Fresh polls by organizations such as the Pew Research Center and Gallup, Inc. show that the number of Americans who do not identify with any particular religion continues to grow. However, they also report that many identify as being spiritual in some way.
Of these religiously unaffiliated Americans, 37% classify themselves as "spiritual but not religious." They have not all become atheists. They have not lost their faith in God, although they may be redefining what “God” actually means to them. Many of these "church refugees" say they are done with church, but not with God. They are not leaving spirituality, which they feel is personal and intuitive; they are leaving traditional church religion, which they have found to be impersonal and dogmatic.
Put another way, it’s not "church" that bothers them so much as what is expected of them there. Quite a few actually love the community connection they get in their church, and their departure is a very reluctant one. Quite a few are looking for an alternative approach to a spiritual life – one that makes sense to them, doesn’t make everybody else wrong, and doesn’t claim to be the only "right way" to experience the divine in their lives.
A "spiritual but not religious" philosophy that has been offering that alternative for more than a century can be found in the churches and centers of the New Thought movement. For many, these organizations offer a fresher, deeper meaning to the traditional Christian teachings; one where spiritual principles are taught instead of spiritual rules and regulations. This approach to spiritual living resonates very strongly with spiritual but not religious people looking for a less dogmatic, more accessible religious philosophy. New Thought churches and centers such as the Centers for Spiritual Living, Unity and Divine Science, provide a more tolerant, personal and inclusive blending of changeless ancient wisdom and practical, modern spiritual living.
The New Thought movement began at the end of the 19th century as an alternative perception of traditional Christianity. In this view, attention is given to the teachings of Jesus, rather than the teachings about Jesus. He is not considered the literal, special Son of God, but rather a powerfully gifted, mystical way-shower; a great example, rather than a great exception. Since its inception at the end of the 19th century, New Thought has expanded its original Christian viewpoint to accept that all religions have some degree of truth and some degree of error, but there is no one "right way" to experience the Divine in our lives.
However, although New Thought contains within it the meaningful principles of spiritual life in so many different religions, it is not simply a faddish grab-bag of new age trends.
New Thought is not new age, and its denominations are very well structured. They have solid curricula that have been providing a proven track to run on for more than 100 years, and they produce highly competent ministers and leaders. So many people who find their way to a New Thought community are pleasantly surprised that such a spiritual teaching exists. They frequently express that they feel they’ve finally "come home."
I know I have.
About Rev Shaun Furlong
Shaun Furlong is an ordained minister in Religious Science and Divine Science. He strongly believes the path to happiness and fulfillment is one of courageous self-exploration and personal spiritual experience. Anyone who appreciates clarity and wit on his or her spiritual path will enjoy his engaging and illuminating talks, classes and workshops. More>