A survey out this month revealed that 52% of Americans age 12 to 25 say that they don't trust organized religion, but that they are increasingly spiritual. According to the Minneapolis-based Search Institute, young people are turning away from their churches, mosques and temples and finding God in nature, music, friends and community service.
A 2008 University of California Los Angeles study showed that 62% of college students see themselves as spiritual and believe attaining inner peace is an essential life goal. In that study, spirituality was defined as caring about the condition of others and of the world.
It's easy to see how Obama's rhetoric would appeal to them, and to the countless adults who consider themselves nonreligious, but spiritual. His language of hope resonated with the spiritual teachings of love over fear. For the spiritual-minded, community organizing is not something to ridicule, but to emulate. I can't tell you how many e-mails and bumper stickers I see bearing the Gandhi quote: "Be the change you wish to see in the world."
Change - now there's a holy idea.
Opponents pegged Obama's optimism as naive. But his political rhetoric dovetailed with a pervasive spirituality that teaches that words and thoughts do shape reality. Want to know the secret? Thinking can indeed make it so.
Obama's exhortation for Americans to transcend difference was also in synch with a spiritual world view. When the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, he, too, urged America to govern "from the perspective of the oneness of humanity, and from a profound understanding of the deeply interconnected nature of today's world."
Even Obama's slogan, "Yes we can," could have been out of the mouths of the best-selling spiritual writers of our time, from Wayne Dyer to Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle.\
An army of believers
On the day after the election, Marianne Williamson, author of "Healing the Soul of America," e-mailed a mass message. In it, she observed that "the Obama phenomenon did not come out of nowhere. It emerged as much from our story as from his -- as much from our yearning for meaning as from his ambition to be President."
For those of us who have learned to expect a miracle, we got it in our new president. But the real miracle has been our own spiritual awakening that made his election possible.
Whether President-elect Obama knows it or not, he is backed by an army of believers - people who understand that the promised change is not just his responsibility, but the responsibility of each of us.