They Claim Christ, Deny Christianity; SELF-GUIDED More Decide to Adopt a DIY Faith on Their Own, Picking the Traditions to Keep and Toss. DIRECTION One Man Who Gave Up Church Says He Saw the Impact of Losing Fellowship with Believers

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

Anne Rice has decided to go it alone.

The acclaimed author best known for her vampire novels - "Interview with the Vampire" and "The Vampire Lestat," among them - ended her 12-year relationship with the Catholic Church recently over its opposition to same-sex marriage, the use of condoms to prevent AIDS and other issues.

Rice said in postings several weeks ago on her Facebook page that she's so disgusted with organized religion and injustices done in the name of Christianity that she's decided all denominations are tainted and is going solo in her walk with Jesus.

"I am a follower of Christ who is not part of Christianity," she told the Times-Union last week.

But can she really be a disciple of Jesus without being a member of a church?

While ministers and others say no, millions of Americans seem to say she can. Rice's comments are just the latest and most visible example of a trend that sees an increasing number of Americans identifying themselves as "spiritual, not religious" and abandoning the institutional for more popular do-it-yourself forms of observance.

DIY SPIRITUALITY

It's a phenomenon religion scholar Robert Fuller has been tracking for years, and, he says, it's on an upswing.

What began as a slow drift from denominations in the 1950s and 1960s has become so steady and widespread that as many as 20 percent of American adults see themselves as "spiritual but not religious," said Fuller, a religious studies professor at Bradley University in Illinois.

"They have no meaningful church affiliation, but they still consider themselves in some personal way religious," said Fuller, who writes and lectures on the topic.

People in that category run the gamut from only marginally interested in faith to highly active seekers who read an eclectic body of literature, anything from self-help books to Scripture to books from other religions. Their practices can be just as varied.

"People are very comfortable in combining," Fuller said. "They may occasionally attend a Christian church, may say prayers, maybe use the rosary," he said. "They may use tai chi and pitch in some yoga and attend a meditation center."

SPIRITUALITY OR RELIGION?

Linda Kaye sees them all the time at the World Community for Christian Meditation in Neptune Beach.

"Many who come here identify with Jesus but don't want to be part of any organized religion," said Kaye, a Catholic and director of the center.

Drew Brennan of Atlantic Beach is somewhere in that mix. Brennan is a Vietnam veteran who describes himself as a follower of Christ's teachings but struggles with Jesus' divinity. He attends Catholic Mass occasionally and meditates daily.

What Brennan said he is certain of is that he is spiritual but not religious.

"For a long time I confused spirituality and religiosity to be the same," he said. For him, religion refers to institutions, hierarchies and theologies.

"You can be spiritual without being part of any group," Brennan said. "You can be spiritual without having dogma and rules and all the rest."

ORIGIN OF DISTINCTION

Rice agreed, pointing to Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs as examples of recovery groups that are spiritual, not religious. …