The "I'm spiritual but not religious" community is growing, according to a blog post by CNN writer John Blake. It is growing so much, the blogger writes, one pastor has compared it to a "movement." In a 2009 survey by the research firm LifeWay Christian Resources, 72% of people 18 to 29 consider themselves "more spiritual than religious." Some say the phrase hints at egotism: "If it's just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?" asks one Jesuit priest. What do you think? What exactly does being "spiritual but not religious" mean, and could there be hidden dangers in living such a life?
It's hard to strictly define this religious movement, but calling it a "buffet" of pop psychology, philosophy and various world religions would be a good start. Put what you want on your plate, leave what you don't. Essentially it's just another man-made religion whose only creeds are believe whatever you want and avoid accountability to others.
Facebook rehashes terms we've all heard before: "karma," "evolving your consciousness," "seekers," "free thought," "search for truth independently." The words "I" and "you" are used quite often; the word "God" is used less frequently. The movement is apparently a reaction against being "controlled" or "labeled" by others, and against the hypocrisy they've seen in "organized" religions. It's "not putting God in a box" or being put in one yourself. It's a blending of what people think are various truths from different faiths.
A possible strength of such an approach is not accepting something as truth just because someone tells you it is. The dangers of such thinking? First, there is no objective truth, if you're interested in such a thing. Don't look too hard for substance — it's simply not there.
Second, the opinion of man is elevated to deity — your decision is always right.
Third, we have the cautionary example against such a mentality from the Judges 21:25. The popular thinking of those days in Israel was: "Everyone did what was right in his own eyes." Far from being an age of freedom and enlightenment, it was a time of civil war, of repeated apostasy and captivity, of turning to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob only when they were in trouble, and forgetting him soon after he graciously saved them. Unfortunately, that mentality characterizes our age. I applaud all who truly seek God, who said, in Jeremiah 29:13: "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart." But please remember that God's son, Jesus Christ, said in no uncertain terms: "I am the way."
Valley Baptist Church
At Unity Church of the Valley, we believe that "all paths lead to God the One Power and One Presence."
Every Sunday morning, in our opening prayer we pray for the success, well being and the highest good for all houses of worship, knowing that every path will lead to a greater realization of the One Power and Presence, by whatever name it is called.
Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, in his book "The Revealing Word: A Dictionary of Metaphysical Terms," defines spirituality as: "The consciousness that relates man directly to his Father-God. It is quickened and grows through prayer and other forms of religious thought and worship. "It may appear that with the terms "spirituality" and "religious" we are splitting hairs. I believe that what people mean when they describe themselves as "spiritual" is that they are looking for a connection with their Higher Power or Divine Mind. They feel a part of the unity of all life, accepting the belief that the Life Force is God expressing through all forms of life: human, animal, plant, mineral, etc.
A "spiritual" approach to life is inclusive. It puts the responsibility upon the individual for their own spiritual growth and happiness. Spirituality holds to the belief that everyone is a spiritual being, that everyone is a child of God, that all humans are spiritual beings having an earthly experience.
The reference to a "religious" practice or community is one that is more structured, with the priest, nun, pastor or minister being the intermediary between the member of the church and God. In a traditional "religious" setting, confession, the sacrament (bread and wine, or bread and water) and the hymnal have a prominent role.
Can you be both "religious" and "spiritual"? Of course! In the Sunday morning service at Unity, we sing the Lord's Prayer and follow with a brief time of meditation before the lesson.
However you choose to define your practice of personal growth and spiritual enlightenment, know that Divine Love and Wisdom are your constant companions upon the path that leads to the One and that all paths (whether described as spiritual or as religious) have good in them.
REV. JERI LINN
I generally avoid CNN when looking for objective truth, regarding spiritual matters in particular. But I must say that John Blake's June 4 article was refreshing, candid and helpful. As I engage in spiritual conversations with the good people of Montrose, everyone, it seems, calls themselves — spiritual but not religious. I humbly confess I find this label increasingly irritating. That is why I am delighted this timely question has been posed.
As I understand it, the word "spiritual" has somehow come to be associated with a private realm of thought and experience, while the word "religious" has come to be connected with the public realm of membership in religious institutions, participation in formal rituals and adherence to official denominational doctrines.
I have only enough space to be uncharacteristically blunt. The spiritual but not religious folks I know are at least three things: