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Divine Hunger: Canadians on Spiritual Walkabout

by Peter C. Emberly

What are baby boomers seeking on the spiritual plane? Peter C. Emberly, a professor and media commentator, attempts to answer this question through a series of interviews with more than 350 Canadian boomers in Divine Hunger.

Emberly is certainly exhaustive. Besides the interviews, he quotes statistics that show that organized religion is not getting the commitment it once enjoyed. He attributes this trend to the fact that baby boomers have rejected rigid creeds and are more likely to refer to themselves as spiritual than religious. According to Statistics Canada, 60% of Canadians went to church regularly in 1945, with 82% claiming membership in a parish. By 1990, the numbers had dropped dramatically, with 23% attending regularly and 29% claiming membership.

Then why the renewed interest in the sacred? Emberly claims that baby boomers, whose mean age is now 48, have mortality on the brain. Boomers also want a personal, inclusive God as opposed to an institutional, discriminating one. Through his interviews, Emberly discovers that they’re checking out Buddism, Vedanta, New Age, Kabbalah, Wicca, Pathfinders, Shiatsu, and much more.

While Emberly’s research and writing is thorough and engaging, his portrait of boomer sprirituality is unflattering – though perhaps not intentionally. Reading the interviews and analysis, it’s easy to conclude that boomers are negotiating with God over their futures, which is certainly a self-centred way of approaching mortality. Furthermore, Emberly is convinced that the baby boomers’ spiritual awakening is “an event of historic magnitude” and that the issues it exposes “go to the very core of our destiny.” A baby boomer himself, Emberly overemphasizes the boomer perspective at a time when there are plenty of other views worth explorating.