Five Lessons for Understanding Spiritually Fluid People

For some, religious and spiritual identity is an ever-shifting experience with complex, overlapping beliefs.

| June 2019

Photo by Adobe Stock/narongcp.

Excerpted from When One Religion Isn’t Enough: The Lives of Spiritually Fluid People by Duane R. Bidwell (Beacon Press, 2018). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

The seasons of multiplicity reveal the nuances of spiritually fluid lives through time. But some facets of multiplicity are constant, no matter what season people are in or what pathway they’ve taken to a complex religious bond. I’m not an expert on other people’s experiences, but I’ve spent a lot of time with spiritually fluid people. They have taught me five important things about living with complex religious bonds

It Isn’t Easy Being Hyphenated

Spiritual fluidity involves family, social, political, communal, institutional, economic, and spiritual risks. It can mean being erased or silenced by people and institutions that stand at the center of things. Spiritually fluid people learn to exist at the edges of communities, where multiplicity isn’t noticed and doesn’t threaten the status quo. Making choices about hiding or disclosing multiplicity requires lifelong attention. At the same time, multiplicity brings a particular joy that monoreligious people don’t always understand.

Multiplicity is More Complicated Than You Think

A kaleidoscope of influences shapes spiritual fluidity, which pulsates in a matrix of decisions, priorities, benefits, strengths, problems, impacts, needs, and concerns. Multiplicity looks different at different stages of life and in different settings, and it betrays simple description or explanation. Just when you think you comprehend it, it shifts again or reveals something you never imagined. The complexity of religious multiplicity surprises spiritually fluid people as much as it surprises the monoreligious.

Salvation Is Your Agenda, Not Ours

Christian categories like sin, salvation, idolatry, and orthodoxy aren’t sufficient for talking about religious multiplicity. Complex religious bonds aren’t primarily doctrinal and logical, but are embodied, relational, performed. We need shared ways of talking about what’s at stake. But those approaches shouldn’t privilege Judeo-Christian norms and assumptions.

8/31/2019 6:08:16 AM

Hyphenation as you speak of it, is a way to demand each human tell you what common solid safe things YOU use to stereotype and to promote bias. The point for many who are fluid is NOT to identify, but to experience, process, and to LIVE life fully, in ways that make sense to their spirit. That is the focus, not pleasing others by offering a nice neat set of expectations to meet.

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