We are witnessing the birth of a wisdom tradition that is uniquely American. Within traditional organized religion, as well as in the hybrid creations of our times, the stamp of American thinking is plain. We see the American spirit in the proliferation of nonaffiliated Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and Islamic churches, and also in the profound changes within sanctioned denominations. This spirit values independence from religious hierarchy. It crosses religious and social boundaries, telling the tale of a diverse people, gathered in close proximity, and absorbing each other's ways of worshipping, ritualizing, and mythologizing the great mysteries of life. It contains the nature-scented traditions of the original peoples of the Americas. It is part science, which has underscored, for most of the twentieth century, our unspoken collective philosophy. It respects both a mistrust of heavy-handed authority and the willing surrender to a greater power. It draws from the religious teachings of the past: from the biblical traditions; from the spiritual roots of Africa; from the meditative schools of Asia; and from other diverse mythic and religious worldviews. And it draws from our own times, from the wisdom of psychology, democracy, and feminism.

The following lists are a somewhat oversimplified outline of how spirituality is changing in America. In the spirit of transcendence and inclusion, the "old" list notes those aspects of spirituality that we have outgrown. The "new" list leans in the direction of the most positive aspects of the emerging spiritual traditions. What is missing is the best of the old that we must safeguard, and the worst of the new that we can be aware of and work to overcome. Both of these are explained later.
Excerpted from The Seeker's Guide by Elizabeth Lesser, Copyright © 1999 by Elizabeth Lesser. Excerpted by permission Villard Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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