Originally published for State of Liberation
The largest portion of individuals follow a beloved religion and take part in doctrine study, practices, rites of passage and in their communities. On another hand, at least 1 Billion in the world consider themselves ‘non-religious’. Among them, some are completely devoid of interest for a religious aspect in their lives, and some do have an interest, but seek alternative spiritual paths and dislike the implications of organized religious groups. Many who also identify as followers of large religions for statistical purposes live somewhat detached from traditional practices, and love to explore other belief systems. The inquisitive mind finds that a multitude of spiritual perspectives have contributed to shaping our world. Wanting to acquire more information about faiths different from those we were introduced to is not wrong. Wanting to disperse ignorance if only to better understand the values of those different from us is not a bad thing. New doors of insight and contemplation are opened to those curious enough to venture out of their bubbles and engage in what this era has named Religious Nomadism. The wisdoms those who wander and learn discover, turn into lessons that can be incorporated and reflected in everyday life.
Not a New Thing
Religious Nomadism or Religion a la carte has the core concepts of humanism as ancestors, and would have truly emerged at the time of the European renaissance. Fresh ideas and conversations formed with the help of newly available religious and foreign texts being printed and floating about. The world seemed bigger and full of new mysteries as the South and North American continents were uncovered. A new interest in antiquity and eastern cultures added a different flair to literature, music, food and even fashions. Extreme religious changes overturned the tides of spiritual power for the western world, making the act of rethinking religious practice and belief a popular trend.
History then repeated itself much later, at the end of the second world war, from the mid 1950s to the coming of the New Age movement of the 1970s. Important denominations began to break away from traditional religious practices and attendance in places of worship dropped. The concept of the self as the only required spiritual authority was introduced, and the movement reopened pathways to ancient religions as well as belief systems foreign to the western world. A weirdly mismatched yet widely known theology settled, which married neo-pagan, eastern beliefs such as Confucianism and Taoism, aboriginal spiritualties, and even scientific viewpoints.
Exploring the Same World
Religious Nomadism is a subtler and refined incarnation of the historical airs du temps described above. Practitioner may travel freely across the religious landscape and discover new things; the self, our intuition, the natural moral compass within us, becomes the only important spiritual authority. If in our travels we uncover something that resonates within, a story, a symbol, a line of verse, perhaps merely a feeling, or even a divinity, we can add its wisdom to our personal figurative book of beliefs. We let it guide us to who are meant to be, let it be our strength when we need it.
As each person comes to create their own spiritual system, it becomes apparent that the religious concepts we uncover pave a personal way to a common goal that all religious practitioners on earth share. By accepting that there are limitless levels of religious experience in the world, and that each believer contributes to a greater collective wisdom, the mind, and our social world, opens wide. Conversations can flow freely; the curious accept one another for their views and values as they are. The messages at the core of all spiritual practices, the common denominator that unite us all, becomes clear.
Those who incorporate new beliefs from foreign religious systems into their personal faiths must be weary. An intelligent, objective and respectful approach is required to ensure that the concepts we are introduced to are properly researched and delicately interpreted. We must realize that by opening ourselves to the unknown, learning about it and applying its viewpoints into our everyday life, we unconsciously uproot pieces of cultures that are not ours to dissect. We strive to understand different spiritualties for our own personal growth, therefore we become the practitioners of our own system of belief, rather than joining those we have observed. For example, should you be from a judeo-Christian environment, and decide to explore Buddhist perspectives, do not call yourself a Buddhist, but rather see that you are using elements of Buddhism as spiritual inspiration (should you chose to pursue and practice Buddhism committedly, it is a different matter). No matter what and how much we try to learn from genuine sources, what we add to our own corpus of beliefs will always be somewhat converted to western frameworks of thought. We are learning and observing, experimenting, but in no way does implementing bits and pieces of a religious system make us religious authorities for others. Let’s be humble, inquire with reverence. Let’s admire, adopt, but not appropriate.
There are plenty of critics with negative opinions of Religious Nomadism. One of the most obvious detriment to picking and choosing religious concepts to treasure is that it is an individualistic approach. Living your own faith, customized and constructed by no one else but yourself means you will rarely find someone else who maintains the same religious uniqueness as you. The sense of belonging acquired from within a religious group such as a church congregation, according to these critics, becomes lost.
Independence means standing apart, and sometimes swimming against the current, fighting for your right to choose. Why accept, or worse, pretend to accept, pieces of a faith that do not ring true within, for the sake of conforming and acceptance within a group? It is argued that religion a la carte will isolate a believer, but the effect is rather the contrary for genuine adepts of the movement. As mentioned above, religious exploration turns us ultimately to seeing the common patterns between belief systems, breaking down mental walls based on race, nationality or orientation. Religion a la carte opens the channels of communication and creates an environment where differences are celebrated and unique opportunities for education.