Spiritual but not Religious

“Spiritual but not religious” is a term I stumbled across a few months ago (when I was searching for an appropriate term to describe my religious views). It’s a rather vague term, and it probably leaves most people scratching their heads and wondering “Well… what on earth does that mean?” When I first saw the term, and then read it’s definition, I knew it was the correct description of my beliefs. Before I write any more, please read this definition found in Wikipedia’s online encyclopedia:


Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) is a popular phrase and acronym[1] used to self-identify a life stance of spirituality that rejects traditional organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering spiritual growth.[2] The term is used world-wide, but seems most prominent in the United States where one study reports that as many as 33% of people identify as spiritual but not religious.[3] Other surveys report lower percentages ranging from 24%[4]-10%[5]
Those that identify as SBNR vary in their individual spiritual philosophies and practices and theological references. While most SBNR people reference some higher power or transcendentnature of reality, it is common for SBNR people to differ in their ideas of the existence of God as defined by the Abrahamic religions.
SBNR is commonly used[6][7] to describe the demographic also known as unchurched, none of the above, spiritual atheists, more spiritual than religious, spiritually eclectic, unaffiliated,freethinkers, or spiritual seekers. Younger people are more likely to identify as SBNR than older people. In April 2010, the front page of USA Today claimed that 72% percent ofGeneration Y agree they are “more spiritual than religious”.[6]
The term has been called cliché by popular religious writers such as Robert Wright,[8] but is gaining in popularity. It has even spawned a Facebook page[9] where members discuss the attributes of the SBNR lifestyle.

The SBNR lifestyle is most studied in the population of the United States. Books such as Robert C. Fuller’s Spiritual but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America (ISBN 0-19-514680-8) and Sven E. Erlandson’s Spiritual But Not Religious: A Call To Religious Revolution In America (ISBN 0-595-01108) highlight the emerging usage of the term.Those that identify as SBNR vary in their individual spiritual philosophies and practices and theological references. While most SBNR people reference some higher power or transcendentnature of reality, it is common for SBNR people to differ in their ideas of the existence of God as defined by the Abrahamic religions.SBNR is commonly used[6][7] to describe the demographic also known as unchurched, none of the above, spiritual atheists, more spiritual than religious, spiritually eclectic, unaffiliated,freethinkers, or spiritual seekers. Younger people are more likely to identify as SBNR than older people. In April 2010, the front page of USA Today claimed that 72% percent ofGeneration Y agree they are “more spiritual than religious”.[6]The term has been called cliché by popular religious writers such as Robert Wright,[8] but is gaining in popularity. It has even spawned a Facebook page[9] where members discuss the attributes of the SBNR lifestyle.The SBNR lifestyle is most studied in the population of the United States. Books such as Robert C. Fuller’s Spiritual but not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America (ISBN 0-19-514680-8) and Sven E. Erlandson’s Spiritual But Not Religious: A Call To Religious Revolution In America (ISBN 0-595-01108) highlight the emerging usage of the term.Comparison of religiosity and spiritualityHistorically, the words religious and spiritual have been used synonymously to describe all the various aspects of the concept of religion.[10][11] Gradually, the word spiritual came to be associated with the private realm of thought and experience while the word religious came to be connected with the public realm of membership in a religious institution with official denominational doctrines.[12] Zinnbauer and Pargament (2005) write that in the early 1900s psychology scholars such as William James, Edwin Starbuck, G. Stanely Hall, and George Coe investigated religiosity and spirituality through a lens of social science.[13]In the field of psychology, spirituality has emerged as a distinct social construct and focus of research since the 1980s. With the emergence of spirituality as a distinct concept fromreligion in both academic circles and common language, a tension has arisen between the two constructs.[13] One possible differentiation among the three constructs religion, religiosity, and spirituality, is to view religion as primarily a social phenomenon while understanding spirituality on an individual level.[14] Religiosity is generally viewed as being rooted in religion, whereas this is not necessarily the case for spirituality. A study of the differences between those self-identified as spiritual and those self-identified as religious found that the former have a loving, forgiving, and nonjudgmental view of the numinous, while those identifying themselves as religious see their god as more judgmental.[15]The practice of spirituality without religiosity has been criticized by representatives of organized religion. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, has called the SBNR lifestyle “plain old laziness”,[16] stating that “[s]pirituality without religion can become a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community”.[17] Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life at Smith College, points to the community aspect of religion and teachings of forgiveness.[16]Lillian Daniel [18] writes: ‘Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.‘”

          ~ Robert Fuller, as quoted here.

That’s quite a lengthy write up, for such a small phrase, eh? Anyway…You’re probably wondering how people can consider themselves to be “spiritual” if they don’t affiliate themselves with any religion. As Wikipedia said, spirituality and religion have been hand-in-hand for a very long time, but that once-“fact” is starting to change. I believe there is a clear distinction between the ability to be “spiritual” and being, in any way, “religious.” Humans are spiritual beings. Spirituality, in its most basic sense, can be defined as: “Spirituality exists wherever we struggle with the issues of how our lives fit into the greater scheme of things. This is true when our questions never give way to specific answers or give rise to specific practices such as prayer or meditation. We encounter spiritual issues every time we wonder where the universe comes from, why we are here, or what happens when we die. We also become spiritual when we become moved by values such as beauty, love, or creativity that seem to reveal a meaning or power beyond our visible world. An idea or practice is “spiritual” when it reveals our personal desire to establish a felt-relationship with the deepest meanings or powers governing life.

          
In other words, I don’t have to be a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu to ask why I’m here on this earth, or why this earth even exists in the first place. I just have to be spiritually aware of something bigger than myself… be that a god, goddess, gods, spirit of love, whatever. And no, being aware of something bigger than self does not mean I or anyone else must be subservient to or love whatever creative force exists or once existed. It also doesn’t mean we must join an existing religion or create our own. No, spirituality is an intrinsic part of humanity, a part that allows us to think deeply and inquisitively as we view the world around us.  Spirituality also allows us to love and be loved, to create and appreciate beauty, and to feel things deeply. The term “spirit” is used to describe many things – from the soul that lies within each person, to the level of vivacity a person exudes (i.e. attitude). I think our soul is tied to our spirituality; and, in many ways, our attitude is also connect to our spirituality.

So, why do I consider myself to be “spiritual but not religious?” Well, I do sense something bigger than myself, I do wonder how the world got here, and why I’m on the earth at this very moment. I do believe something or someone created this universe – who or what, I don’t know, and I don’t think it really matters… to be honest. I think love is the greatest force in existence, and is something every person should give/partake in during his/her lifetime. In the end, it’s love – who/what you loved/who loved you, what you did/didn’t do for love, etc. – that really matters. It is my nature to ask questions and look for a deeper meaning, to be sensitive to what is happening in the world and how I fit into it all. Yes, I consider myself to be spiritual. No, I am not religious. My days of church, following holy books, and being bound to exclusive ideology are over. 

In the earlier Wikipedia definition, a lady was quoted as saying: “Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn’t interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.” She makes some interesting statements, and while I think she makes some good points, I disagree with her. She makes an excellent point when she says, “There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you.” Communities certainly can promote accountability and intellectual integrity, but community is not a trait exclusive to religion. I find this statement to be very interesting: “Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.” Apparently, this woman finds great satisfaction in being a part of tradition, part of a community… which I think aptly sums up why the majority of people join churches and seek to be religious. I see religions as nothing more than man-made traditions (including Christianity and the Bible); and churches are social clubs, complete with members-only benefits and the whole shebang. I understand the need to identify with other people of like-mind. Everyone seeks out their own, including me. I do not, however, need a holy book to tell me who I’m supposed to be, how I’m supposed to act, and I don’t need a god to worship and emulate. I am happy with my identity. I am me. I have a lot to learn in life, and while I may not always enjoy criticism, I honestly wish to grow and become the best person I can be. I don’t try to attain perfection, and I shouldn’t expect it from other people, because we’re all human. I strive to be kind to all, love people, forgive wrongs… but I am not religiously obligated to turn my other cheek when people strike me. I am free to be me, to make my own way, to do my best without guilt; instead of such knowledge being a weight or worry, it is a great joy. I shall never be tied to religion again. 
I am spiritual but not religious.
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