Losing my religion?

All the cool kids are ‘spiritual but not religious’ now, but what does that actually mean?

For many people, it means that they believe in a higher power or powers, but have freed themselves from the perceived domination of any particular doctrine and/or human authority structure.

That doesn’t actually mean they are free of religion though.

Religion as a concept has evolved, from an initial meaning of a subjective experience/attitude of awe in the presence of a deity, to become a response – religion is the practises one adopts as the outworking of a belief system.

It is not simply the doctrines and practises that make up a faith tradition.

If your belief is that we are all one, and that nobody should harm anyone else, you develop a set of practises which go along with that belief. If you believe that God loves the poor and needy, and that he lives and acts through his followers, then you develop a set of practises to reflect that.

You are also liable also to develop patterns and ways of demonstrating worship, veneration and adoration which fall in line with these beliefs. Worship and celebration seems to be something that comes quite naturally to humans, that these practises become part of our religion is equally as natural.

That is religion.

To be ‘spiritual but not religious’ actually doesn’t mean what people think it does. It would actually mean, ‘I believe in things, but don’t let my beliefs impact my life in any way’ (This is something which could be said of many ‘religious’ people). But I don’t think that is what people are trying to express when they talk about themselves in this way  – which is perhaps better summed up as ‘spiritual but not an follower of any of the major faith traditions.’

Religious has become a dirty word, it has become the reflection of an idea that ‘Religion’ or ‘Religio’ is an abstract something – usually something malign and harsh.

In fact, I think we’re pretty much all religious, I’m less convinced that we’re all actively, or consciously ‘spiritual’.  By which I don’t mean that we aren’t spiritual beings – but rather that we’re not conscious of our own spirituality.

OR – maybe there’s another way of looking at it – it would be great to hear your perspective…


5 thoughts on “Losing my religion?

  1. I like the idea I read in a book a while back (whose author and title I’ve forgotten) that we’re all actually mostly liturgical beings and that we are mostly influenced by our liturgical actions than our intellectually accepted truths. Everybody, it seems, is engaged in a small number of activities that they regularly repeat, which either consciously or unconsciously they derive meaning from – be it conventional forms of religion, watching football games, going shopping or whatever.

    In my view, the vast majority of these are unidentified and shallow, yet tend to have a much greater influence on most people’s lives than the (supposedly) deeper activities of the religions. From this point of view, it doesn’t matter if any given religion has a history or defined set of beliefs – they’re only as powerful as the number of people who act them out. And hence many religions are far less powerful than the religion of Greed, the Cult of Celebrity and so on because these are things which affect many people for much of their lives.

    But I’m also thinking that most, and perhaps all, Christian liturgies have little deeper meaning than that which enthuse them with. Which makes me wonder the extent to which these are just inventions and techniques we’ve developed to make ourselves feel better.

    Real religion, it seems to me, is only found in serving the poor and the weak. This is the only liturgy that matters, everything else is shallow or invented.

  2. Can I be spiritual but not religious? I have spiritual inclinations of both thought and action, but am far too inconsistent in what I really think to have established a thorough belief system. 🙂

    I think you’re right though, but at the same time, it is semantics. What I do think is interesting though is that, as the phrase has gotten more popular, it has seemed to lose some slight meaning (even in intentional meaning). Nearly every Christian who’s not fire-breathing dogmatic (that I encounter) has used this phrase at some point, and yet their actions and belief systems really aren’t defined much differently. In fact, especially in our Western culture, they’re not really that much more spiritual (at least if compared to some good ol’ Eastern mysticism).

    Oh well, it’s at least a start. Now I’m just waiting on some “scientific but not religious” atheists hah.

  3. Religion, as you say, has become a dirty word. But, like you, I would say that we are all religious, just not spiritual. Religion is popularly thought to be the exclusive domain of the supernatural, God and the like, but it is not. Thinking through this classic, rather dense, but insightful anthropological definition of religion may be helpful:

    “A religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in [people] by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic. (Clifford Geertz, 1966)


    1. thanks Neil. I found ‘The Meaning and End of Religion’ by Wilfred Cantwell Smith very helpful on this subject.

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