Spiritual but not religious – is spirituality under threat?

With religious affiliation in decline, it is easy to assume that spirituality is also under threat.  The rise of the ‘nones’, or ‘spiritual but not religious’, has some people afraid that spirituality (or morality) is dying out.

A quick Google search of ‘is spirituality in decline’ suggests that this is absolutely the case.  Religious websites cite the decline in religion as a decline in spirituality, pointing the finger at entitled, self-centred millennials who lack moral compass.  But is this really true?

Religion in decline

Globally, religion is on the rise (source).  However, this isn’t the experience in the USA or the UK.  In the USA, religious affiliation has dropped from 88% in 2003 to 79% in 2017 (source).  A similar trend has occurred in the UK, with 25% of people stating ‘I do not believe in God’, compared with 10% of people in 1998 (source). 

There is much discussion around the rise of the ‘nones’ or ‘spiritual but not religious’, with some speculating that it will lead to a decline in charitable donations and volunteering (source).

Some people worry that the decline in religion will lead to a decline in charity.
Image by tyaqakk from Pixabay

However, this is not supported by the data.  According to www.charitynavigator.org “The average year-to-year change in total giving between 1977 and 2017 was an increase of $8.94 billion (in current dollars), making the current-dollar change in total giving between 2016 and 2017 much larger than the 40-year average.”.  Remember, this is at a time that religious affiliation is declining in the face of ‘the rise of the nones’.

Similarly, the rate of volunteering has seen a large increase from 25% of Americans volunteering their time in 2017, to 30.3% in 2018 (source).

This data would suggest that the spiritual but not religious are exactly that – spiritual.  Spirituality entails a strong element of social justice – this is not just the reserve of the religious.  It would seem that spiritual people do not need religion to encourage them to give their time or money to worthwhile causes or those in need.

If you missed my previous article, introducing the concept of spiritual wellness, read it here:  Improve your spiritual wellness – 17 goal ideas

Spiritual revolution

Contrary to the viewpoint that spirituality is in decline because religion is, the number of Americans claiming spirituality has remained constant over time (source).

Humans have an innate need for spirituality, as this gives them a sense of purpose and meaning to life.

So why are so many moving away from religion?

It would seem as though trust is the biggest factor here.  For Americans ‘Overwhelmingly, they think that religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.’ https://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/

Meanwhile in Britain, “In terms of confidence in institutions, 11% of people say they trust churches and religious organisations, compared with 36% who have confidence in the education system, 34% in the legal system, 16% in business and industry and 8% in parliament.”  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jul/11/uk-secularism-on-rise-as-more-than-half-say-they-have-no-religion

Spiritual practice

With so many people moving away from religion, but still needing to express their spirituality, how are they fulfilling this need?

This article explains how mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation have seen a huge increase between 2012 and 2017.  Yoga practice has increased from 9.5% to 14% of Americans, and meditation from 4% to 14%.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Other ways that people are fulfilling their spiritual needs include practising gratitude, random acts of kindness, or championing causes that are important to them.  They could even embrace their spirituality by baking, gardening, hiking or painting – anything that allows them to connect with their inner self.

Final thoughts

Whilst it may feel that spirituality is in decline and people are becoming more self-centred, that hasn’t been supported by the data that I have seen.  Whilst we have Brexit politics and Trump building a wall, we also have a huge number of people standing up against this.  Whilst organised religion has seen a decline in some groups within the US and the UK, the number of people claiming to be spiritual has remained constant.  Charitable giving is up, as is volunteering.  People are finding new ways to embrace their spirituality, be it yoga, meditation, or an everyday activity that allows them to practise their spirituality.

What is your experience?  Do you feel as though the world is becoming more or less spiritual, or do you think that it has remained constant?  How do you practise your spirituality?  Leave me a comment below and let me know.

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