According to Beliefnet, more than one fifth of Americans self-identify with the label “spiritual but not religious.” Which I’ve always interpreted as “religious but lazy.” Stepping back and viewing the phrase in a slightly less judgmental tone, it is more than likely an attempt to distance themselves from the dreaded term “organized religion.” A personal declaration of “I’m not one of them.” But, as we atheists have long ago realized, it’s not the act of organizing that’s bad, it’s the unfounded beliefs. “Oh I’ll keep the irrationality, thank you. I just don’t want to be organized.”
As I’ve become aware of this mass diaspora of coordination, I began to realize than I’m, in fact, surrounded by people with completely undefinable beliefs. Many of them find it difficult to even verbalize things that they apparently feel very strongly about. The most entertaining way I’ve had someone describe their belief system to me was with a wrist twisting motion; as in, “I believe in (holds hand next to head, flicks wrist a bit)”. At first, I thought that he had become distracted by a fly, but once I realized that the little wrist twitch was intended as a description of his religious beliefs, my heart sank a bit.
In some ways I find this ambiguity of belief to be more irritating than fundamentalism. Just because it is so … well, ambiguous. Not being able to even state your beliefs in any meaningful way makes it utterly impossible question them. You could never find your beliefs to be either true of false. It makes intellectual honesty and self discovery an utter impossibility. And face it, if the only reason you don’t join up with Jim Jones and move on down to Guyana is because the trip itself seems a bit too organized for you, then you definitely need a little introspection.
I suppose this lack of demarcation shouldn’t really be surprising. There is a long history of abuse of definitions by spiritually minded people attempting to blur unflattering aspects of their religions. It seems that ignoring unsettling dogmas is far easier than reconciling them. Removing the definitions all together is just the next step in the process of cleansing your beliefs.
I’ve recently had a very frustrating conversation with a man who kept insisting that he was not religious. Religious people were “wacky” and “not to be trusted”. No, he wasn’t one of them. Though, Jesus Christ did speak to him (audibly – he could hear his voice) and tells him to do things (as sinister as it sounds, the things he was told to do were along the lines of fastening his seat belt). Whenever I questioned him on the voices he heard, he became quite irate. He wasn’t religious and he wasn’t crazy, he told me; and he knew that he wasn’t crazy, because when he answered Jesus, he didn’t move his lips. That, to him, was the dividing line between rationality and irrationality.
There’s a quote that I’ve often heard, but I’ve never really been sure if I agreed with: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” I think that I would like to alter this quote to make it a bit more poignant: “If you never question anything, you’re believe in anything.”
Research has shown that the largest religious group today is “no religion”. But, unfortunately, this may not mean that people are abandoning religion. They may just be abandoning organization.