Spiritual But Not Religious: Why Are So Many Marching For The Church Door?
By Bruce Davis, Ph.D.
In an ideal world being spiritual or religious would mean approximately the same. But with so many people identifying with being spiritual but not religious (see recent NY Times article) a statement is being made how far religion has separated itself from its spiritual roots. Many, many people have quietly marched out the door into the fresh air of no church. Will they give the pews a second chance? Are ministers, priests, rabbis listening to the young and college educated who are on the march and have kept marching with hardly a glance backward?
The religious have decided these spiritual folks, the young and the restless, are just taken over by secular culture. They want entertainment, comfort, the easy life and have lost God in the process. This maybe partially true. But something more is going on then the allure of gadgets, texting and meeting up with friends. Believe it or not, many of the spiritual but not religious are not pursuing the easy life at all. In fact, many are rejecting the easy answers in church as they search their minds, hearts and serve the poorest of the poor in America and far away countries looking for substance, honesty and purpose.
Many of the spiritual began their march out of Church with simple common sense. They found no sense in the talk of being pro life that somehow included ignoring the poor, hungry, those in need all around us. The lack of reaching out to those hurting in our midst does not seem very pro life. Instead many of the spiritual but not religious see organized religion as just another comfortable consumer in our materialistic culture.
It is the human need for meaning, intimacy, joy that is driving many to leave institutions with too much theology and too little care and devotion. When religion is more about correct thinking and less about love and understanding, people feel something missing. When religion is more about judging others and less about humility and the path of looking inward, it loses the spirit of what church is suppose to be about. Forgiveness has replaced the word sin in the minds and hearts of the spiritual but not religious. Too much preaching drives many out the door into the fresh air of no religion. Being spiritual means time to listen, meditate, pray, time to simply be. In simply being, men and women, minorities of all kinds find respect, equality and the beauty in one another that is spiritual but too often is not found among the religious.
The spiritual believe that God is not someone far away sitting in judgment waiting for good deeds. God, the same God, sits in the heart of everyone waiting for love’s acceptance and giving to those in need. In other words, the spiritual expect the practice of loving thy neighbor as thyself. Their God grows closer as they practice serving instead of trying to convince others to a particular point of view.
There is a popular view saying the difference between religion and spirituality is the difference in believing in the divinity of someone else and experiencing one’s own divinity. This is where the religious have the most to learn, listening carefully to those who call themselves spiritual. A personal experience of God is what religion use to be all about. Today many churches see having a spiritual experience as self indulgent or presumptuous instead of normal. Religion has become too organized, overly intellectual, leaving out the joy, laughter, love, peace which is the substance of heaven. In short, many of the spiritual find church small minded when there is a large mind which includes the heart, the heart of nature and heart of others to connect with. They no longer are going to attend Sunday church and follow along the program.
The young have too much self esteem to know God is not hovering over them in judgement but is inside of them. They have learned that our humanness is not something to feel guilty about, hide and punish ourselves for. Being human is a doorway to God and all the gifts of life. There is a great mystery found going into the vast landscape of the heart. In our heart is the creative artist of joy, the seat of the soul waiting for our celebration. For the spiritual but not religious, church has lost its soul needing to recognize nakedness, emptiness, the ground of our humanness from which the divine emerges.
Many of the spiritual crowd who shun organized religion are nevertheless followers of the Dali Lama and Pope Francis. They travel to India, practice yoga and listen to teachers of primitive cultures looking for someone to teach them about soul intelligence. Being spiritual but not religious means they belong to the living church. The stress of modern life has buried their heart and they will turn over any rock, check out any garden or ancient source to get back to something within them. There is a spiritual yearning for a deep oneness. Silence, meditation, nature’s purity, love’s body has given them a taste of holy oneness. They want more. Somehow life itself hinges upon these experiences. This search for the personal God, our soul within our heart, is what is not talked about and pursued in most organized religion.
As much as religion is busy telling others what they ought to do, they have lost the way to the sacred. The spiritual but not religious are calling for respect which softens us in the sacred essence of God’s presence. They will take sweat lodges, spend too much money on workshops, glide off mountain cliffs. They will do just about anything to experience the something more, a grand communion, that calls them. Big buildings, tradition for its own sake, trying to be hip with rock and roll sermons, promises of salvation do not impress those who have somehow found and tasted God’s light within. The spiritual but not religious intuitively know there is an inner way. They don’t care so much what others think. There is a yearning to respond to. Community is shared with friends, those who also know that personal responsibility, the dance of the heart and service is the new religion. The living church is bringing together many as they search the unknown. Maybe this google of the unknown is the real God filled journey of no name.
The spiritual but not religious are changing the world beginning with themselves. They have found inside the heart is another heart. It is a vast space. Between and underneath our thoughts is an unlimited being. This being inspires and is all about saying “yes” to life. There is so much God in this vastness which speaks to life now and in eternity. For the spiritual, the religious are covering up, denying the anxiety and cravings which rule our culture, our minds and bodies. Silence, meditation, heartfulness offers relief, healing. It all may appear to outsiders as just another fad, temporary crazy fashion. But there are many geeks of the spiritual world exploring heart and soul intelligence and where the two meet. They are discovering a garden path connecting the heart and the stars, a matrix beyond words. In our interior quiet, our awareness can be free of carrying so much of the world. When we carry less, we are more, and have more to give. The divine is found in these moments. The spiritual but not religious are on a journey. Simple steps, simple peace is leading them into a great gentleness of grace and compassion. They want to enjoy all and touch a hurting world.