly”.

        No, I didn’t take you that way. The actual arguments about SBNR wooliness are very indicative of its nature, by comparison with “creeds”, and so I find them interesting on that level. I’ll definitely come back to that point later. My answer was intended to imply that the “wooliness” is an advantage, and real perception on the part of onlookers, but not a “cross to bear” — interesting phrase.

        That may or may not help any particular SBNR in combating perceived image problems! But if someone says “woolly” I am not unhappy at the idea, since it is their perception of the multipointed nature of SBNR belief. It’s just how it appears to them.

        It’s quite likely that I mentioned mathematics at some point (I forget), but I’m fairly sure I never mentioned Whitehead, so I’m not sure if I am or am not who you think I am! :)

        Ah sorry, this is probably me assuming too much. I’m pretty sure you are who I think you are, since mirjhars are quite thin on the ground (we met via a certain Jungian contretemps on Amazon UK, no?), but when you mentioned Whitehead and Russell as a model for something you wanted to write on mathematics, I assumed you were into them on the philosophical level.

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