By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) - Can being spiritual but not religious lead to mental health issues? The answer is yes, according to a recent study.
The study, published in the January edition of the British Journal of Psychiatry, says spiritual but not religious people, as opposed to people who are religious, agnostic or atheist, were more likely to develop a "mental disorder," "be dependent on drugs" and "have abnormal eating attitudes,” like bulimia and anorexia.
“People who have spiritual beliefs outside of the context of any organized religion are more likely to suffer from these maladies,” said Michael King, a professor at University College London and the head researcher on the project.
Thirty percent of respondents who identified as spiritual said they had used drugs, a number that was nearly twice as much as the 16% of religious respondents who said they had used drugs, according to the study. Among the spiritual respondents, 5% said they were dependent on drugs, while 2% of religious respondents identified as dependent.
On mental health issues, the study said spiritual but not religious people were more likely to suffer from “any neurotic disorder,” “mixed anxiety/depressive disorders” or “depression” than their religious counterparts. Overall, 19% of spiritual respondents said they suffered from a neurotic disorder, while 15% of religious respondents responded the same way.
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The practice of being spiritual but not religious is difficult to define and has a number of gray areas. The phrase is generally used to describe people who do not attend church, atheists who believe in some sort of higher power, free thinkers and the unaffiliated. It is also used for people who blend different faiths.
In short, King writes, “People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder.”
King, who said he has received a substantial amount of hate mail over the study, defended his findings, “If you take drug dependency, they are about 77% more likely than religious respondents, 24% more likely to having a generalized anxiety disorder. These are quite obvious differences.”
Opinion: 'I'm spiritual but not religious' is a cop-out
The study was conducted with the government of the United Kingdom, which asked the questions as part of a larger psychiatric study.
With a sample of 7,403 British people, the study found that nearly 19% of England’s population is spiritual but not religious. That number is higher in the United States, where, according to a 2002 Gallup Poll, in a sample of 729 adults, 33% of Americans identified themselves as "spiritual but not religious.”
Past academic studies in the United States have come to similar conclusions, said Tanya Luhrmann, a psychological anthropologist and the Watkins University professor at Stanford University. Most academic research about religion and well-being, said Luhrmann, has found that religion is good for you.
According to Luhrmann, organized religion provides three outlets that benefit churchgoers' well being: social support, attachment to a loving God and the organized practice of prayer.
“When you become spiritual but not religious, you are losing the first two points and most spiritual but not religious people aren’t participating in the third,” Luhrmann said. “It is not just a generic belief in God that works; it is specific practices that work.”
People who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious push back against the notion that they have no community to fall back on or impetus to help the poor. In an interview with CNN in June 2010, BJ Gallagher, a Huffington Post blogger who writes about spirituality, compared spiritual but not religious people to people who complete 12-step programs to beat addiction.
“Twelve-step people have a brilliant spiritual community that avoids all the pitfalls of organized religion,” said Gallagher, author of “The Best Way Out is Always Through.” “Each recovering addict has a 'God of our own understanding,' and there are no priests or intermediaries between you and your God. It's a spiritual community that works.”
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Heather Cariou, a New York-based author, identifies as spiritual instead of religious. She told CNN last year that she adopted a spirituality that blends Buddhism, Judaism and other beliefs.
"I don't need to define myself to any community by putting myself in a box labeled Baptist or Catholic or Muslim," she said. "When I die, I believe all my accounting will be done to God, and that when I enter the eternal realm, I will not walk though a door with a label on it."
Younger people identify as spiritual but not religious more frequently than their older counterparts. In a 2009 survey by the research firm LifeWay Christian Resources, 72% of millennials (18- to 29-year-olds) said they are "more spiritual than religious."
The phrase is now so commonplace that it has spawned its own acronym ("I'm SBNR") and website: SBNR.org.
Traditionally the words "religious" and "spiritual" were closely linked, but over time the latter word began to describe an experience disconnected from the traditional confines of religion, particularly organized religion.
A widely discussed survey of adult Americans by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released in October found that the religiously unaffiliated both believe in God and define themselves as spiritual but not religious.
Sixty-eight percent of the religiously unaffiliated believe in God and 58% say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the Earth, in a spiritual way. Additionally, the study found 37% classify themselves as "spiritual" but not "religious" and 21% say they pray every day.
As expected, the practice of being spiritual but not religious has been roundly criticized by those who participate in organized religion. Jesuit priest James Martin told CNN in June that the phrase, "I’m spiritual but not religious," can boil down to egotism.
"Being spiritual but not religious can lead to complacency and self-centeredness," said Martin, an editor at America, a national Catholic magazine based in New York. "If it's just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?"
– CNN’s John Blake and Richard Greene contributed to this report
I wonder how 'likely' SBNRs are to be judged and murdered by their religious brethern for not believing in their God? When you look at the history of the human race, that is the real effect of organized religion. Where are those studies and percentages, Mr. Merica?
Seems like a poor understanding of history?
Religion doesn't have any greater "responsibility" for getting things right than any other potential form of organization. If you want to seriously evaluate track records, there aren't a lot of "persecutions" that aren't a proxy for some secular campaign. It's really the blending of government with religion where bad things tend to happen.
A lot of wars and murders are caused by property disputes. Should we do a study about property owners, too?
So what your really saying is if i dont do this, this or that i must be a drug using, mentally challenged individual who is being segregated for the way i precieve the world? I call bull___!
Please remember –
"Science flies you to the moon! – Religion flies you into buildings!...
At one time science was convinced the Earth was flat too, and where did that get people?
Science is only correct until it's proven wrong.
Less than 100 years ago, science was -mostly- of the opinion that eugenics was totally cool.
The Bible also speaks of the Earth as if it were flat, so, is religion just always wrong?
Holy books STILL teach that men can fly and snakes can talk..hmmmmm
I've been taught not to make an idol out of the Bible.
Parts you need to put in historical context. It is a collection of books, letters, tales, essays, poems and songs. It describes people as they were. What is important is what it points to: God.
ME II – Please tell us where the Bible speaks of the earth being flat?I have read the entire Bible and never seen the chapter verse that you speak of here. Please tell us.
@texas Most of us know that verses can be interpreted many ways but here are some that refer to a flat earth or an earth with edges.
If refusing to believe in snakes that talk, bushes that spontaneously combust and then start talking or that a whale swallowed Jonah and he lived in his stomach makes me have a mental disorder, then LSD, mushrooms and marijuana are the culprits. They gave me the ability to tell the difference between what is real and what isn't.
I love it the method they used was by analyzing data from a study.
So this is an inverted study, and study looking deep into the soul of another study.
A study of which the methods were never disclosed how THAT study garnered their data.
My bet would be interviewers with an already strong opinion on spirituality and religion. The subjects may have been rounded up from a Phish concert for all we know.
For what it's worth here's a link to an abstract of the first study:
What a bunch of malarkey.
There is also a study out that proves that those who are religious but not spiritual do poorly in Science Class and don't understand the scientific method.
This was clearly a cross-sectional study which means that causation cannot be implied. The opening question, "Can being spiritual but not religious lead to mental health issues?" is therefore grossly inaccurate. One cannot infer that either LEADS TO the other. Perhaps it is the other way around, having mental issues leads to one being spiritual not religious. Maybe there is an association, maybe there are confounders, and maybe this is just low quality oversimplified research. In a world where organised religion is the cause of most war, perhaps we should redefine our definition of mental issues also.
Those conclusions about the study seem reasonable, but you might have a causation problem of your own with the latter statement...
AND WHY DO THEY SEEM TO LIKE THOSE LITTLE WEIRD HATS THAT LOOK LIKE THEY WERE RECYCLED FROM A JUMBLE OF MR. ROGERS' SWEATERS?
EVER NOTICE THESE DREADLOCKED FOLKS AT COLLEGE ALWAYS DOING HACKEY SACK OR OTHER ACTIVITIES WITH THOSE BATONS? I DON'T UNDERSTAND IT EITHER.
THEY NEED TO GET OFF MY LAWN!
I am SBNR and have been a member of a spiritual community for 13 years. When I started i was angry. I have learned that anger is a manifestation of fear. Additionally, each person chooses how they show up in our world and has a personal relationship with God. Everything I say, think, feel and do has nothing to do with anyone but me. We see our perspective when we judge others. Judge not and be not judged. James Martin has an issue with egoism. The problem I have christian churchs is they manipulate their congregations with fear in the name of a Loving God.
Not all Christian Churches employ the fear tactic.
@Blue Sox "Not all Christian churches employ the fear tactic"? What does the Bible say happens to me if I don't accept Jesus as my lord and savior? They sure do use fear as a tactic.
My church doesn't say that.
@ Blue Sox I didn't ask what your church teaches, I asked what does the Bible say. Your church is doing what many other religious people, and churches do, take your religion A LA' CARTE. You pick and choose the nice cheerful parts while ignoring the downright depraved parts.
Ok, I don't listen to atheists on a religious message board to decide for me what Jesus Christ would have me do.
At my church we consider ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ. And I said we don't use fear tactics. We don't need to.
"What does the Bible say happens to me if I don't accept Jesus as my lord and savior?"
I don't know. I can't tell you what God has planned for you.
@ Blue Sox now you are just lying. Did Jesus not say (allegedly)"none cam come to the father but by me"? Maybe you do come here just to see that atheists usually know the religious texts better than the believers.
Lying? Come on.
I am not sure if you know 'the religious texts' better than me.
Jesus also said:
"I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice."
"I am the way" I believe Jesus is talking about living they way he lived. Or, if you want to live in a way that is pleasing to God, listen to what I would have you do.
"The way of Jesus was never intended to be a list of intellectual beliefs
about Jesus, or even the saying of the word ‘Jesus’. That would virtually
amount to salvation by syllables. Rather, the way of Jesus is the path of
transformation by following his way of living, which fulfilled the ancient word
of the prophet Micah: …what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and
to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." – Thomas R. McKibbens
From the article, " King writes, “People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder.”" But isn't it just as likely from the data that people who are vulnerable to mental disorders for whatever variety of adaptive and maladaptive reasons are more likely to have a spiritual understanding of life while not embracing an established religious framework? The same brain characteristics that can lead to abnormal and problematic mental issues can also lead to extremely valuable things, such as borderline obsessiveness providing the persistence necessary for many important things.
Agreed. I thought the conclusion of the study was idiotic. So glad we didn't pay for this study.
Who writes this drivel...what a waste of ink and space.
I agree. What a load of baloney. I don't know how the authors came to their bizarre conclusions. Perhaps they are on drugs or have a mental disorder.
Atheists who believe in a higher power are NOT atheists. They're deists. Big factual mistake in the article.
'Freethinkers' is a term typically applied to skeptic agnostics and atheists. Rarely would they be spiritual. Big false assumption in the article.
And the first sentence of the article, claiming that correlation equals causation, is a fundamental misunderstanding of scientific discovery. Spirituality doesn't necessarily lead to drug abuse and mental health issues. More likely, people who have these problems are drawn to spirituality for some reason.
This article is full of FAIL.
WHY DID THEY USE A PHOTO OF THE COUNTING CROWS GUY NAKED ON A BEACH?
WHAT? TYPE LOUDER!
I wish they didn't crop the bottom of the photo... that guy is actually floating 2 inches off the ground. Very spiritual.
OVER TWENTY YEARS I'VE BEEN USING ONLINE SERVICES. OVER TWO DECADES, AND THE SAME TYPES OF PEOPLE ACT OFFENDED BECAUSE OF THE CAPS LOCK. AND THE CNN COMMENT SECTION LET LOOSE A TORRENT OF RAGE OVER A USER WITH A CAPS LOCK. BECAUSE THEY WERE OFFENDED. AS THOUGH SOMEONE WERE PHYSICALLY SHOUTING OBSCENITIES IN THEIR EARS.
YOU DO REALIZE THAT CAPS DOES NOT EQUATE TO THE BURSTING OF EARDRUMS VIA ENORMOUS SOUNDS FROM THE ALMIGHTY, RIGHT? IT'S NOT LIKE YOU CAN HEAR MY CAPS LOCK. AND YOU CAN'T IGNORE ME EITHER. SO I GUESS YOU'LL JUST HAVE TO LIVE WITH IT. OR CRY ABOUT IT. EITHER WAY, THE CAPS LOCK STAYS.
Brown Note is the David Draiman of the Belief Blog.
@THE BROWN NOTE,
...such a rebel
...fight the man ...and his capitalization rules
So does the stupidity, obviously.
BOB, I GUESS THAT'S WHY YOU'RE STILL HERE.
THE BROWN NOTE,
Suit yourself. Just don't be surprised when most of the comments to you are not about the content or concepts in your posts. All caps are jarring to the eye and are uncomfortable to read - like the huge blocks of text with no punctuation or paragraph breaks. Many just skip reading them.
"attachment to a loving God", seriously? If you think you have that, you are delusional, whether you self report it or not.
Yeah, I thought that was odd too.
Although, the person quoted wasn't involved in the study, it seems odd that a "psychological anthropologist" would specify such a condition.
Did she compare that with people who had an "attachment" to an unloving god?
My my, aren't we jumping to conclusions here about some church pulling the strings regarding this study?
A lot of people are blaming "the church".
Spiritual but not religious people are more likely to be of a higher socio-economic class which is more accepting of mental illness and can better afford such care, and are therefore more likely to admit to such illness in a survey.
Where did you get that conclusion from?
@Kev, Pretty much in every study done in the last 30 years.
"It was found that lower-class respondents, more frequently than middle-class respondents: tend not to define certain forms of deviant behavior as mental or emotional incapacities; tend to suggest informal rather than formal sources of help for these deviant behaviors; tend not to suggest using professional mental health specialists for treatment of emotional disorders; and use informal sources for information concerning treatment of emotional problems."
(picked just for it's quick summary)
To see the relationship between education and religiosity, see these gallup numbers on belief that the bible is the literal word of god:
what about those who are neither spiritual nor religious – atheists and agnostics.
They fared relatively well in this survey.
@GOP, yeah, the education/wealth gap wouldn't account for that, but I'd want to see the numbers more closely. Part of it may be accounted for by the spectrum on which schizophrenia is the etreme end....I'd like to see just how much more likely atheists and agnostics are to end up with Parkinsons (the other end of the dopamine spectrum). I'd guess it's an increased risk.
Perhaps it is simply that humans actually do better, or are more "happy", when in a structured social environment which is often happens to be provided by religious organizations.
Perhaps, loose, questionable, or indeterminate social structures, actually cause stress in most primates, who evolutionarily are most 'comfortable' in a hierarchical troop. More stress could be the cause of more mental health issues.
Although, this would not explain the non-spiritual / non-religious findings, I guess.
The studies cited finding religious people to be happier were generally conducted in the US, where religion is the norm. More recent stuiess in Europe, where nonreligiosity is more common, fund no difference in happiness.
It could easily come down to a difference in temperament for the people who don't identify as spiritual (who being a smaller part of the sample are also going to be harder to get parallel stats on).
Perhaps since the religious people are so used to following and worried about being shunned they answer less honestly. As opposed to the Spiritual folks who are perhaps less sheep like and able to answer questions honestly.
But the only honest answer a religious/spiritual person can give is "I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever for what I believe. All the evidence everywhere in the universe shows no signs of a deity or supernatural being at all."
Just because you can't understand belief in God, doesn't mean others can't.
I used to not be able to understand how one could believe in God. And I can still understand why some have disbelief.
I'm certainly not worried about being shunned. But I'm Christian, and in my community we are encouraged to ask difficult questions.
@ Blue Sox "I used to not be able to understand how one could believe in God. And I can still understand why some have disbelief."
If that's truly how you feel, then I say agnosticism my friend, for you are not a Christian.
I am a Christian. I still am agnostic on some things.
And I can understand how somebody may have been harmed by a person (even a fellow Christian) and have difficulty believing in a loving God that cares about them.
@ blue sox
So what, then. are you agnostic about in terms of your Christianity?
I suspect it has less to do with religion specifically but is related to the fact that people who are less educated and lower SES are generally more religious. These groups are much more avoidant of psychological treatment and more willing to reject people with mental illness as weak.
@blue sox So what, then. are you agnostic about in terms of your Christianity?
srry about double post
Is it possible to be part christian and part agnostic?
I don't have all the answers. A little bit of respectful agnosticism is better than self-interested certainty. I worship a mystery. God's ways are not human ways.
I'm agnostic about the after life. I won't really know, unless God offers a revelation or I hear testimony of a credible person who comes back to life, what happens when I die.
Yes sam. A persons Gnosticism only refers to what they KNOW or DON'T KNOW. Not what they believe. So an Agnostic Theist would belive in a god but not KNOW it exists.
And at Blue Sox. That's fair enought. What about your belief in God. Are you agnostic or Gnostic?
I believe in God, who is greater and more generous even the best of those who profess to know an love him.
You did not answer my question though. I understand you believe but that only addresses your theism.
And describing your god as 'generous' is more than generous.
> What about your belief in God. Are you agnostic or Gnostic?
I believe in God. He exists.
Does that answer your question?
Believing a lot is not he same as knowing. You can't just say "He exist's because I believe in him" other wise anyone can flip that and say "he doesn't exists because I don't believe in him." Im not testing your faith, only asked if you know or don't know. Simple question.
Yea, I know God exists. I've experienced this to be true.
So you've seen it? On this planet? I must have missed it then, damn. And where did you find this to be true? Can you show me?
Yes. Here on Earth. I didn't summon Him. He came to me.
Can I show you? I'm not sure how. I can try and help you.
See this is the problem. You claim to know something you possibly can't know. We are both humans and you do not contain special powers I do not. You say he came to you and that's it. By the way, how did he come to you. I don't understand that phrase. Please define.
I started praying. And inviting him into my life. I asked for help, and it was delivered. I started meditating on the gospel of Jesus Christ. I started helping others.
@ Blue Sox your subjective experience does not mean god is real, or provides any evidence to prove he is real. It would only mean you should probably have a deeper look for an explanation of what you think you saw.
Maybe you are right. But it doesn't seem that way to me. I really do believe.
Because I can't explain this to skeptics in a message board does not really bother me. I do the best I can. It is really between you and God.
As stated before no one doubts you believe. That's all well and fine. But you also said that you KNOW he exists which is where the problem lies.
> where the problem lies.
That is your problem. Not mine. I'm at peace with this.
Yes I would say it is my 'problem' that I care about facts and truth and you don't.
@ Blue Sox "That's between you and god". Is that the same god you believe in based on your subjective experience?
I think a lot of folks are being dissmissive of the experience of Blue Sox and others like him/her. Yes, I suspect whatever vision or sensation Blue Sox had of god is likely better explained in other ways. But this was not my experience. If I witnessed something (say, a crime) and people kept telling me it was all in my head or I imagined it I might be annoyed, but I'd also question myself. I would look around and see if I had other symptoms of mental illness. Maybe I would have seen a psychiatrist. But Barring evidence I was crazy, I would at least take as possible that my experience meant something.
Sure, if most of the folks having these experiences were up on the research they would know how these kinds of experiences can be stimulated biologically. But just because I can cause you to have an illusion of, say, fireworks, doesn't mean that you never see real fireworks. So while what they are describing isn't necessarily good evidence, and it is certainly not evidence of only one thing, to say it is not "evidence" at all of what they claim is to misunderstand the rather complex nature of what evidence is.
Saying you have an experience is okay. Jumping from there to "God Exists" is not okay. Maybe there was an experience or unexplained thing that Blue Sox saw, but without any evidence or proof that gods actually exists, he's just using the god of the gaps argument and is having a failure of imagination.
And using example such as fireworks and crime doesn't apply here because most people accept that fireworks and crime does exist and the claim would not be in question at all.
@Larry, We fill gaps all the time. Due to the problem of induction we can't prove that time is continuous and we'll be here in 30 seconds, but we assume that. Due to the limits of our sensory experience we have only very superficial evidence that other consciousnesses exist, but most of us are willing to make that assumption. So no, I'm not willing to assume a god, but I don't think it totally unreasonable that someone who had had such an experience might consider it. Do I think they are wrong? Probably.
"And using example such as fireworks and crime doesn't apply here because most people accept that fireworks and crime does exist and the claim would not be in question at all."
I really don't think you want to go that route as most people in the US believe in capital G God, and most in the world (not all, but most) believe in some form of god or gods. But even if this weren't the case would you really want to make an appeal to populism?
"The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" is awesome.
@Sara The difference between gods and fireworks are obvious. Even most people didn't believe in fireworks I can go buy some and say 'look, fireworks' When it comes to subjects like gods there is no evidence to support it and just because a lot of people believe it makes it no more plausible than santa or the tooth fairy.
You can't prove to me he doesn't exist. I can accept this. It is ok.
@Larry, I think you missed my point on the fireworks (which I only picked because there are some eye problems that cause this illusion). The point it, that just because we can see an illusion of fireworks (like we have evidence of stimulated religious hallucinations) doesn't mean fireworks don't exist – they do (at least I accept they do). Likewise *could* be the case with God (or whatever religious ent'ity you choose). Just because we can stimulate a god experience in the lab, doesn't mean that people aren't out there having real ones. I don't think they are, and for me the lab evidence is pretty convincing as to waht the main cause would be. But it is not a 100% proof for any given individual experience.
This article is one of the reasons why people are so confused about who God really is...I may not attend a "building".. but the bible also says that WE are the church...People wake up!!!
Using your imagination is fun, isn't it? You don't need evidence or anything!
Good point. Peace.
Which religion's Bible, which version, and written in which language?
Ok. I'm reading the article and the data they attach (I paid the $15). Someone must have mixed something up because according to their data and the psychosis screening they did, people who list themselves as "neither spiritual or religious" have a lower score in terms of being "definitely psychotic or probably psychotic" than people who list themselves as spiritual or religious. And between those who list themselves as either spiritual or religious, they have almost an equal score in terms of being "definitely psychotic or probably psychotic".
When it comes to any neurotic disorder, those who list themselves as "neither religious or spiritual" have the lowest score, where those who list themselves as either spiritual or religious again have almost an equal score (a difference of 4% points).
It's interesting that they asked people whether they were being treated under the care of a physician with psychiatric drugs. They don't indicate in their data whether those drugs were considered as part of the overall "drug use" scores they gave or whether they disqualified drugs that were prescribed by physicians. My guess is that they were all lumped together, so the data regarding drug use isn't necessarily illegal drug use. It looks like it includes drugs prescribed by physicians.
It also appears these people had an unusually high percentage of having experienced post traumatic stress disorder. Out of 7403 people (55% of which were males), 7036 reported having PTSD. It would be interesting to know how many of these people were veterans or current military personnel.
Thanks for paying the fee.
The PTSD info is very interesting. I wonder how they account for such high percent of respondents with PTSD.
This post is better than the entire article.
Wow, the article really misrepresents the actual findings.
Looks like a direct correlation between a tendency towards mental illness and belief in imaginary friends who do magic things for you. Who'd a thunk it?
I'm glad you paid the fee to get the facts. As I read the article it was starting to sound more and more like propaganda and less like a quest for meaningful data. This is one of the most odd articles I have read to date.
Crocodile, I don't advocate one thing over the other. My own feeling is we all need to be more tolerant of each other, whether or not we're religious, spiritual, or neither. None of us know the real answer so we need to do what's best for ourselves and what helps us get through life.
If I were analyzing this data, I'd be more concerned with why there are so many respondents with PTSD, unless of course they already know why (because it was a specific population they interviewed and not truly random).
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.