Spiritual but not Religious in Naperville
I recently hosted my first ever Meetup Group event and had the privilege of discussing the topic ‘Spiritual but not Religious’ with others in Naperville. We had a good mix of worldviews and I am looking for our meetup next month.
After spending some time considering the topic, here’s some of my thoughts regarding the Spiritual but not Religious perspective:
Spiritual but not Religious
You and I probably know someone who would call themselves, ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Surveys vary, but this is a growing demographic in America, along with the ‘religious nones’–those who claim to have no religion. The spiritual but not religious person (SbnR) might be your neighbor, sister, co-worker or employer. Pete Zimmerman, who has published on the topic, defines SbnR this way: “a theological worldview or faith stance that refuses to be bound to authority, and stresses the individual experience over (but not always against) more traditional communal religious ties” [from his work ‘Spiritual but not Religious’]. He states that SbnR “are not bound by common ritual or creed but instead hold in common a turn towards individualism and experience in matters of faith.” I think this description is helpful as it encompasses both the individual-driven nature of SbnR spirituality along with its independence from authoritative texts or institutions.
What I Agree with the SbnR View
The SbnR person is right in one important area: we are spiritual beings made to know and experience something greater than ourselves. In addition to our physical body, we have a soul; our ultimate meaning in life is found in something greater than sexual pleasure, food, temporal comforts, or career. You and I were created to be in a relationship with God; we were made to know true things about God, to love God, and experience God. Many of SbnR embrace this and affirm that science alone cannot give us answers to life’s deepest questions. We need something more to help us understand questions like, ‘What makes life meaningful?’ ‘Who is God?’ ‘What happens to me after I die?’
Another area the SbnR seems to grasp are the evils that can come with organized religion. Organized religion can lead people into dangerous and destructive ideologies–like extremists who blow up buildings or sever heads. It can also lead to wicked men/women taking advantage of naive followers through sexual abuse, emotional manipulation, or financial deceit. Or, it can produce an ugly self-righteous arrogance or a disgusting hypocrisy. These, and other factors, lead some of the SbnR to reject any forms of spirituality exclusively attached to institutional religion or authoritative religious texts.
The Weakness of the SbnR View
There is at least one major weakness to the SbnR stance. The SbnR position does not leave us with much confidence about the truth of our beliefs. How do we know that our beliefs are in line with the way that God really is? How do we know we access to true truth–or truth with a capital T as a member from our Meetup put it? How do we know that we are not mistaken in our views?
I believe that our longing for a relationship with God requires that we know true things about who God is. We must have access to true truth about God to be in a real relationship with Him. This is the same as any earthly relationship–we need actual information about who a person is in order to be in a relationship with them. If we don’t have ‘true’ information about who God is, we may end up with a false notion of God, or we may misunderstand who God is. The SbnR does not give us helpful or informed ways of how we are to access to true truth about God.
In order to experience true spirituality–relationality with God connected with objective reality–we need some kind of revelation from the God who is there. We need God to speak in a trustworthy and understandable manner and to reveal Himself to us. We need God to tell us who He is, who we are, how we can relate to Him, and how we ought to live. I believe this longing is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus came and revealed to us who God is, what is wrong with the world, and how we might relate to God. I love how the apostle John put it: “No one has ever seen God; the only God [Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18).
Jesus has made God known. He is God with us: the Son of God became a man and gave us true information about God. Jesus fulfills our hearts deepest longing for relationship and truth. Through him, we can worship God in spirit and in truth.