Pop spirituality is often
about belief in the supernatural without the need for truth or authority.
The flaw in the concept of spirituality without God is that each person has a right to his or her own "truth"
- that there's no such thing as objective, absolute truth.
This view essentially makes each person responsible for deciding what is right or wrong, good or bad. The result is that there is no truth; people do what is right in their own eyes.
Another popular notion of pop spirituality is that all spiritual quests lead to God.
"It's about liberation,"
says Carl Holmberg, professor of popular culture at Bowling Green [Ohio] State University. "Traditional religion [is considered] controlling, telling people what to do. Spirituality liberates, offering ways to achieve transcendence, ecstasy, a sense of the magical self."
Holmberg says popular culture encourages "a religionless religion, where [divisions of] dogma or the trappings of organized religions take a back seat to the celebration of life."
"We're a very spiritual culture, but it's all incredibly vague," adds Terry Mattingly, associate professor of communication at Regent University, Alexandria, Va. "What's happening in America is a 'refined Christianity,' a liberalized, universalistic, pantheistic
version of Christianity
. God is 'all' rather than 'other' (transcendent).
"All faiths are considered essentially the same
. Christianity is an option — one of many roads. All roads to heaven are right, and anyone who says otherwise is wrong."
"Spirituality is coming back as a flood, but it is a plain-wrapped, generic spirituality," says Dallas Willard, professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and author of three best-selling books on Christian spirituality including The Divine Conspiracy
(HarperSanFrancisco, 1998). "It refers more to a dimension of the human spirit rather than anything to do with God."
This is most clear in Oprah Winfrey's talk show, he says. Its segment called "Remembering Your Spirit," never mentions the Holy Spirit.
People have a hunger "to experience the ecstasy and transcendence that liberation brings, not read about it," Holmberg says. "They want something they can take into their hands rather than have a priest or minister do it for them."
"In the secular press, 'spirituality' is often used synonymously with 'self-help, self-potential or self-fulfillment,'" says Cynthia Jurisson, associate professor of American church history at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
"This type of literature is popular because much of it contains the same self-improvement and coping mechanism motifs that have characterized religious self-help literature since Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking
(Ballantine Books, first published in 1952).
"Much of the current pop spirituality literature seeks to provide comfort and guidance to those who feel overworked, emotionally distressed, relationally disconnected and/or barely able to cope with the burdens of career and family."
"There is a hunger for God, but not a transcendent God who can judge," Mattingly says. "The hunger is for spiritual experience, not doctrine; spiritual feelings, not content. Oprah religion says, 'God loves you, but essentially doesn't want to change you.' There is no absolute evil [to confront]; evil is relative. That's their big problem."
Selling Pop Spirituality "The Lure of Spiritual Counterfeits in American Media"
, Apologia Update, Winter 1999
Spirituality Goes Pop
The Lutheran, October 1999