It’s a question which I recently formulated for discussion at the philosophy in the pubs group which I attend and I seem to have picked a fairly topical subject.
The Guardian referred to a recent survey in which found that ‘a fifth of people are religiously unaffiliated and 37% of those regard themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ Mark Vernon, author of How To Be an Agnostic, believes that such people are ‘driven by a sense that religion is out of keeping with modern values’. Tom de Castella, writing for the BBC in 2013, described the people concerned as ranging from ‘pagans to devotees of healing crystals’.
What is this spirituality that they refer to?
‘Spirituality has been defined in numerous ways. These include: a belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself, a sense of interconnectedness with all living creatures, and an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life and the development of personal, absolute values. It’s the way you find meaning, hope, comfort, and inner peace in your life’
The Dali Lama says he believes ‘the dominant force of our mind is compassion and human affection. Therefore, usually I call these human qualities spirituality. Not necessarily as a religious message or religion in that sense’
Wikipedia offers the following explanation: ‘Traditionally spirituality has been defined as a process of personal transformation in accordance with religious ideals. Since the 19th century spirituality is often separated from religion and has become more oriented on subjective experience and psychological growth. It may refer to almost any kind of meaningful activity or blissful experience, but without a single, widely-agreed definition’.
So there appears there may be a perceptible division between those people who believe themselves to be spiritual and the traditional organised religions, which takes us neatly into exploring the second part of my question.
At what point does a belief system become a religion?
The Anglican Bishop of Manchester, the Right Reverend David Walker, in response to the results of the 2001 UK Census, when 390,127 people – or 0.7% of the population described themselves as Jedi, suggests that for a belief system to become a religion, ‘there needs to be a significant number of adherents and crucially, it will need to have been around for a long time – but there are no hard and fast rules.’
Beth Singler, a researcher in the Divinity Faculty of Cambridge University, writes that “feel the force’ has become a rather tired cliché, but behind it is a New Age mysticism similar to many of the ‘holistic’ ideas that emerged in the 1960s and 70s and which is a patchwork quilt of Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism and Samurai’.
The number of people identifying themselves as Jedi had dropped to 176,632 by 2011, but was still by far the largest group amongst the 240,000 people put ‘other religion’ on their census form.
One of the first international writers in the field of what is now commonly known as ‘New Age’ spirituality was Carlos Castaneda, a controversial American anthropologist whose first book ‘The Teachings of Don Juan’, about his shamanic experiences in Mexico, was published in 1968. His twelve books alone have sold more than 28 million copies in 17 languages and other more recent spiritual writers such as Paulo Coelho and Deepak Chopra have gone on to have similar volumes of book sales.
As long ago as 1996, Heelas suggested that over 10 million people in the U.S. alone had had some contact with New Age practices or ideas. It seems therefore that there may well be that ‘significant number of adherents’ to this modern spirituality which has been written about for going on 50 years now.
The writings of the three largest established religions also emerged over a number of years:
The compilation of the written Qur’an (as opposed to the recited Qur’an) spanned several decades Muslim accounts say it began in the year 610. Throughout his life, Muhammad continued to have revelations until before his death in 632. Muslims agree that the Qur’an we see today was canonized by Uthman bin Affan (653-656). Upon the canonization of the Qur’an, Uthman ordered the burning of all personal copies of the Qur’an.
Some 46 years for the Qur’an
It is generally agreed that the Book of Mark was the first Christian Gospel written and that it was written between A.D. 50 and 75. Of the four Gospel’s, John’s is considered to have been the last one written, around A.D. 85. The Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is believed to have been penned by the Apostle John between A.D. 70 – 95.
The Pauline Epistles (the Apostle Paul’s letters to the early church) were authored between A.D. 50 – 67. The author of Hebrews is unknown, but the book is commonly thought to have been written around A.D. 70. The epistles of the other Apostles were written between A.D. 48 – 90. The Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ is believed to have been penned by the Apostle John between A.D. 70 – 95.
Some 47 years for the New Testament
The first five books of the Old Testament (known as the Pentateuch or Torah) was written by Moses during the forty years that the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness (1450 – 1410 B.C.). The twelve historical books of the Old Testament span the history of Israel from 1050 – 465 B.C. The seventeen Prophetical books of the major and minor prophets span Israel’s history from 700 – 450 B.C.
The Torah, or Jewish Written Law, consists of the five books of the Hebrew Bible – known more commonly to non-Jews as the “Old Testament” – that were given by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai and include within them all of the biblical laws of Judaism. However, there is also an ancient tradition that the Torah existed in heaven not only before God revealed it to Moses, but even before the world was created. In rabbinic literature, it was taught that the Torah was one of the six or seven things created prior to the creation of the world.
40 years for the Torah
Is the definition of religion dependent on it having a written set of rules?
Alcoholic’s Anonymous describes itself as spiritual rather than religious and has such a book and a ‘Course in Miracles’ is a ‘new age’ book of revelations from God, which people are expected to study and learn from.
The three main religions say that God stands separate and apart from His creations. ‘New Age’ spirituality says that God is unified and one with everything; that humans may express and experience themselves as God-made-manifest; that everything they touch and see and feel is likewise God in manifest form. There are probably thousands of not millions of books been written in the Western World about this form of spirituality, but unlike the main religions, no one book, no Bible, Torah or Qur’an equivalent has emerged as the focus of this new philosophy.
So is a new religion emerging?
I found this during my research and it amused me:
With the rebirth of pagan goddess worship and Christianity in decline, or at least being re-imagined … we believe that we’re set to see the great apostasy (Christians turning away from the true faith) spoken about by Jesus (Matt 24:12) and the coming political, economic and religious system under the control of the Antichrist (Rev 13).
I have my own views on this, but I will leave it here