Research Paper: Spiritual but Not Religious

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Spiritual but Not Religious: An Examination

The term "spiritual but not religious" is one which had indeed gained momentum in recent years and is one which has garnered more and more popularity. The term is generally a reaction to the institutional aspect of religion and the rigidity that can come with such authority. This paper will examine what people mean exactly by the term and ultimately this paper intends to prove that the rise of this phrase and its growing frequency of use is a manifestation of society's dissatisfaction with the imbalance, narrowness and intolerance of many world religions.

The meaning of the phrase generally revolves around the assumption that "…religion has to do with doctrines, dogmas, and ritual practices, whereas spirituality has to do with the heart, feeling, and experience. The spiritual person has an immediate and spontaneous experience of the divine or of some higher power. She does not subscribe to beliefs handed to her by existing religious traditions, nor does she engage in the ritual life of any particular institution" (Hollywood, 2010). Fundamentally, the crux of this finding demonstrates that the inherent difference between religion and spirituality is that to engage within an existing tradition (hence, practicing religion) can make one less spiritual. Being religious means bowing to the authority of another person, hence ascribing to those doctrines and reading ancient text and performing rituals without questioning them (Hollywood, 2010). Thus, for people who ascribe to the idea that they are religious but not spiritual, religion is generally viewed as something which is inert, arid and dead, and that the individual who is practicing religion is insincere and not engaging in proactive thought and other such processes during the practice of religion. Hence, at their most fundamental, people who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious" mean that they don't ascribe to ancient and dusty religious traditions and beliefs, but rather focus on the importance of cultivating a sense of relationship and awareness of the world at large and the greater unifying force.

One of the reasons why people are more increasingly inclined to identify themselves in this manner is because of the fact that "religion" is a word which has developed negative connotations over time. "Americans tend to equate religion with Christianity. And especially, people think of guilt-inducing proscriptions on behavior, seemingly arbitrary rules, hell-fire preaching on sin and judgment, unreasoning insistence on dogma and doctrinal orthodoxy, divisive sectarianism, and aggressive proselytizing" (Brown, 2014). Society continues to evolve and we are at once becoming more accepting, more open-minded and more inclusive than we ever were before. The America which balked at inter-racial couples and which supported segregated schools which were "separate but equal" is gone. In many ways, organized religion represents a lot of backwardness and intolerance to many Americans. Organized religion represents backwards and old-fashioned thinking that does not subscribe to the ideas of love and acceptance for all members of society. As society continues to evolve, there's a sense that individuals need to treat one another with dignity and peace, embracing our differences -- rather than damning one another for our differences.

Too many Christian-based religions preach intolerance and fear as part of their religious beliefs, something which is completely backwards and undermines the overall development of society. Individuals who characterize themselves as "spiritual but not religious" are generally aware of that. Consider the opinion of Chuck Colson, one of the writers for the Christian Examiner. Colson believes that if one values one's own freedom to practice religion, one needs to not support gay marriage (2008). If one examines the flow of Colson's logic, it becomes apparent that he is revolving around a strong sense of skewed reasoning: "It is all about equal rights, the gay 'marriage' lobby keeps telling us. We just want the right to marry, like everyone else. That is what they are telling us. But that is not what they mean. If same-sex 'marriage' becomes the law of the land, we can expect massive persecution of the Church" (Colson, 2008). Colson gives evidence for this conclusion by citing how in Massachusetts, where gay marriage was one of the first places to be allowed in the U.S., Catholic Charities were ordered to accept homosexual couples as candidates for adoption: "Rather than comply with an order that would be harmful to children, Catholic Charities closed down its adoption program" (Colson, 2008). Thus, Colson blames allowing all people having equal rights to marry as something which is responsible for shutting this charity down. The imbalanced sense of "logic" has become something which is more than characteristic of so many religions today. Catholic charities chose to shut themselves down, but instead they place blame on homosexual couples for wanting to raise and love children. This is a clear act of fear and of selfishness, and one which is so close-minded, particularly given how many needy children there are in the world today, and how many same-sex couples would make phenomenal parents. Too many people associate this type of backwards thinking and intolerance with organized religions everywhere and is another motivating factor for people to wish to describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious."

There's an inherent hypocrisy at work as well: too many of these Christian-based religions preach the importance of spreading peace and love, and about loving one's neighbor, but have no tolerance for homosexuals or other people who live lifestyles that they feel threatened by. Fundamentally, fear is what is at stake, and fear is what is motivating so much of this intolerance. One can't blame a population of "spiritual but not religious" individuals for not wanting to align themselves with institutions that connect themselves with fear-based motivations.

Religious policy and rigid beliefs which make life harder than easier is yet another reason why people are gravitating away from organized religions and more towards a path of being "spiritual but not religious." For instance, many organized religions take a narrow and intolerant stance on the entire platform of abortion. They say firmly that abortion is evil and that it is murder and that getting an abortion is a tremendous sin. This puts women in a very precarious position, as it indicates that their role in sexual intercourse is just a reproductive one. This creates a scenario where men can have sex for pleasure and for closeness, but that women are just supposed to have sex for a reproductive duty. Organized religions have been comfortable spouting dogma about what women can and cannot do with their bodies for centuries, and many educated adults today are extremely tired of it. This type of dogma is in line with the school of thought that is based in both fear and negativity, and too many people are tired of it. These archaic religious dogmas are simply irresponsible, particularly in light of a recent study which was recently presented to the American Public Health association this year: "76% of women who had been denied abortion were on public assistance, compared to 44% in the group who had undergone abortions. In addition, 67% who had not had abortions were under the poverty line, compared to 56% in the abortion-receiving group. Only 48% of those who had not terminated their pregnancies were working full-time, compared to 58% in the cohort who received abortions. The vast majority of women who did not abort kept their babies" (Kurtzleben, 2012). There are very real consequences for women who aren't allowed to have the abortions that they want: these consequences generally revolve around the line of poverty and hopelessness. In that sense, religious institutions are completely out of touch with the effects of their rules, regulations and rigidities. People who gravitate to being "spiritual but not religious" want to live their lives according to their own values and rules, while maintaining a connection to something greater. In that sense, religion is too easily viewed as something which can shackle others, and prevent those people from reaching their full potential.

Thus, people who consider themselves, "spiritual but not religious" often feel they have a much stronger connection to religious diversity and pluralism because they are more accepting of differences and have a greater amount of tolerance. This option and the momentum that it has gained will no doubt continue to gain greater popularity, given the fact that more and more people are pushing for peace and acceptance of all people, particularly marginalized groups -- something that traditional religious institutions have difficulty providing.

Furthermore, it thus becomes easier to see why the "spiritual but not religious" movement is gaining steam: rather than being entangled and weighed down by dusty dogmas, the movement embraces justice. Consider the following definition: "We in the NSP (Network of Spiritual Progressives) use the word 'spiritual' to include all those whose deepest values lead them to challenge the ethos of selfishness and materialism that has led people into a frantic search for money and power and away from a life that places love, kindness, generosity, peace, non-violence, social justice, awe and wonder… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Spiritual but Not Religious.  (2014, April 7).  Retrieved July 18, 2019, from

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"Spiritual but Not Religious."  7 April 2014.  Web.  18 July 2019. <>.

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"Spiritual but Not Religious."  April 7, 2014.  Accessed July 18, 2019.