We are steadily moving away towards ‘spiritual but not religious’
Religion goes back to ancient times, when the primitive man perceived all objects, including animals and plants, as being imbued with supernatural aspects (animism). Later, the concept of God came as, an all-powerful and omnipotent force who is watching us, humans, from on high.
Then as civilizations developed, organised religions were born and started to proliferate.There are now billions of followers of organised religions such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. There are also lesser known but equally established religions such as the Baha’i faith, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism. Gradually, devotional practices, superstitions, and rituals were developed in each religion.
The basic characteristics of all religions are similar. There is firm belief in an omnipotent and loving Supreme Being. All religions also have their own set of beliefs, which their followers are required to respect and follow. Religion provides cohesiveness and harmony within their communities.
It is necessary for the unseen, controlling power to give psychological and emotional succour to humans. Hagel’s philosophy maintains that humanity invented the idea of God as a consolation and distraction from the sorrow and grief of the world. God is a human creation over which humanity has authority and control.
Religion-The Opium Of The Masses
Karl Marx too has left us his frank opinion: “Religion is the opium of the masses.” In his mind
This is the reason that faith and firm belief in God’s existence has not abated despite tremendous progress in science and technology. The majority of the population continues to believe in their religion and/or God’s role in their lives.
Spirituality Vs Religion In Modern Age
Christians form the biggest religious group of all, with 31% of the world’s population. Next come Muslims (24%), then Hindus (15%) and Buddhists (6.9%). Of the remaining population, though some may not be affiliated with any religious group, they may believe in God’s existence.
Then others are “spiritual but not religious,” meaning that they do not practice any religion, but are likely to believe in a Higher Power, or feel their mystical union with same. It means that worldwide, the majority of the world’s population still affiliate with one particular religion, but their absolute numbers are declining.
According to India’s 2011 census, the number of “people without religion” rose fourfold to about 3 million. Though this number may seem insignificant compared to India’s population, the trend is clear. In many developed countries like the USA, religion as a whole is losing ground, rather than increasing.
According to a Gallup survey, 68% of Americans in 1975 had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the church or organized religion. Now this percentage has dropped precipitously to 36% fewer Americans indicate that they identify with an official religion these days, and fewer say they are members of a church, mosque, or synagogue.
All of this seems to dovetail with people now seeing themselves as spiritual but not religious. However, religion continues to expand in economically and socially insecure places, such as many African and Muslim dominated nations. Where conditions are more stable, the number of churchgoers continues to decline.
Are India’s Population Spiritual or Religious
In India, though recent figures from such kind of surveys are not available, it’s certain that more people, especially from the younger generation, while not members of any organised religion, are becoming more in tune with their spirituality. However, absolute numbers of people belonging to any religious group may not be declining.
Thanks to meditation and other spiritual practices, more people are joining the ranks of “spiritual but not religious.”
Interestingly, millennials (individuals born between 1981and 1996) who tend to be passionate about their careers, fitness, and the Climate Crisis, but not interested in religion. For many of them, the gym or a beautiful national park is their temple. While hi-tech pursuits consume many of their waking hours, millennials tend to keep their minds open to the possibility of higher realities.
As previously discussed, the majority of people — especially in India – are more than happy to stay in the comfort zones and they barely take time out to engage in spiritual practices. In fact, many of them are in fact, generally ignorant as to what exactly spirituality or spiritual life may be. The difference between being religious and spiritual is unclear to them. Each one of us has our own ideas about spirituality; there are many myths and misconceptions involving spiritual practices in India.
On the other hand, the majority of us find comfort and emotional security in spending whatever time we can take out from our schedule in religious activities. We are actively involved in an organized system of practices, rituals, and prayers to facilitate closeness to God. Our belief system has room for a pantheon of personal gods and goddesses, which are in great supply in the Hindu religion. Therefore, a large population are fine with just being religious, rather than venturing out for spiritual practices.
Older People Being More Religious Over Spiritual
Recently, an interesting study has found that the majority of older people are inclined to remain religious, rather than switching over to spirituality. They have more faith in religion.
The research study, published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, confirmed that in many developed countries where the older population is increasing (as in Japan), the older people tend to be more religious than the younger generations.
Following solid religious beliefs, rather than tuning in to their own inner experiences of God, may be more aligned with their comfort zones. Among its conclusions the study reminds us that “as the developed world greys, they will become the majority by 2040.”
Meaning of Spirituality
Let’s understand what, in simpler terms, spirituality actually means.
The essence of spirituality is to know our true selves and to discover the real meaning and purpose of our life.
The self we know, the individual ego, is a limited representation of our identity. Since we are largely ignorant of our true selves, we derive a false sense of identity from what we feel about ourselves, and how others see us.
When we discover our deeper sense of self, we are freed from many of the fears that unnecessarily plague our mind. We can then experience inner peace, an inner security that does not depend upon the behaviour and actions of others or the events taking place around us.
Therefore, through spiritual practices like meditation, we increase self-awareness and gain better understanding of ourselves.
Impact of Being Spiritual But Not Religious
Through spiritual practices, our awareness expands, resulting in better mental and emotional control over ourselves. With this we can grow in empathy, extending greater compassion and loving-kindness toward others.
In this way, we not only manage our mind in far better ways but also meet life’s challenges in a more effective manner. No one’s life is smooth. In fact, life is full of challenges.
We are very often subjected to ups and downs and may experience pain and suffering. The real test of life comes when we pass through a troubled phase.
Abiding in true spirituality helps put the mind at ease while also giving us courage, strength, and patience to understand and overcome. We develop a greater sense of resilience. This is what we mean when we say, “being spiritual but not religious.”