Friday, May 18, 2012

Spiritual but not Religious

Photo by John Lynner Peterson

Some reports have indicated that Spiritual but not Religious (SBNR) is the fastest growing faith group in the U.S. The fact that the Pew Forum now lists Spiritual but not Religious as a faith choice says much about the segment of our population that want to be identified as people of faith but don’t express their faith within the confines of a church or organized religious group.

How do you define spirituality—especially in contrast to religion? For me, spirituality is the transcendent connection to God (fill in your Higher Power) that lifts me beyond my skin, bones and brain existence here on earth. How have I experienced this transcendence? Through music most frequently, but also through relationship with another that is so intimate you know that your souls have touched, through reading that forces me to move past my intellect and even past my emotions. And, yes, I have experienced spirituality through sex with my beloved.

Religion by contrast has taught me theology, doctrinal beliefs and love of certain institutions. Religion has taught me a great deal that I have discarded, i.e., belief in the literal virgin birth, literal resurrection and literal interpretation of the Bible. Religion has also taught me transcendent metaphors that still mean much to me, i.e., communion and the symbolism of the table, the bread and the wine. I have distaste for the meaning of such words as resurrection, redemption, salvation, heaven and hell as taught in my religion and yet, I want to reclaim these very words for the spirituality that fits me now. If you wash the literalism from these words, they can be used effectively to describe transcendence that I know to be real from my own experience.

So what does this mean for our nation? For Christianity? For our churches? One result that some of the surveys and articles point out is that people are attending a variety of churches rather than committing to one. Obviously, this behavior adds to the precipitous decline in membership being reported by all denominations of Christianity because many who would describe themselves as SBNR just stay home from church.

Perhaps you have heard sermons in which SBNR has been disparaged from the pulpit. Of course you have, because SBNR persons do not fund budgets which pay the light bill, the pastor’s salary and insure the institution is perpetuated. What would these preachers say we are giving up by not being religious? One argument they might make would be the loss of community if you practice your spirituality only in isolation. I agree with this line of reasoning and must admit this is why I am still a member of a congregation. The community I have found in churches has raised me, sustained me and comforted me through the highs and lows of my life. I am who I am because of church communities.

Another argument might be that we enact social justice as a faith community not as individuals. I’ll let you make your own case for or against that claim. I would also make the case for church being the place where I most frequently access God/spirituality through music. It is not the only place I can or have experienced God through music but it certainly has provided the most frequent access. What are other reasons you or your minister offer for why we need to stay religious?

Are you spiritual but not religious? Do you still attend church? Why? Why not?

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