A Need All of Us Share
YOU NEED FOOD. You need water. You need air. You need some measure of shelter and protection from the elements. These are needs not only of every human but also of countless billions of other living creatures on this planet. There is one need, however, that is unique to humans. What is it?
Canadian sociologist Reginald W. Bibby wrote: “People have needs that only religion can address.” And in its February 2000 issue, the journal American Sociological Review printed an article that said: “Spiritual concerns will probably always be part of the human outlook.”
Yes, throughout history humans have felt a need to worship. For centuries most have turned to organized religion to fill that need. But things are changing. In many industrialized nations—such as North America and Northern Europe—more and more people are abandoning their churches. Does that trend spell the end of religion? Hardly.
“Reports of religion’s death are greatly exaggerated,” writes the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. What is replacing the traditional churches? The paper continues: “The new thing is that we do not belong to any church. Instead, we can pick and choose and compose an acceptable mixture from the global religious market. . . . It can encompass anything from healing crystals to a Buddhist monk’s mantle. When you get tired of your selection, you can easily and conveniently change.”
Researchers of the sociology of religion refer to this trend as “private religion” or “invisible religion.” Sociologist Bibby, quoted previously, coined the phrase “religion à la carte.” Others refer to such faiths as “tailor-made” or “according to taste.” In some traditionally Christian countries, the largest religious group is now made up of people who, in effect, have their own personal religion.
Consider the results of a survey that was carried out in Sweden, one of the world’s most secularized countries. The survey found that 2 out of 3 people considered themselves to be Christians “in their own personal way.” Some said: “I have my own view of Christianity,” “I feel strange in church,” “I don’t like to go to church and listen to priests,” or “I can go into my private room and pray by myself.” Many were inclined to believe in reincarnation or in fate. Most said that they believed that some form of divine force or power may exist but that they could not define it.
Another survey found that many people reserve their religious feelings for times when they are outdoors, enjoying earth’s natural settings. A young female farmer said: “When you’re out in the woods and fields, that’s when you’re closest to God, I think.” Another person interviewed, who did not consider himself religious, explained: “When I go out in the woods, I feel as if it were a huge temple. . . . And who is in control of it, I don’t know, but I feel it.” Some described nature as holy, divine, and awe-inspiring and said that being in its presence gave them renewed strength, peace, and harmony. As a summary, one interviewer concluded his report: “God has moved out into the woods.”
This trend is noticeable in many parts of the world today. Thomas Luckmann, an American specialist in the sociology of religion, spoke of church-oriented religion as being pushed aside in industrial societies and being replaced by a “social form of religion.” The individual, in effect, forms a philosophy of life by picking out ideas about spiritual matters and then combining these notions into his own private religion.
You may wonder, ‘Are the established religions and churches really being pushed to the fringes of society? If so, why?’ These questions are considered in the following article.
[Picture on page 3]
Commenting on a recent trend to seek spirituality in nature, one researcher concluded: “God has moved out into the woods”