What does it really mean to be “spiritual but not religious”? Is it really possible? TTC writer Scott Schiffer argues that it isn’t.
Religion Vs. Relationship
Today some people prefer to say that they are spiritual but not religious. Some claim that Christianity is a relationship not a religion. Recent studies confirm these shifting ideals, showing that America is becoming “less religious.”
These ideas lead me to two questions: First, is it really possible to be spiritual without being religious? Second, is it possible to be in a relationship with God without being part of a religion?
Spiritual but not Religious?
First, a few definitions.
What does it mean to claim to be spiritual? Generally speaking, a person who is spiritual tries to focus on things pertaining to the soul as opposed to the physical world around us.
A religion is “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods” according to Webster’s Dictionary (I know not the most academic source, but it is a good basic definition; emphasis mine). Someone who follows these beliefs, ceremonies, and rules would then be a religious person. (Note: Buddhism does not focus on a god or gods, but is typically considered a religion because of its organized belief system and the ceremonies and rules practiced by its followers.)
Religion and religious people have gotten a bad name in recent times. Religion sounds rigid and structured, not free and exploratory. Many religious people have been proven to be false teachers and hypocrites—not just in Christianity…but especially in Christianity.
In our relativistic, what’s right for me might not be right for you, culture, people like to choose their own truth. This involves picking and choosing what aspects of faith they want to accept and practice. Some people reject certain claims of the Bible or write them off as archaic.
This brings us back to the original two questions; can someone be spiritual without being religious? Yes, it would seem that one can so long as the person does not fit into traditional religious molds. However, this new spirituality has a relativistic structure. Because it rejects and accepts some practices it creates an amalgamated idea of who God is.
This brings us to our second and more important question; can people have a relationship with God without being part of a religion? To this question, I would argue that they cannot. Why? Because religion is necessary for defining who God is. Without it, we cannot really know much at all about the being we claim to know.
Is religion doomed? Is religion so legalistic and rigid that it is no longer relevant or needed? Absolutely not! When practiced with integrity, religion can lead people into deeper spirituality that will alter how someone lives. But in order for this to happen, one must not get bogged down in the hypocritical practices rampant in churches today which foster the kinds of legalism that kill the spiritual life of a congregation.
To put it differently, one cannot accept religion in a piecemeal fashion. Doing so undermines the authoritative practices of any faith. Accepting part of the Bible is like accepting part of who God is but rejecting part of who he is at the same time. To be truly spiritual, to walk in a relationship with God, one must know the practices (beliefs, ceremonies, and rules) of a faith. These practices become a map for leading people into a deeper faith enhancing the person’s relationship with God.