Has Nature Trumped Religion in Boulder?
A religious survey conducted in any major city around the US will generally reflect the religious inclination of the state in which they are located. But what about a notable lack of religious affiliation amongst residents? Today we will skim the surface of Boulder’s relationship to religion, and how the prevalence of nature might be an alternative to religious fulfillment.
According to a gallup-poll released in 2013, Boulder was just shy of the least religious city/metropolitan area in the US. It was bested only by Burlington-South Burlington, VT. Both cities had 17% of their populations claim to be “very religious”. So less than a fifth of Boulderites attend daily/weekly religious meetings and claim that religion is important in their lives. The remainder is “moderately religious” or “non-religious,” meaning that they attend occasional religious services, or religion plays no significant role in their lives, respectively.
Comparing Denver to Boulder shows a clear distinction in religious culture. Denver claimed 31.7% were very religious, and 41.5% were not-religious. Boulder had 17.3% very religious residents with a whopping 61.3% who claimed to be non-religious. It seems that Boulder residents steer towards life without religion. In a city known for open-mindedness and diverse cultural ideas this may not be so surprising.
We already know Boulder’s history with Buddhism. This is a good place to start understanding why “Western” religion is seemingly ineffectual here. But, other surveys have taken the whole of Boulder County into account, and even adding the two largest religious demographics together doesn’t match half of the non-religious population. What is everyone doing instead? Well, there are plenty of ways to be fulfilled in Boulder which do not require religion.
You know that guy who wheels his fancy bicycle into the office every morning, still sweating in his spandex suit? Or that woman across the street who runs for hours on end and has the muscle tone of a racing greyhound? And we all have that friend who lugs his “crash pad” up the mountains every weekend to climb unforgiving rock faces. For many Boulder residents, physical involvement with nature can be a substitute for religious fulfillment. Though the choice may not be conscious from their perspective, these outdoor activities promote challenge, opportunity for personal growth, and common ground for tight-knit communities. This is exactly what a good religious institution would hope to achieve.
In a broader sense, the natural world may become a general substitute for religion in this region. In 2012, the state of Colorado was a tinderbox. Houses and lives were swallowed by tides of fire. Some Boulderites turned to religion, but others simply meditated and prayed for rain from mother nature herself. This might seem odd at first, but when you are in Boulder looking at the red shoulders of the Flatirons, you can feel small. Nature looms over you in its full glory. Like many deities, it seems to give and take from mankind without warning, or clear explanation. So it’s possible that for some Boulder residents, nature has taken a place within them that otherwise would be clad in doctrine and ideology.
These are just our speculations about why so few people claim to be “very religious” here in Boulder. What do you think about Boulder’s sweeping non-religious population? Drop your questions and comments below and have a great day!