New Age America

A Pew Forum survey provides a very mixed picture of the US religious landscape. As with most human populations, Americans are besotted with supernatural beliefs. But the current picture is also one that would make a conventional monotheist uncomfortable. Increasing numbers of Americans hold a mishmash of spiritual beliefs. More and more, a hybrid, almost Newagey kind of faith seems to be the background belief system, rather than a doctrinally clear(ish) monotheistic picture.

To some extent, this is not new. Popular religion usually gives priests and theologians headaches. Still, an increasing New Age flavor of popular religiosity is a sign of secularization. New Age beliefs, though as mistaken or nonsensical as anything monotheists can cook up, are notoriously socially impotent. Instead of organized religion, we move toward an individualized mishmash of magical beliefs. Liberal monotheists worry about this, perceiving the social and moral incoherence in New Age spirituality. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s not always a bad thing.

Maybe we’ll continue moving in a more European direction in the US. Everyone will still be individually insane, but these insanities will not strongly couple to one another. At a societal scale, with large numbers of people involved, the various insanities will average out, leaving an environment which does not reflect any one style of insanity.