Enter the Nones
Editor’s Note: Welcome Don Lattin, a veteran journalist and the author of five books on religion and spirituality in America. His most recent, Distilled Spirits—Getting High, Then Sober, With a Famous Writer, Forgotten Philosopher and a Hopeless Drunk, is a memoir and group biography of writer Aldous Huxley, philosopher Gerald Heard, and Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Lattin’s stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle, where he covered the religion beat for two decades.
To write about spirituality is to explore the ephemeral. Slippery stuff. Perhaps that's what legendary Chinese sage Lao-tzu meant when he said, "The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao."
Writing about religion is easier. I should know. I did it for twenty-five years as the full-time religion reporter at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle.
Religion writers spend lots of time writing about politics—about the endless battles between liberals and conservatives within religious denominations and the larger controversies over gay marriage, abortion rights, and the separation of church and state. Then there’s the Godbeat’s more sensational fare, all of those stories about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church or the latest cult leader caught fleecing his flock.
This blog, thank God, will not be about any of that. Instead, The Spiritual Search will provide a forum for people who reply "none of the above" whenever pollsters ask them to specify their religious affiliation.
The "nones" are on the rise. The American Religious Identification Survey found that those who claim “no religion” were the only demographic group that grew in every state within the last eighteen years. Between 1990 and 2008, their numbers nearly doubled, from 8 to 15 percent. The fasting growing religious group in America today is “the religion of no religion.” Its members include millions who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious," a moniker by now so commonplace that scholars are calling these folks “SNRs.”
Few SNRs see themselves as atheists, or even agnostics. Many pray and/or meditate. They are more interested in religious experience than in doctrine, dogma, or denominationalism. SNRs seek stress reduction over salvation, and are more concerned with feeling good than being good.
Sound familiar? Are you a seeker in the spiritual marketplace? Ever feel like you’re growing your own religion?
You may be—as I am—a baby boomer, hopelessly stuck in the 1960s. Or you may be one of the children of the “children of the ‘60s.” You may agree with the late, great mythologist Joseph Campbell: “People say that what we are all seeking is the meaning of life,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive."
Perhaps you have ceased your spiritual search and settled into a serious meditation practice, or you may have come full circle and rediscovered mystical teachings hidden in the faith of your forefathers, in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. You may refuse to be pigeonholed or prefer to call yourself a "Ju-Bu" (Jewish-Buddhist) or, as I've sometimes labeled myself, a "skeptical Universalist," someone who’s found both wisdom and hypocrisy in the religions of the world.
No matter how you identify, I hope you will find a little of yourself here. I also hope you will help me make this blog a two-way street. If you consider yourself “spiritual but not religious,” what do you mean by that?
Don Lattin wrote “The Second Coming of Psychedelics” in the January/February issue of Spirituality & Health. He lives on an island in the San Francisco Bay with his wife, Laura, and his dog, Bella. Visit him at donlattin.com.