Saturday, March 14, 2009

Religious, But Not Spiritual?

Everyone has heard some variation of the phrase, “I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual.” The comedian Daniel Tosh has the best reply to this so far: “Well I'm not honest, but you're interesting.” However, are followers and rationalists missing out on something?

I have known quite a few people who self-identify as “spiritual, but not religious.” My basic understanding of the term is that it applies to a person who holds some degree of supernatural belief, but does not feel they are adherent to a particular religion. There are many reasons for this that I have seen.

The first is that the person is just simply irreligious. They are usually the kind of person who is not interested in religion. Many people who are “spiritual, but not religious” would self-identify with a religion on a survey. However, like most people, they know little or nothing of their faith. This is not for lack of intelligence or any secret cover-up; most people just simply aren’t enthusiastic about religion, either for or against. Most people would probably prefer to never talk about it at all.

So the first group of people who self identify in this category are normal, average, non-practicing believers. This does not mean they don’t do anything religious (especially around fun holidays); they just don’t follow all the rules. Most followers fall into this category, whether they know it or not. Some people have the honesty to say they partially follow a religion, but not many. It’s easier to use a euphemism like the phrase being discussed in this post.

There are also agnostics who see themselves as culturally religious. They may doubt the whole idea of god, but generally appreciate the social functions that religion still engenders. Some may follow their own “brand” of a more popular mainstream religion (usually a foreign religion; bonus points for it being Eastern). Others may do the bare minimum publicly required of them to appease family and friends. Still others are closet atheists, waiting to expose their true identity.

Like any religious tag, the phrase will mean something personal to each person who says it. However, wouldn’t it be odd if someone unified these people into one religion called the Spiritual, But Not Religious (SBNR) Church? They could have a rule that everyone WON’T meet each week. They can incorporate every holiday into their church, and members may freely celebrate any, all, or none of them.

Myself, I’m religious, but not spiritual. I believe in no superstitions, but I am very ritualistic. Humans are creatures of habit, and not even I can escape that.

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