“Rabbi David Cooper, author of the bestselling God is a Verb, suggests that in Crestone is occurring a strange next step in human spirituality: “postreligion,” in which one can benefit from religion without being a believer/congregant”(Paine 2007:62). This quote captures the essence of the belief that the current age is one where religious dogma will meld, creating a place where religion is more about spirituality than rules and rituals. This sort of conglomeration of ideas seems to characterize the Crestone/Baca area in the eyes of outsiders, as is demonstrated by the national press’s interest in the phenomenon. Yet, the insider’s view of this issue varies from that of religious autonomy to religious appropriation.
Some members of the community, like Ralph Abrams, from the White Jewel Zen Center, believe that the multiplicity religions, while all present in the Crestone Area, still maintain their autonomy.
Everybody is in harmony here together, whether you’re a Christian, a Buddhist, a practitioner of the Japanese spiritual tradition, one of the Carmelites…We all share a container: what Crestone is as a spiritual place. It’s not a merging, where it becomes this mish-mosh. There’s a respect, almost a brotherhood of understanding. So this is also possibly the way that spirituality is going into the 21 st century.
Sister Connie of Nada Carmelite Hermitage, shares this view. She has observed the separation of the various faiths while acknowledging the context of the shared experience of spirituality.
I know I’m not a Buddhist, I am very much a Christian, but like I said earlier I’ve learned so much from the people that I know here and their different spiritualities so I don’t know if I would call it post-religious because I think it needs a whole other term.
These individuals are samples of people who view Crestone as an important spiritual place because of its breadth of knowledge, but one which maintains individual traditions as separate paths, not a weaving of different traditions.
The slightly different view of Crestone as a spiritual melting pot is also held by many of the residents. This attitude is exemplified by Bon Dellegar who explained that Crestone is “a beautiful kind of exchange and acceptance of beliefs, it’s a spiritual smorgasbord. I am a part of multiple communities around here.” This acceptance of multiple paths to a common end appears in many of the interviews. Joy Kells, who is a volunteer firefighter, explains this melding of traditions.
The different religious groups all have their own pathways to the great unexplainable, but it’s all the same. We are all on the same wavelength on that and there is a great deal of harmony. There are more kinds of religions here than I can count. Everyone is trying their best to be a holy being so that’s cool. We should all work at it in whichever way we can.
Braedon Holtzinger of Humanity in Unity explained the connection between various religions in more metaphysical terms by asserting, “I believe that there is a divinity that is within us and outside of us-that is connected to all. That is a creation of the source that is the ultimate being that is God and that God is manifested as a conscious, thinking being.” Crestone’s spiritual journey is evidenced by this sample of various residents and the combination of religious dogmas that influence their practices. They are examples of what Rabbi David Cooper would term postreligion.
There is also a strand of optimism in this combination of religious dogma. These feelings come through in the residents’ descriptions of the spirituality of their adopted home. Matthew Crowley of the Shumei Center, a Shinto based religion, said, regarding the future of religion, "I think that to make a difference in the world, to try and bring about a better society, that we need to find ways -common ways- to connect with people, beyond dogmas and beyond spiritual language even.” This view of the future is also supported by Darlene Yarbourgh of Humanity in Unity, a religious organization that could easily be the poster-child for Rabbi David Cooper’s “postreligion.” She says “I think it is this place, about going beyond the old definitions of religion and looking at new ways to live. I like the term that the new religion is the religion of love. We don’t have exact names for it, but we have a religion of love here.” As Humanity in Unity, while ritually based in Hinduism, combine elements from a large assortment of religious beliefs, creating a type of “new spirituality,” they stand as a prime example of Rabbi David Cooper’s “postreligion.” That religion in Crestone is thought to be progressive in its teachings and combinations, coupled with the optimism surrounding the results of this cooptation, allows for a multiplicity of meanings and practices within this small mountain town. And while there are those who would disagree, even within the Crestone community, there is a general consensus surrounding the idea of individual religious paths. As Tamar Ellentuck, a Buddhist practitioner explained,
I personally don’t believe that there is a right religion or a wrong religion, or a right spiritual practice or a wrong spiritual practice, or that spiritual practice has an intrinsic benefit at all. Except that people are different, and people are attracted to different things, and for certain people it’s a way of life that’s valuable.
This is an exemplary example of Rabbi David Cooper’s “postreligion.” The individual matters, not the church.
2007 A Spiritual Community Takes Root. In U.S. News & World Report November 26/December 3, pp. 62.
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