[The Huffington Post]
“Religion” has become a bad word for many Americans. This does not necessarily mean that Americans have become any less religious. Instead, many people have come to prefer different language to describe their religious beliefs and practices. This is because the word “religion” has accumulated negative connotations. Americans tend to equate religion with Christianity. And especially, people think of guilt-inducing proscriptions on behavior, seemingly arbitrary rules, hell-fire preaching on sin and judgment, unreasoning insistence on dogma and doctrinal orthodoxy, divisive sectarianism, and aggressive proselytizing. Relatively few people want to be religious if that is all it means. Many people may prefer to describe themselves as interested in “spirituality” or the “sacred.” Even many Christians dislike the word religion, and insist that Christianity is not about religion, but “relationship” with God.
Even so, public-opinion polls show that a majority of Americans self-identify as both spiritual and religious. According to one large-scale survey reported in 2008, three-fourths (74 percent) of Americans describe themselves as very or somewhat “religious.” Two-thirds (66 percent) identify as “spiritual.” And more than half (57 percent) accept both labels. Although 20 percent of Americans responded to a 2012 poll by declining to identify with a specific religious institution, 68 percent of the religiously unaffiliated believe in God, and 37 percent describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” Two-thirds of religious “Nones” affirm metaphysical or paranormal beliefs, such as the existence of nonmaterial energies, angels and demons, or the possibility of psychic communication.