Archives For Pacific Northwest

Back in June I wrote about how a initiative in Washington state on the issue of same-sex marriage could see the first real test of a post-Christian majority at the ballot box. More than half of Washington’s citizens don’t belong to any formal religion, becoming part of the demographic known as “nones,” and these “unchurched” have increasingly gotten more and more attention as their numbers swell. In addition, nones in the Pacific Northwest have their own special character according to the authors of “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia,” they are “eclectically, informally, often deeply ‘spiritual.’” Specifically, New Age and nature-oriented spirituality loom large among “nones” here.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.

 

Further, Washington isn’t alone in making history with a popular vote for same-sex marriage instead of against it. Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota are also poised to make breakthroughs on this particular issue if the latest polls are to be believed.

Polling numbers suggest a majority of voters support legalizing same-sex marriage on the ballots in Maine, Maryland and Washington, while Minnesota straddles the fence. Should any of the states approve the ballots, it will be the first time gay marriage passes by popular vote as opposed to going through the courts or legislature. “We’re feeling positive. The reality is, we haven’t won a ballot measure on marriage yet,” Human Rights Campaign state legislative director Sarah Warbelow told NBC News. “I think it’s very reasonable and realistic to expect that we’ll win one or more of these ballot measures; certainly the polling suggests that all four are … a possibility.”

Sticking with my “nones” theory, 25% of Maine residents are religiously unaffiliated according to the Pew Forum, while the 2010 US Religion Census shows that area also dominated by the “unchurched.” Likewise, Maryland’s numbers are also highly religiously unaffiliated (you can download a larger version of the map below here). So, like Washington, they could prefigure a “post-Christian” vote in terms of hot-button social issues like gay marriage.

However, it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action. Of course, this vote could go the other way, as elections are largely about who’s more motivated, and opponents to same-sex unions are often highly motivated and well funded. Also, with this being a presidential election year, enthusiasm for the candidate(s) who supports same-sex marriage will also be a factor. Still this is a very good sign that a demographic tide may have turned in Washington. We’ll check back in as new data emerges.

The past couple years have given much food for thought to those who are interested in the state of religion in the United States of America. In 2008 you had the release of the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, and then at the beginning of 2009 you had Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey data from 2008. Both not only showed an ongoing increase in the population of modern Pagans, but that the “religiously unaffiliated” or “nones” now claim around 15% of our total population. But are the “nones” really not religious? While the Pacific Northwest is only second to New England in the percentage of “unchurched” adults (hovering around 25%), some assert that the Cascadian “nones” are actually deeply spiritual and look to nature and the New Age as inspirations in crafting their own belief systems.

“According to the just-published “Cascadia: the Elusive Utopia.” … a lot of these “nones” in the Pacific Northwest are actually very spiritual, walking a path of their own making, but not into organized religions and churches. Sociology professor Mark Shibley of Southern Oregon University wrote the lead essay called “The Promise and Limits of Secular Spirituality in Cascadia.” “This region is different. The people here are not as connected to religious institutions,” he says. The alternative spirituality here shows itself in two main ways, Shibley notes: “nature spirituality,” such as you see in the secular environmental movement, and the more well-known New Age spirituality, where the gaze is shifted inward.”

If thousands of Cascadian residents are drawing on “nature spirituality” and “New Age spirituality”, you potentially end up with a whole lot of (what we would probably recognize as) Pagans who just aren’t bothering to label themselves that way in surveys. As if to confirm that thesis, the Ashland Daily Tidings rounds up a Pagan priestess and three other residents of the Pacific Northwest to talk about their beliefs. At times, it becomes very hard to differentiate the Pagan answers from the (ostensibly) non-Pagan answers.

“Absolutely. There are lots of different sources [for the spiritual and sacred]. Nature is the core. It’s earth-centered, an awareness of things greater than me, that science can’t explain.”

That’s not the Pagan priestess, that’s Dominick Della Sala, Ph.D. – chief scientist, National Center for Conservation Science and Policy, in Ashland. Sala was raised Catholic in Brooklyn, NY. Perhaps merely living in the Pacific Northwest makes one predisposed to see the sacred within nature, which would explain why Oregon (and the Pacific Northwest in general) is such a Pagan mecca (I moved here after all). So when we parse those surveys to get an idea of how we’re growing, “we” might be far larger than we expected in places where the “nones” thrive. For more on the spirituality of the Northwest, you might want to pick up “Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia: Exploring the Spirit of the Pacific Northwest”, as mentioned earlier in this post, for more insight. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to continue watching the sun rise in Eugene.