Are Cascadian “Nones” Worshiping Nature?

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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.