The American Spirit

Boing Boing guestblogger Mitch Horowitz is author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation and editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin publishers.


Parade magazine publishes a new poll tomorrow - with a piece on CBS Sunday Morning that I'm part of - which reveals the fluid and expanding meaning of spirituality in America. Fifty-nine percent Americans polled agree that "all religions have validity" and only twelve percent agree that "mine is the only true religion." To an extent, this reflects an attitude introduced into America by Enlightenment philosophy, Freemasonry, Transcendentalism, and, most recently, Theosophy in the late 19th century. Theosophy emphasized the principle that all religions emerge from a universal source. Likewise, the survey reflects the inroads of what might be considered occult or New Age outlooks in America: Seven percent of Americans believe in reincarnation (a concept that few Americans had heard of a generation ago); seventeen percent report having contact with the dead; forty-nine percent read horoscopes "for fun," whereas twelve percent are believers. The poll reveals many other wrinkles, which readers will find cause for cheer or depression, depending upon their outlook. But consider: Gandhi, whose 140th birthday fell yesterday, was making what was considered a radical statement when he declared that "all religions are true" (to which he also added, "all have some error in them"). Today, a majority of Americans agree.

CBS Sunday Morning runs its piece tomorrow at 9 a.m. EST in which I will discuss "the history of the occult in the United States."

What We Believe (CBS Sunday Morning)

Spirituality Poll results (Parade magazine)