The Very Rev. Malcolm Clemens Young stands inside Grace Cathedral in

The Very Rev. Malcolm Clemens Young stands inside Grace Cathedral in

Death of spirituality in SF is greatly exaggerated

Whether you call it spirituality or religion, the Bay Area plays a pivotal role in how humanity understands meaning. Our contribution comes from our location at the crossroads of the East and West, our special appreciation of holiness in the natural world and our enthusiasm for experimentation and seeking. The San Francisco Examiner’s launch of a new page on religion and spirituality will contribute to this spiritual movement.

Last year, the Pew Research Center published survey results showing the San Francisco Bay Area has a smaller percentage of Christians (48 percent) than all the other large metropolitan areas in the country. We also have the second highest percentage of adherents to non-Christian faiths (after New York, 15 percent) and the second highest number of people (after Seattle) who describe themselves as having no religious affiliation at all (35 percent).

This richness of perspective, along with other historical and cultural factors, accounts for the outsized spiritual importance of this region.

Theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965) describes faith as that which concerns us ultimately. Meaning arises out of the experience of feeling connected to “the whole of human reality.” Tillich uses words like “ultimate concern” instead of “God” in part because the language of traditional religion may be freighted with too much baggage for many modern people.

The words religion and spirituality evoke very different meanings in our culture. For some, religion and spirituality may seem opposed to each other. For them, the word spirituality acknowledges the mystery of our situation without implying ties to a particular tradition.

For other people, the word religion expresses the importance of responsibility to others as a necessary part of our internal life. For this reason, Rita Semel, 95, one of the Jewish founders of the San Francisco Interfaith Council frequently describes herself as “religious but not spiritual.”

From the earliest days of the state of California, figures such as the Methodist William Taylor, the Unitarian Thomas Starr King, Episcopal Bishop William Ingraham Kip and Sierra Club founder John Muir passionately engaged spiritual questions and established institutions that shape our life together. During Archbishop Joseph Alemany’s tenure, Santa Clara University, USF, St. Mary’s College, Dominican University, Notre Dame and Holy Names College were all established.

Twentieth century poets like Robinson Jeffers, Kenneth Rexroth and Gary Snyder shared the spiritual power of our region’s landscape. Popular and often controversial figures like Bishop James Pike, Alan Watts, Ram Dass, Joanna Macy, Werner Erhard, Starhawk, Eknath Easwaran and Larry Harvey influenced people around the world as idiosyncratic spiritual leaders.

Religion and philosophy departments at our local universities, the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, San Francisco Zen Center, the Pacific Coast Theological Society, Green Gulch Farm, The Esalen Institute, The California Institute of Integral Studies and many local retreat centers actively shape what faith means in our time. They produce spiritual leaders who will continue to teach us what it means to be human.

The story of Gay spirituality, Zen hospice, the modern labyrinth movement, ecospirituality have their origins here. The Bay Area’s contribution to the world’s understanding of faith goes far beyond frontier religion, new age spirituality and the human potential movement.

In the decades to come as our regional culture matures and as technologies developed here draw global attention we can expect to see many more examples here of how San Francisco shapes our experience of the ultimate concern.

The Very Rev. Malcolm Clemens Young is the ninth dean of Grace Cathedral, a position he began in September 2015. He has an economics degree from UC Berkeley and a doctorate of theology from Harvard University. Young and his wife Heidi Ho, a USF School of Law professor, are the parents of two teenagers.

FaithGrace CathedralReligionSan Francisco

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Howard Golden places an order with server Dragos Pintlie at John’s Grill as indoor dining resumes on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Food services industry sees significant drop in employment opportunities

San Francisco’s job market has contracted sharply over the past year in… Continue reading

Dr. Vincent Matthews, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District, on Monday said “We truly wish we could return to in-person learning for everyone.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFUSD reopening plans still leave out most secondary students

SFUSD announces April return to in-person learning after reaching contract deal with teachers

San Francisco Giants catcher Joey Bart (21) swings for a strike against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Oracle Park on August 25, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to S.F. Examiner).
Up-and-coming players show glimpses of future greatness at Giants Spring Training

By Nick Zeller-Singh Thousands of baseball players across the nation have one… Continue reading

“Calder-Picasso” juxtaposes sculptures and paintings by 20th century masters Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso at the de Young Museum. (Courtesy Gary Sexton/2021 Calder Foundation, New York/Artists Rights Society, New York)
‘Calder-Picasso’ showcases modern masters side-by-side

Artists explore empty space in representational and abstract works

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted changes to The City's streets including Slow Streets closures to increase open space access and the Shared Spaces program, which allows businesses to use public right-of-ways for dining, retail and services. (Examiner illustration)
COVID is reshaping the streets of San Francisco

Walk down Page Street, which is closed to thru-traffic, and you might… Continue reading

Most Read