According to a recent article in Newsweek siting several independent sources, the traditional Christian beliefs and values on which this nation was founded is shifting focus. Though 76 percent of Americans still consider themselves Christian, the traditional ways that many within this group define God, religion, and eternity are moving more toward a broader understanding of divinity and away from an absolute viewpoint.
Traditionally, Christians believe in the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and have frowned on an all inclusive perspective that would include many more “demi’ gods, the concept of reincarnation, and the consideration that other faiths outside of Christianity could lead to “salvation.” These traditional beliefs are holding less weight among those who define themselves as Christians in today’s world. A 2008 Pew Forum survey, states that 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life" this including 37 percent of white evangelical Christians.
A 2009 Newsweek pole showed that 30 percent of Americans view themselves as “spiritual, not religious” which is an increase of 6% from 2005. The spiritual view of death is shifting as well. Traditional Christian beliefs require a body to travel to heaven with the soul, while many other traditions see the soul as independent of the bodily form able to come back into new bodies over and over again after death, a process known as reincarnation. Now, 24% of Americans believe in reincarnation, which is a major paradigm shift from traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs.
What does this all mean? According to the author of the article, it means that our mainstream spiritual beliefs are shifting more toward Hinduism than the traditional Christianity on which the country was founded. Maybe it is because the practice of yoga is one of the largest and fastest growing trends in the U.S., and that so many teachers and practitioners are delving not only into the physical practice of the asanas, but into the spiritual side of yoga as well.
Yoga, though not a religion, is derived from Hindu science and spirituality, where the goal is as Sri Swami Satchidanada said, “to realize the spiritual unity behind all the diversities in the entire creation and to live harmoniously as members of one universal family.” Such inclusionary perspectives are found all over the yogic teachings from the Vedas to the Bhagavad Gita, and may be having a major impact on the way Americans are viewing religion and spirituality. Through practice and exploration, we are no longer simply taking the words and doctrines of others as our own. Many yoga practitioners in the West are being directly exposed to the experiences of Yogic spirituality and are finding or perspectives shifting greatly from the spirituality of division and more toward the understanding of unity.
We are beginning to see the effects of this shift beyond our churches and synagogues. Americans are starting to understand how each individual is impacting the whole of humanity, and stepping up and taking more responsibility. Though the majority of us are not classifying ourselves as “Hindu,” many people are adopting the philosophies that align ourselves with the greater good and acknowledge our actions as part of the whole. As Hindu and Buddhist symbols are becoming more commonplace in American retail stores as well as in Western Yoga studios, and practices like yoga and meditation are becoming less taboo, the element of fear about exploring different paths of spirituality is starting to fade. Americans are redefining what spirituality means to them. Whether or not the popularity of Yoga in the West is contributing to this shift, I don’t know, but, I’d like to think it plays a part.
How has your view of God, religion, and eternity changed since practicing yoga?