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What Happens if We "Believe in Everything a Little Bit"?

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No longer narrow and exclusive, “spirituality” now refers to what happens inside the seeker, who takes charge in the search for meaning. Some speak of “pick-and-choose” or “a-la-carte” spirituality for consumers.

This article appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of Spirituality & Health. Until about thirty years ago – you can look it up – the word “spirituality” came prefixed with adjectives such as “Jewish” or “medieval” or “Christian” or “Hindu.” In each case the person who aspired to being spiritual tended to focus, lifelong and intensely, on “God” or “Allah” or “The One.” Suddenly that changed. “Spirituality” now referred to what happens inside the seeker, who takes charge in the search for meaning. Some spoke of “pick-and-choose” or “a-la-carte” spirituality for consumers. The spiritual search often had made people turn narrow and exclusive, as in “We have an absolute hold on the truth and you don’t really belong here.” Now it could turn to what its critics called dabbling at worst, eclecticism at best. Years ago a Hollywood star was asked how she could believe in Jesus and astrology, Zen Buddhism, and Presbyterianism all at once. She answered, “Oh, I believe in everything a little bit.” Critics asked and ask whether such an approach is really helpful in the task of orienting and organizing life. …

Martin E. Marty is an American Lutheran religious scholar who has written extensively on religion in the United States. His writings include the book Politics, Religion, and the Common Good (Jossey-Bass, 2000).


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