Spiritual Not Religious

We have yet to pick up Jeff Sharlet’s Radiant Truths, a compilation of twenty-four essays and reports (“reported essays”?) on American religion. However, a series of recent reviews and interviews have convinced us that the purchase of RT will be an edifying one. Based on this interview at Harper’s, should we  locate Sharlet’s book in the Spirituality section of Barnes and Noble, we will assume permission to move it to a more religious location in the bookstore:

2. Every piece collected here touches on transcendence, but not all are explicitly religious. Reading, I was reminded of friends who say “I’m spiritual, not religious.” You’ve written elsewhere that you’re averse to the word “spiritual,” in the sense that you don’t like seeing your books filed in the Spirituality section of libraries and bookstores. Why is that?

Because I’m a curmudgeon. Here’s this word that millions of people find lovely and liberating — an alternative to all that seems calcified about religion, and what do I do? I complain. I think that in nine out of ten cases “spirituality” is a con — not a con by the person invoking it, but a con on that person. It offers the illusion of individual choice, as if our beliefs, or our rejection of belief, could be formed in some pure Ayn Randian void. For better and worse we make our beliefs and live our beliefs together. That’s what you get with the word “religion,” which means to tie, to bind. You may not want to be bound! I don’t. But we are. We’re caught up in a great, complicated web of belief and ritual and custom. That’s what I’m interested in, not the delusion that I’m some kind of island.

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  • Bruce Nuffer

    Jul 10, 2014 - Reply

    I am not sure I understand. So is Sharlet saying he rejects the word “spirituality” and prefers the word “religion”? That certainly is against the grain these days, which I love. But I would love to see his basis for the 9 out of 10 comment.

    • Elizabeth Perry

      Jul 11, 2014 - Reply

      Yeah, not sure there is any real empirical data for the 9 out of 10 statement. Don’t they–whoever they are–say that 9 out 10 statistics are false anyway? :)

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