A Link to 'Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me'

I was greeted on my Facebook page late this afternoon with a discussion regarding a blog post on which a number of my colleagues were commenting (hat-tip to Gerald Schlabach). The post is by Lillian Daniel, a UCC Church minister, on the reading Matthew 16:18, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Lillian Daniel makes a powerful argument for church in this post, not by (re)visiting Catholic-Protestant divides regarding exegesis, but by taking on those who claim that they are "spiritual, but not religious" and so have no need for church and community. She takes no prisoners in Spiritual but not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.

Here is a snippet of her article:


Next thing you know, he's telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach. Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and . . . did I mention the beach at sunset yet?

Like people who go to church don't see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building. How lucky we are to have these geniuses inform us that God is in nature. As if we don’t hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.

And with respect to those who claim this solitary pursuit of God, she says:

You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating.

Read it all here. What do you think?

John W. Martens

Follow Me on Twitter @johnwmartens 


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Bill Taylor
7 years 4 months ago
I am learning to be a star gazer.  Spent hours last night at 8,000 feet, looking at the summer stars on their way out and the autumn splendors on their way in.   Bagged three galaxies with my 20x80's and then just sat back and soaked in the wonders of it all.   God was there, all right, the soaring God of infinities, the God we call Father, who reveals himself to us and makes us one with him by sending his Son.  And the whole thing just sang with the presence of the Spirit.

But that is not enough.  Even though I grumble and growl at the hierarachy-especially our craven bishops of the sex abuse scandals who gave away their authority to the pope at Vatican I and so turned themselves into the executive officers of different branch offices of the Papal Corporation-I still need and revere the Church.  

As a retired priest I discover how much I need that community and the Mass and the sacraments.  

I think people who call themselves ''spiritual but not religious'' can't handle the messiness of being human in the midst of other mere mortals who either lead us from afar, or lead us from the front of the altar, or who share the pews around us.    From those afar, too much pomposity and too many claims to infallibility...from the priest at the altar where I occasionaly stand, too much mere humanity...from the people around me in the pews, crying children, diseased hands at the kiss of peace, restlessness to get the whole thing over in an hour at least with a rush out the door as soon as the priest passes by.   Messy, sometimes awkward, sometimes uncomfortable.   But the living Christ, none-the-less.   
Sheila Harrison
7 years 4 months ago
Being a hiker and a member of a Catholic community, would like to offer another
perspective on '' Spiritual but not Religious ''.  Among hikers there is a community ,
 as  is in a Religious community. Hikers- willingly share resources and information. The hiking community is joyful - greeting and encouraging each other
on the journey. There is a an understanding of the interconnectedness of all life.
There is contemplation , presence and humility. Also the hiking community
understands the value of  God given resources water and sun. What might be meant
by '' Spiritual but not Religious '' , not defined by the created boundaries of Religions.
Rather believing in a God or Creator who created this world out of unconditional
love, without boundaries, deeply interconnected, complete with natural resources,
valuing all life and the mystery of creation.
Anne Chapman
7 years 4 months ago
Norman, it's likely that people will have different understandings.   The easy question is about heaven - of course spiritual (but not religious) people will go to ''heaven.''

Most who are ''spiritual but not religious'' do not participate as regular active members of organized religion. However, they do regularly and actively participate in a relationship with God - through prayer, meditation, loving their neighbor etc. - as spiritual people. At least, that is how I understand it.
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 4 months ago
One way to see spirit is to more or less equate it with desire, when unshaped often restless, such as the restless heart of Augustine prior to his conversion. Ronald Rolheiser's book, The Holy Longing, treats it this way. He considers two very spiritual women to be Janis Joplin and Mother Teresa. The movement of the person to shape that desire is his/her spiritual life. It has no necessary connection to a belief in God.  Joplin, ultimately, by her actions appears to have moved toward a spirituality of destructive isolation; Teresa toward spiritual and religious integration (though her biography indicates no spiritual bliss by any means). 
Perhaps the distinctions one would propose for spiritual vs religious might resemble the distinction between hot and cold: you know hot when you feel it, but ultimately by degrees hot blends into warm and finally into an indistinguishable state between hot and cold. Yet I think as a general statement religion, in the west particularly, would imply a relationship with the Creator, a tendency to identify with a group who share certain beliefs and way of living (i.e., early Christians referring to themselves as members of The Way), and at least a minimal "theology." It is necessarily spiritual in its nature, otherwise it is not religion but religiosity. A spiritual person has no necessary connection between either God or any common shared "Way" of living. It could merely be a certain awe before the sunset or the process of life-no "mere" thing to be sure. The movement of the romantic poets from formal religion to nature and "natural supernaturalism" is an interesting process that has analogous correspondence with this phenomonon; with Wordworth trying to split the difference by associating biblical events and diction to create a Book of Nature that largely paralleled the Christian experience he knew. 
But I think what Lilian Daniel is here impatient with those whose spirituality is an emotional response to, say, a mountain hike which while intense is solipsistic and does not transfer to a "way" of living and conduct. That is by no means the experience of everyone, but perhaps she has noted such a tendency. She is likely also impatient with what has been critiqued as the Cult of Sensibility, the worth of a person being their ability to "feel" and experience feeling, such sentimentalists often moving from one feeling to another without assuming the responsibility for a thing done.
Looks like I've talked around your point more than answered your question. 
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 4 months ago
Um ... I'm one of those "spiritual but not religious" people - though I've probably never used those word.  I'm one of those people who do not belong to a Church community and do not regularly attend services. 

I read the article referenced twice.  I wondered whether or not I should comment - what can I say that will shed any insight on this question of why people don't go to Church, why Catholics have "lapsed"?

And on top of that, I still consider myself a "practicing" Catholic.  I still treasure the Eucharist, the sacraments.  I even go to confession.  But I attend Mass at out of the way places (monasteries, universities, hospitals), and rarely on a Sunday. 

Should I list my reasons?  One of my friends, who was "active" in her parish until just this year, told me: "it just got too painful to listen to the message".  For me, among other things, the tribal, club-mentality is difficult.

To Rev. Daniel, I would suggest that we're not really self-centered, boring or bland people who find ancient religions dull or who don't care for community.  Her lack of interest in a more contemplative approach to community (this does NOT mean private) and worship, and the guilt trip for our discomfort and lack of conformity, is part of the problem.  There may be no challenge to having deep thoughts all by oneself, but seriously confronting ones own prejudices and biases IS extremely challenging. 
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 4 months ago
It also occurs to me that this spirituality vs. religion thing could really be 2 sides of the same coin.

Could it be that theology has 2 sides that are dependent upon each other -  a mystical theology (spirituality) that sees deeply into the mystery of God and a revelatory theology that guides how we live as a community (religion)?  The 2 belong together: there is no spirituality without religion (for it would be at the mercy of individual and subjective fantasy) and no religion without spirituality (for it would have no relation to the real life of God in us). 

Religion keeps spirituality tied to a community, the church, the body of Christ.
7 years 4 months ago
EMBARRASSED TO SAY I HAVEN'T READ THE WHOLE THING YET, but my own question to you is, if those good folks can find God in the sunset, and on the beach, and where ever else they wander, what was it about church, that they could not find God there? This is the question that spurs my work.

What are we not doin' right inside our churches, that God (The Divine Essence) is doing so well elsewhere?

O.K., now I'll read the rest!
Anne Chapman
7 years 4 months ago
Chris, you beat me to it.  The number of blogs and articles written by professional church people on this topic seems to be growing.  I remember reading one by Fr. James Martin, SJ on BustedHalo a year or so ago.  And the tone is similar - the person who is ''spiritual but not religious'' is automatically judged - to be ''lazy'' or to be ''making up his or her own religion'' or ''immature'' or ''lacking in understanding''  or ''shallow'' etc, etc. 

As Beth and Sheila both point out - there are many forms of community which can provide spiritual support as well as educate and challenge.  The contemplative prayer communities (such as those affiliated with Fr. Thomas Keating's Contemplative Outreach) is one.  And, as Sheila notes, hikers (who are better acquainted with God in the sunset and at the top of the mountain than most) are another.  Like Beth, my community is no longer primarily the one I join on Sunday (which is now Episcopalian when I do - my experience is a bit like Beth's friend's - it just got too painful to stay in a Catholic parish) - it is the contemplative prayer community.  And like Sheila's community, I do indeed often feel God's presence most powerfully when in nature - yes, in the cliched but often breathtaking beauty of the sunset, and in the luminosity of the light at the river, and in the very air that caresses my skin. I breathe in life - breathe in God - in nature - but seldom does that happen in the ever-more-stifling confines of the Catholic church - it's getting harder and harder to breathe at all in the Catholic church these days. 

Instead of blaming those who have turned off of organized religion perhaps those professional church people who are concerned about this trend should be asking the question that Chris poses.
Craig McKee
7 years 4 months ago
Dear God,
Thank you for not making all ministers of your church in HER image. Otherwise, the spiritual would never become the religious.
Anne Chapman
7 years 4 months ago
Walter, perhaps there aren't enough people in the pews of her church and she's blaming the people who choose to be unchurched instead of the church?

Which gets back to Chris's question in #5 - if those good folks can find God in the sunset, and on the beach, and where ever else they wander, what was it about church, that they could not find God there? This is the question that spurs my work.

What are we not doin' right inside our churches, that God (The Divine Essence) is doing so well elsewhere?
Monica Evans
7 years 1 month ago
That's a very interetsting topic over here. Religious was always very interesting to me because people have absolutely different opinions on this topic. Thank you very much for this amazing article, that was so exciting to read it!


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