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Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion

by Wade Clark Roof

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-691-01659-3
Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Another dose of Baby Boomer religion from Roof (Dept. of Religious Studies/UC-Santa Barbara), once again arguing that boomers are, as the title of one of his earlier books puts it, A Generation of Seekers. The arguments in Roof’s latest installment are predictable. Aging American boomers are taking spirituality fairly seriously. Roof has identified several themes in the spiritual lives of boomers: They are more interested in spirituality than religion; they are concerned with the extent to which faith is beneficial or instrumental to them, noting with satisfaction that “it helps you” or “it works—; they are relativistic in their religious identity, with the vast majority unable to assert that one religion is any better or more true than another; and many are skeptical of institutional religion. But if boomers feel that churches fail to facilitate their own spiritual development, Roof maintains, they have not gone to the extreme of sitting under a tree navel-gazing alone: Community is very important to boomers, but they find it in small groups rather than synagogues. Boomers see themselves on a spiritual journey; Roof takes issue with the claim that “talk about spiritual quest [is] New Age psychobabble,” not because he fails to “recognize [much of it] as babble, but because . . . that which lies behind it . . . signal[s] something profoundly important about our times.” Religions, he claims, will have to adjust to meet the new consumer demands. For Roof, all this is largely to the good. With the new spirituality has come non-hierarchical love for fellow human beings and a more egalitarian and personal God, as well as concern for the environment, with theologians of all stripes working creatively to develop an ecological ethic. Himself a boomer, Roof sometimes embodies, rather than explains, the most flaky and superficial impulses of boomer faith.