In America's coffee shops and train stops, people are talking about topics once reserved for Sunday school or Sunday dinner. In fact, if you haven't seen The Passionof the Christ or read The Da Vinci Code-- if you haven't at least triedmeditation yet -- you're in the minority.
Religion and spirituality have gone mainstream. People are hotly debating Jesus' lineage and Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, or Islamic issues -- and they're doing it in public. All this outspoken talk of religion is not typical (except for a few TV evangelists). Americans seem to be changing.
A Need for Answers
The Sept. 11 tragedy shook us to our core almost three years ago, that's unmistakable. Many of the fallen-away faithful went scrambling back to church or temple. But even before that tragedy, another process was unfolding.
As we practiced yoga, took up tai chi, and energized our chakras, we just have not felt satisfied. We felt that something essential was missing, says Krista Tippett, host of Minnesota Public Radio's Speaking of Faith program.
"The big spiritual questions -- the 'why' questions -- had not gone away," she tells WebMD. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God take a loved one so young? What is the meaning of our existence? These questions still haunted us, Tippett says.
"What I'm reading, what I'm sensing, is the trend is changing," Tippett says. "It almost goes against our American mindset -- our independence, our self-sufficiency -- but people are looking for something bigger, better, to be part of. They have an essential need for that. And when they experience it, whether it's during a crisis, an illness, or a death, they want more of it."
For this -- and more -- people are returning to traditional religion and spirituality, she says. "Sometimes when we put traditional religion down, it's their dogma that we rebel against. But at their core, these traditions are where our impulses, our need for something bigger, have been honored, named."
A Need to Help Others
Indeed, the "feel-good, me-centered spirituality" of recent decades seems to be evaporating, says Harold Koenig, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health at Duke University Medical Center.