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Pewless in Seattle

Americans love God, but according to the new Barna Group survey on religion in America, we don’t care to visit him all that often. According to Barna, while the number of Americans attending religious institutions went up for a moment after 9/11, the number of those who eschew houses of God has increased from 24 percent in 2001 to 37 percent today. Holding steady at about 95 percent is the number of Americans who claim to believe in God.

While the Barna people didn’t survey me, they certainly have me pegged. I believe in God, but I rarely attend worship services. Why? Because the God I believe in has little or nothing to do with what goes on in most houses of worship.

I experience God as Mother and understand God as the ungendered source and substance of reality. My God is unconcerned with religion and the things that many religious people care about: who wins, who loses, and who God loves best. My idea of God is closer to the ideas of Spinoza, Emerson, and Ramana Maharshi, then it is to the theologies I hear articulated in most Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu houses of worship. So I rarely attend worship services, and yet I cannot shake my experience of God.

The truth is, however, that even if I found a community that promoted an idea of God similar to mine, I still wouldn’t attend all that often. While I benefit from and enjoy ecstatic chanting (kirtanin its various forms), and find extended periods of silence in contemplative communities valuable (I just spent a rich and wonderful week at Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT, a spiritual retreat sponsored by the Daughters of Wisdom), I don’t find myself drawn to regular community gatherings. I seem to be less and less in need of an ongoing spiritual community. I have my friends, my books, my practice, and my dog, and that seems to be enough. At least for now.

So before clergy and laity start advocating for change in response to the Barna numbers, they ought to find out what the unchurched are doing instead of church. If they are like me, the future of spiritual retreat centers is bright, but that of formal houses of worship is troubling.

Let me know: Do you go to a house of worship regularly? Why or why not?


Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. In the print version of our magazine, he has an advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addressing reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art. Rabbi Rami hosts our podcast, “Essential Conversations.”

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