IS “SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS” AN ANNOYING CLICHE?

Posted by & filed under Buddha, christian dogma, enlightenment, Lillian Danial, Meister Eckhart, orthodox, Ramakrishna, spiritual awakening, spiritual books, spiritual but not religious, Spirituality.

According to a recent Belief.netstory, roughly one-fifth of Americans describe themselves as “Spiritual but not Religious.” The story also says:

A group of social scientists studied 346 people representing a wide range of religious backgrounds in an attempt to clarify what is implied when individuals describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” Religiousness, they found, was associated with higher levels of interest in church attendance and commitment to orthodox beliefs. Spirituality, in contrast, was associated with higher levels of interest in mysticism, experimentation with unorthodox beliefs and practices, and negative feelings toward both clergy and churches.

I think that sums up the general perception of the distinction between these two words quite accurately.
A Congregational Minister, Lillian Daniel, finds the statement “I’m spiritual but not religious” to be nothing short of annoying, as she explains in this blunt statement:
On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is “spiritual but not religious.” Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.

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. …


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.

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.

If being “spiritual but not religious” means being self-centered and complacent, I would have to agree with her. As 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.”
My own wish is that people would come to see that spirituality is the very essence of religion. But this has, indeed , been lost and forgotten as our commercial scientific culture moves farther and farther into the general assumption that only the literal, material aspects of life, those that can be ‘observed, ‘weighed’ and ‘measured’, are of any real consequence. When we read the Bible this way (or the Qur’an, the Greek Myths, or any of the great legends and stories), we end up with nothing but a fundamentalist interpretation of religion that mainly relies on silly and fantastic assumptions about an ‘invisible friend in the sky’.
As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, to say that ‘God is the highest level of creation’ doesn’t mean “some guy up in a cloud.”Highest” is a condition, not a location.  
When Ramakrishna, or Meister Eckart, or Buddha, communed with the divine, they weren’t “talking to some invisible guy in the sky”. They had achievedsomething internally, somethingSpiritual.
The ancient religions aren’t dull, as many “spiritual but not religious” people suggest. But they have certainly been literalized to the point of absurdity, and they certainly sound hollow and empty when their scriptures are read that way. My challenge to readers of this blog and my books is to look deeper, to find the inner symbolic, spiritual essence that still remains vibrant and alive within the western tradition.
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artistdeb says:

“My own wish is that people would come to see that spirituality is the very essence of religion.” Andrew Cort

This is my wish as well Andrew. I am observing that many, most to not personally know and and thus feel this true inner connection with their Spiritual Essence. They don’t believe that more than they know is possible and thus the do not seek. I am a seeker and I am as well a finder.

Thank you, for starting this discussion. DebraClemente.com

Andrew Cort says:

I understand your point Rosie, and agree with all that you say. I would only suggest that all these negatives are man-made indeed. It’s not religion per se that causes these horrible results, it’s people who twist ideas and misunderstand ideas and force ideas into their own distorted agendas that so often turn so-called ‘religious teachings’ into inhumane monstrosities. But I think if you drop all of the dogma and fantasy and smarmy morality and ‘fire-and brimstone’ that has accrued to these religions, and just take a fresh look at the actual words of the Torah, or the Gospels, or the Qur’an, etc., with an eye to their symbolic inner meaning (not the superficial literal meaning), their innate spirituality and goodness is still intact.

Rosie says:

Andrew I can agree with that, but why do we need man made religions anyway? We can connect directly with Source. Why would I want to be part of a religion, with all its human weakness, when all the holy books are available to me, I can connect with God, Goddess, Source, whatever name feels authentic, what does religion provide that I can’t give to or get elsewhere? Each to their own, if you find it helpful, great. I can see no advantage, and much damage.

Andrew Cort says:

It certainly isn’t necessary. But religion isn’t just all human weakness, just as an individual isn’t all human weakness. When a friend or loved one fails us in some way, we don’t have to just toss them completely out of our lives. Religion is man-made, but you seem to say that as if it’s derogatory and shows that religion is valueless. Religion isn’t just about its failings, and these failings are on the surface and are really the failings of misguided people, not the religion itself. We are connected to the past and the future, and the real teachings of religion are filled with wisdom and practicality that has been earned by the efforts of many good people through the ages and will not generally be found anew in any one lifetime. Do we need it to connect to the source? No. Will a great many people be unable to connect to the source without it’s guidance? Absolutely. Can it be distorted? Obviously, but so can any teaching.

Rosie says:

When I was six years old, I had to make a list of all the ways I was wicked, at a religious school. While this minister is entitled to her opinion of course, manhy of us have experienced religion as belittling, disparaging, shaming to say the least, not to mention hypocritical, and hyper-critical. The only love available was if we denied what was blatantly obvious in front of us, or secretly hidden: like centuries of systematic institutionalized spiritual + sexual abuse of children, and the protection of perpetrators; the denial of the spiritual power of women …remember the serious debate, “do women have souls?”. Religions have produced many selfserving people who have used the innocence of others to their own ends, absolutely inconsistent with love. Many of us are building our own personal connection to Source, and allowing our trusted communities to hold us accountable. Don’t make the mistake of thinking we imagine we don’t need to be held accountable, the human condition has many blind spots. I acknowledge also that religions have had many people in them who have done a lot of good. The thing is, religions are human made, not God made. So they have all the human strengths and weaknesses as any other human construct.

N. K. David says:

Well, this is an interesting topic and I have seen many people that claim to be spiritual but not religious. As an Author of 3 books plus “The formula for reincarnation (the rebirth equation)” and as a hubber that have associated with many people, I understand that not all people involve in spiritual pratices believe in God or someone in high realm. Some of them believe there are forces in nature which can be controlled and used by man. Moreover, most religion lack spiritual powers,they only preach and talk