Consecutive Days Riding: 62 Consecutive Days Blogging: 63
Today’s Mileage: 10 Total Trip Mileage: 545
Before I climbed on the bike this morning I reviewed an article on the front page of yesterday’s USA Today. The lead story was entitled: Mixing Their Religion: Many choose their faith from a spiritual buffet. The article was based on a recent survey of Americans about their religious beliefs. Over the past several years I have seen similar survey results pointing to a growing diversity in our nation’s religious and spiritual beliefs. In particular several of them point to the fact that while many people may go to church, their beliefs often do not fit with that church’s dogma and teachings. These findings have fueled many a discussion on talk radio, chat rooms or newspaper letters to the editor. It is clear there is a growing “blending” of diverse spiritual threads within people’s personal belief systems. The question that fuels for many of these discussions is “what does this mean?”
Some individuals’ and groups’ answer to this question would lead us to believe that this blending is problematic and perhaps a sign of decay within our existing institutions. Other individuals and groups see this blending as a positive sign, as an embracing of diversity and a sign of growth. Personally, I think it maybe both, a warning sign and a promising change!
Within psychology we have long recognized that our developing belief system follows a set process. From the moment we are born, we are an information processing system. We input data, we analyze data, we make assumptions and simple decisions based on this data, and we act on our assumptions and receive feedback from our environment (i.e. success or failure, reinforcement or punishment). This whole process operates with the goal of making sense of our world so we can act to get what we want and need.
Initially this belief system (explanations and expectations) are given to us by parents, teachers, and ministers. It represents a readymade road map with canned explanations of life’s demands. But as any parent knows, fairly early in some cases, the challenges and questions concerning these beliefs will eventually follow! Beliefs are constantly tested, we make predictions and then we wait to see if we are right. Positive outcomes strengthen our beliefs; negative outcomes may lead us to search for better explanations, perhaps even new beliefs. As we grow and mature, our beliefs are more and more of our own choosing. We retool what we were taught with new information, new teachings and new experiences.
My point is that exploring, sampling, testing and choosing are all part of our human nature. Our religious and spiritual beliefs are no different than our political or economic beliefs. Many psychologists would argue that the sign of “maturity” is not in the content of your belief system (that it be different from your youth) but that you believe in the content for a different reason. Maturity is judged by how “well tested” your current beliefs are and whether they have they been challenged (internally, externally or both) and “forged” by life experiences. You do not have to believe they are true, you know they are true for you!
But how can this smorgasbord approach to spirituality be both positive and negative? I believe the distinction resides with the answers to two questions. First, does this blended belief system really fit for you, does it provide you with sound advice? For some people this blended system simple represents a “quick and easy” or momentary convenient fit, perhaps just a “fad.” Secondly, does this belief system promote a true state of transcendence and growth in the individual’s actions, thoughts and feelings? For others this smorgasbord of a meal may simply provide temporary relief and a return to the “status quo.”
For some a visit to the buffet provides nourishing advice and leads to growth. For others, sticking with a single satisfying entrée leads to a fulfilling meal and growth.