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Spiritual seekers search for a ‘better form of religion’

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During the past 10 to 15 years, nearly half of all Americans rejected established highways to heaven and took to open roads in their search for a welcoming God, according to a survey.

While national polls show a collapse in membership, donations and attendance in every faith tradition, people are still on a quest for "a new sense of identity, community and connection to God," says Diana Butler Bass, an author, scholar and speaker who specializes in current American trends in belief and practice.

Bass will speak at The Parish of St. Clement in Makiki from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 24, and at both services March 25. Her upcoming visit, her second at the Makiki church since 2007, will focus on her new book, "Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening."

In an interview with the Star-Advertiser, Bass said her eighth book examines the 48 percent of Americans who are looking for a spiritual reformation in their faith traditions and denominations and turning away from self-serving, inflexible institutions that preach "my way or the highway" views.

"What I’m really concerned about is helping people find better forms of religion, to help them get to a future where they work together for a better world, instead of a conventional religion that divides people and fractures their ability to work for peace, justice and kindness around the globe. I want them to find God in their lives, in their neighbors, in nature — in churches, synagogues and mosques — and how to reorder their faith around meaningful questions," said Bass, an Episcopalian who lives in Alexandria, Va.

A 1999 survey by Princeton Survey Associates found that 54 percent of Americans defined themselves as "religious" versus "spiritual." After a decade of world crises that reflected what Bass called the hypocrisy and irrelevance of religious institutions, only 9 percent described themselves as "religious." What’s interesting to Bass is that the follow-up 2009 survey by Princeton showed that 48 percent of Americans considered themselves "spiritual and religious," she said.

While "religious" refers to institutional religion and has come to be associated with authoritarian dogma, "spiritual" means an experience of faith that transforms people’s daily lives, relationships, work, the way they raise children or seek justice, she said.

Instead of abandoning their traditional faith or turning to atheism or agnosticism, nearly half want to maintain their ties because religious identity is important in the human experience. They cherish the festivals, celebrations, rituals and things that have shaped their lives, Bass said.

"But they are questioning, How can I trust ancient scripture in light of contemporary science?" she said. "How can I believe in a faith when it preaches a particular set of political views I don’t agree with? A lot of people have turned away from Christianity because they are not happy with its association with conservative Republican politics."

It’s not just Christianity that’s at fault, Bass said; all faith traditions are guilty of rigid, narrow interpretations that are not in step with people’s daily lives. And it’s not so much the lack of openness in a particular faith or denomination, but in the leaders or individuals who preach exclusivity.

"People are saying what really counts as being Catholic, Jewish, Protestant or Muslim is not just obedience to doctrines," she said. "What counts is living a life of faith that brings meaning to the world, love of God, love of our neighbors."

For more information and online registration to attend Diana Butler Bass’ presentation, go to or call the St. Clement office at 955-7745. Registration, which includes a light lunch, is $35 for St. Clement’s parishioners and $75 for others. The parish is at 1515 Wilder Ave.

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