Spirituality without religion seems to be one of the fastest growing convictions upheld in modern life. When asking a young person today about their spiritual practices, one will frequently receive an answer like, “Spirituality is important, but I don’t think I have to be religious.” Why might this notion be becoming so popular? And why would traditional religious practices of all kinds be de-emphasized in this way?
I hold two main factors as culprit: Poor accommodation for the changing of the times in religious communities and a waning need to bind oneself to established religion. Everyone on Earth continues to need community, security and identity, and all religious institutions across the world continue to afford these to their members. There is a great blindness in many religious communities, formal and informal, toward the shifting wants and needs of newer generations of people.
I do not believe the need for what religion gives a person has diminished or shifted dramatically with time. What has changed and continues to change, is society and the needs of its developing members. If the Catholic practice of confession was wonderfully in-tune with the needs of 11th century Christian society, it is hard to believe that it can continue to be as in-tune with the needs of societies separated from its inception by 800 years and at least three global ages.
To be clear, I believe it is perfectly fine for modern people to accept the way confession is practiced today. But, the Catholic church must recognize the demographic of Catholics who have struggled their whole lives to gain something from this outdated practice, and take at least some remedial action.
That said, most institutions don’t seem to be taking enough remedial action toward their outdated practices. It is not enough for an institution to put a rainbow striped sign in their front lawn touting “All are welcome here!” in an attempt to minimize the negative effect on weekly turnouts that traditional theology on LGBTQ affairs creates.
For clarity, it would be silly for religious institutions to crumble at the foot of modern society and make drastic changes to their services and tenets to appease it. There is a happy middle ground where religious institutions can keep their traditional identities while conforming to the changing needs of their peoples. What if religious officials take the time required to understand the differences between the community’s needs they are currently satisfying and the needs they aren’t satisfying that need to be approached differently ?
A religious institution must keep a finger on the pulse of the community it exists to serve. After all, an institution is not the formal religious tenets laid out in the holy book, but rather the people who choose to identify as members of the institution. If there is a disconnect between the formal religion and the everyday follower, expect to see the religion collapse.
Understanding that traditional religious institutions largely fail to properly accommodate, it is obvious why people would want to disassociate with such an institution. Uniquely, what exists in society today is the ability to do so. In the past, one could not truly remove themselves from their native religion because it was synchronous with society.
One could leave their church and shed their rituals, but they could not immerse themselves in any other form of spirituality because the society they lived in was inextricable with the religion.
In our modern secular world, religion informs very little of our society compared to how much it used to, and we can get away with living completely atheistic or agnostic, or as a Buddhist in a community generally considered Jewish and more.
If I don’t need to bind myself to the out of touch established institutions of Christianity, why would I? I have the freedom to practice as much of Christianity as I want without facing any persecution, and spiritually I’ll be all the better for it. If I want to practice zero Christianity, there is no force opposing me, and this truth leads to the propagation of those who freely establish their own spiritualities independent of religion, and quite understandably so.
No wonder spirituality without religion is favored by so many people: it is simply a better option for a newer generation. Should everyone turn back toward established religion? Perhaps not, but if no one does, then religion as it has been known for millennia is doomed.