Some quotes and insights from Wade Clark Roof
I think religion always fulfills two basic functions for people. One is belonging and one is providing a sense of meaning for life. But those two vary over time. And I think that if we look back say 40 or 50 years ago, probably the belonging functions of religion were much stronger than they are today. And in the recent decades we have been in a period in which the meaning function and the deep spiritual, the internal aspects of religion, those have been far more paramount than the belonging.
If you walk into any of the large bookstores today, I think you'll see the kinds of changes that have been happening in spirituality. There's no longer a single section called: "Religion." The topics have been broken down and you've got subjects ranging from angels to zorianastroism. Each one catering to a particular felt need.
Another way of talking about spirituality today is to say that it is very much customized, very much tailored to particular lifestyle niches. To single moms. To people interested in riding motorcycles. To people with various kinds of hobbies. And handicaps and life situations. So we have spirituality designed if you will to fit our varying situations in life. And the way that works is that spirituality is couched in a particular language and framed around particular values or concerns for people in that particular situation.
When we look at the current religious landscape, I think we see some paradoxical features. On the one hand, many religious institutions are losing members, losing support. On the other hand, there's a great deal of interest and concern about personal spirituality. So we have a very complex religious situation in the country today.
Does faith matter?
I think faith does matter for many many people. Faith sets a context for life. Faith defines purpose, commitment and I think people generally look for some way to organize their life around some kind of final or ultimate concern.
Faith is important in the sense that it provides an anchor for people's lives. WeÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½we live by faith even in the most common sense. We have the faith that right now that this ceiling will not fall down upon us in this room. That's an act of faith. We have faith that you can get in your car, drive, and not have an accident. In some ultimate sense faith in God or faith in the sacred is an affirmation that in a final analysis one can count uponÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½one can trustÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½one can believe in that reality.
We seek God in so many ways. Today we find people who are reading books, going to retreat centers, going to seminars, hearing lectures, exploring mountain top experiences, discovering God in human relationships, love, love as a venue to discover the divine, in children, in suffering, in glorious experiences as well as tragic experiences. People find God in so many many ways and in so many circumstances.
There are so many different styles of spirituality. And from any one's point of view, some will seem more valid and some will seem more perhaps flaky. But I think from the point of view of the person who is doing the seeking, whether it's perceived to be flaky or profound, from that person's point of view, the seeker's point of view, it's a very very important quest. It says that that person is in search of something deeper, something more meaningful than he or she has.
What is happening in spirituality today is pretty much like the big shifting of the gigantic plates underneath the earth. There's great stress that is manifest at the time. And we have that same kind of stress that is illustrated in the ways in which generations see the world quite differently and they often conflict with one another as to their values and what seems most important to them. We are experiencing a shift in the way in which people see the world and understand reality - and their whole conception of life is greatly altered as a result.
Are there generational differences in faith?
Generations do approach faith differently. Some generations look at faith almost as if it is taken for granted. There is no reason for them to question it. Other generations because they are born and grown up in times that are disruptive approach faith with a great deal of skepticism. Questioning, doubt and we see that particularly in our own day with many of the younger generations finding it much easier to question and doubt faith. But that does not mean that faith is not important. They are wrestling with faith is you will rather than just taking it for granted.
Generations do approach faith differently. For example baby boomers having grown up in a time of great social disruption and lifestyle changes, many of them are inclined to question institutions including religious institutions, to question faith, anything that has been inherited from the past. So while they often question. And many gen X question as well, but gen X tend to be turning back to faith and finding a stability and a taking for granted aspect in faith that many baby boomers did not.
The lead generation is the generation that sets the norms and defines the values, sets the moral tone of a society. And in the period since World War II, the lead generation in this country has been the baby boom generation.
Baby boomers are defined as people born roughly from 1946 to 1964. But what defines them really are the events that occurred during that span of time. That was a major period of disruption, particularly the 60's, in which there were so many changes in gender roles, civil rights, value orientations, and life styles and ecological consciousness. So the baby boomers growing up in that particular era were shaped in their world views in ways that are quite different from their parents. And, indeed, quite different from the gen X'ers and any other younger generations now coming along.
I think many baby boomers are discovering faith now at mid life. After all, many of them are now in their 50's and upper 40's and I think in that period of life people often reassess and many of them are talking about faith now in a way that they would not have talked say 20 years ago. Generation X'ers have not started with as much skepticism about faith as boomers. What they long for primarily is community. A sense of belonging that many baby boomers rebelled against when they were growing up. So the generations differ considerable in the meaning of faith and what it is about faith that they really are looking for.
We're living in a quest culture today primarily as a result of the baby boomers and the kinds of institutions they rebelled against when they were young, including religious institutions. Hence many of them have grown up unsure of what they believe yet asking lots of profound spiritual and religious questions. So today they are questing and many of them are indeed finding answers, some tradition answers, others finding very non-traditional answers to their concerns about life. I think the quest culture is changing, particularly with the generation x ers as they return increasingly to more traditional kinds of religious institutions. Many of them of course turn elsewhere but clearly there has been a turning to congregations where xers can find a sense of belonging. And I think that for them the quest becomes quite different than it has been for many boomers.
Boomers are asking lots of deep questions these days. Much of it having to do with their own mortality. After all they are in midlife. They are seeing their own bodies fail, not keep up with what they dreamed they would be. They were supposed to be eternally young. But of course, they can't be. So their mortality, they are seeing their parents die. They are seeing the children grow up. They are concerned about what will happen to their children. So I think what we have with many many aging boomers today is a realization of life and it's limits and of the deeper kinds of concerns that go with life.
There might be some danger in the divergent views of the generation in the sense that the loss of shared conceptions of reality between the generations means that there's the potential for a conflict. There is a potential for lack of shared understanding of the world around them. However, I thinkÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½I think that we all age, if we live, we all age. And we approach life in a way that converges in many respects. Despite many differences among the generations we converge. After all we are all human beings and as we age I think grandparents for example will connect and do connect with grandchildren and despite their many differences they connect around fundamental human concerns.
I think human beings have always sought to believe in something higher than themselves. Seems to be built in to the human situation. So yes, we see a lot of seeking today but it'sÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¯Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¿Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â½it's not really all that new. Whether one finally accepts belief in God or gods or some sense of the sacred of course is a leap of faith. So we're left as human beings with all those uncertainties. But faith arises out of a leap, an affirmation that something exists despite any evidence to the contrary.