Spiritual but not religious
This is a phrase that we are commonly seeing in our virtual world. Friends may use it on their Facebook profiles. Individuals on online dating sites may use it in lieu of identifying a particular religion. Today in the mail, I received a letter and a plea for support from the Lutheran chapel at one of my alma maters. According to the letter, “the growing sociological categories among young people of ‘spiritual but not religious’ or even more poignant ‘none’ shows the urgency of our mission’ (from letter). The Lutheran ministry is on a mission for more young people to have discipleship among faith-filled students and to proclaim God’s unconditional love to those who do not yet know Christ.
This letter has me thinking about why someone might identify as “spiritual but not religious.” This lack of affiliation with a formal institution has me wondering about the subsequent loss in social capital that occurs because of decline in church attendance.
I personally have no problem with the label of “spiritual but not religious.” For me, it means that I believe in God or a power that is higher than me but I choose not to entangle myself into the man-made institutions that is church. Church with its rules and pews full of judging eyes is a construct of man. Churches that are exclusionary are not filled with agape love. For me, I can see God in a sunset, in the bloom of a flower, in the eyes of another man. I recently bought a t-shirt with the saying “If you can’t see God in all, you can’t see God at all.” Maybe my choice of “spiritual but not religious” atones me of any feelings of sin when I choose to drive to the beach or go to yoga instead of go to church.
But this letter from the Lutheran Campus ministry has me thinking. In this age of virtual connections, so many of us are feeling disconnected. We may have 500 friends on Facebook, yet we don’t have the time or the courage to pick up the phone to connect with our actual friends. We don’t have a gathering people where are guaranteed to run into members of our community. On the one hand, the idea of “spiritual but not religious” might solve problems that we have with man-made institutions claiming religiosity, but at the same time this label is establishing our perpetuity of isolation. There may be alternatives to church. Again for me that is what the Universal Unitarians are offering. No offense to the UUs, but I call that group “the not church church.” I don’t say that lightly or judgingly. I mean it in a very matter of fact way. The UUs offer a space and a chance for fellowship, but (again for me) there is no unifying spirituality. So while the UUs offer a forum for social justice, they did not offer me a space to worship God with likeminded individuals.
My yoga community perhaps is another space that has become a sanctuary of sorts. The problem here
though is while there is a lot of spirituality in a yoga practice, it is up to each individual to define what that means. For me the yoga studio is about the search for the higher Self and God only from my own vantage point. There is not an opportunity for fellowship specifically around this notion of spirituality. There may be statements like “we are one” or “surrender into Samadhi,” but this practice is taken up on each individual’s mat. We are all on a personal journey. While I have forged many good friendships with fellow practitioners, I don’t find yoga to be a substitution for the type of fellowship that a weekly church like gathering can cultivate. People are often squeezing in yoga practices instead of going to “yoga church.”
I am inclined to agree with the Lutheran campus ministry. We are in fact in crisis. While this label of “spiritual, but not religious” may in fact more adequately represent the sentiments of young people, we are losing out on a chance for weekly fellowship and social connection. We need to think about the benefits of church not because pastors and priests are the only way to know God, but because we are missing out on the chance to connect with fellow man and realize that we are one. We are connected. We know each other’s struggles, and yet rather than judge, we reach out and support each other through faith and through fellowship.
The letter from the Lutheran campus ministry has very much resonated with me. The question remains now though, what are we going to do about it?