An estimated 70-80% of people today, whether churched or un-churched, report being “spiritual but not religious” and while those numbers are growing our churches are declining.
Religion is defined as a collection of rituals and beliefs that we accept when we decide to join a religion. Spirituality on the other hand is the experience of being in touch with, and reflecting on, the ethics and meaning of our life. An authentic spirituality is becoming self-aware and awakening to the energy that we are sending into the world through our words, the choices we make, and our behaviors.
Some of the “spiritual but not religious” choose to leave their church. Others remain members of their church so they can continue to be part of the church community.
Whether we choose to leave our religion, or continue our membership, the transition from our life long religious beliefs to a “spiritual but not religious” understanding of who we are, can leave us feeling very cut-off and alone.
When questioned anonymously, many of the “spiritual but not religious” report feeling guilt or even shame; an uneasy sense they have somehow angered or disappointed God. They report feeling their life is fragmented, lonely, and empty. A painful mixture of shame and grieving that is emotionally difficult to talk about.
The one thing they are adamant about however, is the certainty that they are no longer willing to embrace an institutional religion whose beliefs require them to commit intellectual suicide.
The “spiritual but not religious” have not abandoned religion; religion has abandoned “them”.
Our institutional religions are theologically frozen in a 2000 year old worldview that uses a flat world level of consciousness. They have refused to embrace or nurture a meaningful spirituality for the modern era and our scientifically literate, modern consciousness.
For most of history the theologies of our mainline religions have ignored and abused the rights of women, blacks, and homosexuals.
Even today, those who dare to ask questions, struggle to grow and openly explore their faith, or challenge the inflexible religious teachings of the institutional church, continue to face the judgmental rejection of the “faithful”.
The message is clear; change, growth, and the evolution of our consciousness is not tolerated.
For example, there are virtually no open discussions on subjects such as the authenticity of biblical scriptures, abortion, birth control, evolution, environmental concerns, the role of women, homosexuality, the definition of marriage, or the glaring lack of compassion and ethics in the political beliefs of our religiously conservative politicians.
Stated simply, the “spiritual but not religious” are looking for a spirituality that evolves and is open to change; a spirituality that institutional religion has not provided.
As one creative writer put it, “religion is the table setting, and spirituality is the nourishing food. Religion has created an impressive table setting for the meal, but it has failed to provide the nourishing food we hunger for.”
Those who are “spiritual but not religious” are simply spiritually hungry. They hunger to be part of a spiritual community that encourages them to grow, to embrace the challenges that come with change, to “become” all they can become, to evolve, to ask questions, or to discover who they really are without the implication they “lack faith”, are immoral or bad.
They want a spirituality that encourages their hearts and minds to be open to everything life has to offer. Where their spiritual lives are not restricted by rigid, inflexible belief or ideas, and change is not something to fear. A spirituality that encourages them to fully embrace their humanity…their ability to wonder, and be curious, and “become”. A spirituality that encourages them to evolve.
They hunger for the kind of spirituality all humans experience when they walk outside on a clear cold night and look up from our tiny little planet at the billions of galaxies and stars that light up the sky.
They want to experience, every day of their lives, the kind of humility and awe that comes from knowing that everything in the universe they are looking at in that star filled sky, including the planet they are standing on, was created out of stardust. Stardust that was forged sometime in the last 13.7 billion years inside the white-hot crucibles of those very stars they are looking up at.
Defining ourselves as “spiritual but not religious” does not make us bad; it simply makes us human.
What do you think? Please add your comments below.