May 3, 2018
One hears on a regular basis these days that people are “spiritual but not religious” – thus giving up on “organized” religion.
For many people, being spiritual has to do with inner feelings and conscience and a vague belief in God. There is no need of religion; in fact religion, with its creeds, codes of conduct, scriptures, sacraments, teaching authority, and clergy, gets in the way of a truly spiritual life.
The sociologist Robert N. Bellah and some colleagues wrote a book 30 years ago that is still hailed as something of a classic. Entitled Habits of the Heart, the book examines the growing lack of commitment and the problem of individualism in American society, and the effects this is having on religion in the U.S.
Bellah memorably identifies a woman called Sheila as a typical example of someone committed to spirituality without religion: “Sheila Larson is a young nurse who has received a good deal of therapy and who describes her faith as ‘Sheilaism.’ “I believe in God,” she says, but “I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.”
Sheilaism typifies for Bellah a growing trend in in the U.S., and he entertains the scenario that eventually there may be over 220 (now 322) million spiritualties like Sheila’s in America – one per person! This would mean that formal religion would become as irrelevant in the U.S. as it is in secularized Europe.