None of the Above

Amy Martin at the 2010 Winter SolstiCelebration

I have been less than gracious toward the folks who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” While I’ve always respected those seeking Wisdom and Truth in non-traditional ways, I’ve come across too many people who use the spiritual-but-not-religious tag as an excuse for spiritual laziness and for avoiding religious communities. After listening to Amy Martin this morning, I think I need to re-evaluate my gut-level response.

In her sermon/presentation at Denton UU this morning, Amy laid out a bunch of statistics and demographics on the spiritual-but-not-religious, who she calls “nones” – for “none of the above.” The takeaway from all the numbers is this: the “nones” are growing rapidly, and they share many values with both Pagans and Unitarian Universalists: a love of science, a concern for the environment, an acceptance of ambiguity, an intuitive belief in the connectedness of all, and of course, a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean these folks are our future members. Though many “nones” find their way to UU churches (some temporarily and some permanently) their distrust of institutions in general and of religious institutions in particular makes them reluctant to join us. And, according to Amy, on the Pagan side they are less than enthusiastic about our talk of “the old ways” and our anachronistic ritual garb.

Are those deal-breakers? Maybe, but both sides should be careful before writing off what could be a helpful mutual collaboration.

Any church – even a UU fellowship – is an institution. It is a living, breathing entity: it has a life of its own above and beyond the lives of the people who attend, direct and support it. This is a necessity – if a church doesn’t have a life of its own, then when key members leave (and all members leave eventually, through death if not before) the church will be directionless and is likely to wither and die. By having things like by-laws, officers, committees, and mission statements a structure is formed that can withstand turnover in the people who operate in and through it.

Those of us who operate inside institutions must insure our desire for preservation and continuity never prevents us from being open to new ideas, new processes, and new people. And we need to show the “nones” that the democratic process is more than a bunch of pretty words. The “nones” need to learn that institutions are just like the people who create them – there are good ones and bad ones and a lot that are in between.

I’m torn on Pagan anachronisms. On one hand, the ritual costumes and magical tools help create an atmosphere which promotes the shift in consciousness needed to create change. And they provide a tangible link to an earlier time when humans lived closer to the Earth. On the other hand, we live in 21st century America, and I like to emphasize that Paganism is a contemporary indigenous religion – it is a response to our needs here and now.

Perhaps the answer here is to make sure we’re sufficiently grounded in the material world. Our religious practices must support our whole lives – material as well as spiritual – and not simply be a distraction from chopping wood and carrying water.

UUs, Pagans and UU Pagans must be who we are and not attempt to pander to a group just because their demographics look favorable to us. But I, for one, am going to change my “default opinion” of the spiritual but not religious crowd. And when they’re ready for some spiritual depth, I want to be able to help them find it.

Thanks to Amy for the great service this morning!

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