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In Theory: 'Spiritual but not religious' community is growing

June 10, 2010

The "I'm spiritual but not religious" community is growing, according to a blog post by CNN writer John Blake. It is growing so much, the blogger writes, one pastor has compared it to a "movement." In a 2009 survey by the research firm LifeWay Christian Resources, 72% of people 18 to 29 consider themselves "more spiritual than religious." Some say the phrase hints at egotism: "If it's just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?" asks one Jesuit priest. What do you think? What exactly does being "spiritual but not religious" mean, and could there be hidden dangers in living such a life?

I generally avoid CNN when looking for objective truth, regarding spiritual matters in particular. But I must say that John Blake's June 4 article was refreshing, candid and helpful. As I engage in spiritual conversations with the good people of Montrose, everyone, it seems, calls themselves — spiritual but not religious. I humbly confess I find this label increasingly irritating. That is why I am delighted this timely question has been posed.

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As I understand it, the word "spiritual" has somehow come to be associated with a private realm of thought and experience, while the word "religious" has come to be connected with the public realm of membership in religious institutions, participation in formal rituals and adherence to official denominational doctrines.

I have only enough space to be uncharacteristically blunt. The spiritual but not religious folks I know are at least three things:

First, if those in the spiritual but not religious crowd are anything, they are alone. They have to be. The minute they unite with other like-minded irreligious people, they've created a church or perhaps an "un-church" and, hence, a new religion. A lone ranger approach to God is doomed from the start. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the very first word he taught them was plural, our. "Our Father who art in heaven." Spirituality is something we do together. One of my favorite things about the Christian journey is that it forces me to walk with others. I am richer for it.

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