At Trans/Missions, Diane Winston bemoans the latest “display of know-nothingism” with respect to religion and spirituality in an American newspaper:

Riffing on a recent Pew Study on Americans’ penchant for spiritual eclecticism, Barry Goldman laments the loss of religious authority. Goldman’s actual grievance is the loss of scientific authority, but focusing on that would have cost him nine cutesy-poo paragraphs on Aunt Mary’s aphorisms, bunnies’ sex organs and Mr. Potato-head spirituality.

The Pew survey does reaffirm the fact that Americans “engage in multiple religious practices, missing elements of diverse traditions.” But that’s not new news. Almost two decades ago, historian Jon Butler radically revised notions of colonial American religion by showing how occult beliefs and practices thrived just below the surface of the Protestant establishment. Arguably, it was the American gift for synthesis, the desire for both magic and ministers that made our religious landscape rich, thick and unpredictable.

This unpredictability leads to pendulum swings. Religiosity during the Revolutionary Era was at an ebb in comparison with the flood-tides of religious fervor 50 years earlier and 20 years later. Similarly we find ourselves in a DIY age, wherein many feel less inclined to join institutions than to do what feels right for them. One man, one vote; one person, one religion.

Of equal or greater concern to Winston than the peddling of historical inaccuracies is the callousness with which people’s spiritual endeavours—and thus “the passion for meaning, identity and purpose” that animates them—are waved aside as so much quackery.

Continue reading at Trans/Missions.