Friday, April 07, 2006

Religion Piece Leaves Out the Non-Book Religions

Jason Pitzl-Waters has the skinny on a piece that appeared in Slate talking about the religious left. He noticed the same thing I noticed: the article excludes any mention of anybody outside of the monotheistic religions.

Jason's irked that they left off Pagans. As well he should be. Looking at the numbers provided by, we can see that Paganism is at least half a million folks strong. Just above this number, Unitarian Universalists (my family's umbrella faith organization) number close to 1 million.

These may be drop-in-the-water numbers compared to 224 million avowed Christians. But, let's face it: that's a bullshit number. The number of denominations subsumed under the "Christian" label, and the radical differences separating those denominations, makes this total all but worthless. Break this number down into meaningful denominations, and the numbers are much less intimidating. And let's not even get into the fact that many UUs are Christians! (And then there are the radical differences in adherents to Islam. You can't exactly lump Wahabists and Sufi into the same stew pot. Damn, son, this religion thing is tricksy...)

But that's not the point. Both UUs and Pagans are very politically active, much more than the average citizen. The article ignores large blocks of liberal activists, whose influence undoubtedly surpasses their numbers, simply because they have the audacity to be "non-Christian". And it entirely ignores American Buddhists, who equal the number of adherents of Islam in the US.

Jason makes a good point about why this is important:
It matters because when terms like "religious left" (and "religious right") become defined as "lefty Jesus vs. righty Jesus" or even "lefty patriarchal sky father vs. righty patriarchal sky father," then the voices of the faithful who don't hold those views are shoved out of the big tent.
I think such attitudes also undermine those Christians who are becoming part of the larger interfaith experiment in this country. As I've noted previously, we're moving toward a time where faith is becoming more flexible, and people pick and choose those spiritual technologies that work for them, metaphysics be damned. Phenomena like the Episcopagans are becoming increasingly more common. The Integral movement is leading the revolution in this regard; I have no doubt the same type of technology-centric view of spirituality as Integral promulgates will come to dominate American society in the coming years.

We're a technological, scientific society which is becoming more technologically and scientifically minded about our spirit. Like the great mystics of the past, more and more people are unwilling to let an anointed priest mediate between them and the Divine. They yearn to experience the Mystery of their own Being for themselves - and are willing to use whatever techniques and insights the great teachers of spiritual history have left behind to accomplish this.

Labels as such are becoming less important in progressive spirituality. Any "religious left" worth its salt ought to regard such boxing as an evil that hinders more than it helps.

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