Spiritual but not Religious? Not so Fast!

It's not surprising that, given all the problems with organized religion, many people would say, “I’m not religious.” They say: “I’m serious about living a moral life, maybe even one that centers on God, but I’m my own person.”

“Spiritual” on the other hand, implies that, freed from unnecessary dogma, you can be yourself before God. The term may also imply that you have sampled a variety of religious beliefs that you have integrated into your life. You meditate at a Buddhist temple, participate in Seders with Jewish friends at Passover, sing in a gospel choir at a local Baptist church (great again), and go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at a Catholic church (also great). You find what works for you, but don’t subscribe to any one church: that would be too confining. Besides, there’s no one creed that represents exactly what you believe.


But there’s a problem. While “spiritual” is obviously healthy, “not religious” may be another way of saying that faith is something between you and God. And while faith is a question of you and God, it’s not just a question of you and God.

It’s a healthy tension: the wisdom of our religious traditions provides us with a corrective for our propensity to think that we have all the answers; and prophetic individuals can moderate the natural propensity of institutions to resist change and growth.  Because this would mean that you’re relating to God alone. And that means that there’s no one to suggest when you might be off track.  We all tend to think that we’re correct about most things, and spirituality is no exception. And not belonging to a religious community means less of a chance of being challenged by a tradition of belief and experience, less chance to recognize when you are misguided, seeing only part of the picture, or even wrong.

Read the rest here at Bustedhalo.

James Martin, SJ

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
James Lindsay
8 years ago
People who practice 12 step programs (which draw from the Exercises for content) sometimes make this claim. If it helps them stay alive in the face of addiction, who are we to say that it does not work in this life and the next.
Joseph Walters
8 years ago
Michael B,
I was happy to see someone else who sees the connection between and Exercises and 12 Steps. I agree that spirituality can help defeat addiction, as did Carl Jung, but will point our that even the AA text book notes that many members join religious bodies, and are "bright spots" in that context.
Thanks for you comment.
James Lindsay
8 years ago
Bill W does suggest that and one of his spiritual was a Fr. Downling, SJ

Often people use Spiritual, not Religious for an indicator on dating sites that they are in Recovery
Beth Cioffoletti
8 years ago
I think that you have to distinguish between religion and religiousity.
It is one thing to belong to a community and to adhere to and follow a set of beliefs.  It is another to use religion as a means to promote one culture (or people, or State, or idiologdy, or political party) over another.
Unfortunately, throughout history, religion and religiousity have gone together.  I think that the people who say that they are spiritual and not religious, are mostly addressing the religiousity part of the religion.


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