June 3rd, 2010
10:26 AM ET

Is being 'spiritual but not religious' a copout?

"I'm spiritual but not religious." It's a trendy phrase people often use to describe their belief that they don't need organized religion to live a life of faith.

But what exactly does being "spiritual but not religious" mean, and could there be hidden dangers in living such a life?

Read the full story

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Journeys

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. PerfectlyImperfect

    Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

    James 1:27 (New King James Version)

    The ONLY religion Christ preached was to take care of one another. LOVE your God with everything and LOVE each other as you love your own self. There is only one true church, and that is God's Church. We are to love ALL (ESPECIALLY THE POOR AND THE WEAK) just the SAME AS WE LOVE OURSELVES. Not accept all, but remain living examples of that love. We are called to make ourselves lesser, and God much greater.

    Jesus was clear on this. Spiritual/religious... I think the world says they're relative and somehow we don't see what God says about it. Spirituality can mistakenly be used by one who does not care to get caught up in religious practices, rituals, traditions, and different sects. Because of this, confusion sets in.

    While Christianity calls for admitting that we needed Christ, admitting that we are sinners inherently, and confessing that He is the Messiah... THIS IS NOT RELIGION. Aligning yourself with Christ is not religion in and of itself.

    Christ says we are to love each other and take care of one another – and to love our God with everything. That's truly the only religion we need. Simple, huh?

    Here it is in context, for those who might like to read it in its fullest glory:
    22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
    26 If anyone among you[b] thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

    July 4, 2010 at 6:26 am |
    • peace2all

      Wow......I am applauding your ability to regurgitate and cite chapter and verse out of a book. So, am I to gather you spend your days visiting orphans and widows 24/7 365.....

      Well, at least I can give you some points about Love in there, but the fact that somehow you think that you wouldn't be able to come to that determination yourself without the words in the book is a bit scary.....

      But, what the heck...

      July 4, 2010 at 6:51 am |
  2. Kirtanman

    We're discussing this article at the Advanced Yoga Practices Forum; over there, I wrote:

    "They seem to feel that the choice is between spiritual community and discipline within "the Church" ... and ego-based loners without structure, who consider themselves "SBNR".

    That's factually incorrect, not to mention downright silly.

    The world is full of dedicated spiritual practitioners, who have as much spiritual discipline and devotion as a person can have, and who engage in practices and other spiritual activities, while belonging to rich, successful and growing spiritual communities, but who are not part of a traditional European-style Christian Church.

    I'm not sure how much of the rest of the religious-spiritual "world" would even understand this "issue" ... it seems to be very much a "Western Church Model" thing.

    For instance, in nations and religions where religious-spiritual life is simply integrated with regular life to a much greater degree (i.e. India/Hinduism, China/Taoism, Tibet/Buddhism, Etc.) ... this entire dialog/question wouldn't even really compute; religion and church have never been as much of a "separate thing" in that part of the world.

    And even more importantly: dedicated SBNR people seem to have a FAR greater likelihood of true spiritual success (awakening / realization / enlightenment ) than those affiliated with churches."

    .. and it felt pertinent enough to post over here, too.

    June 7, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  3. Wale Falodun

    there is one God therefore one religion. Everything else is a waste of time

    June 5, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
    • Scott

      Very well put.

      June 6, 2010 at 7:15 am |
    • DreamMender

      I agree. According to James 1:26-27, "26: If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. 27: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." I have yet to see any "religious but not spiritual" people stay the course proposed by James in these 2 verses... but I have seen "spiritual" people (including non-"christian" individuals) live it as a matter of course. Thank you all for the discussion, it has blessed me.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  4. Ken

    The real problem here is that if more and more people start opting out of the multi-million dollar religious industry scam, there will be fewer and fewer people who can make their living from the scam and they'll have to go out and get real jobs and give up their expensive clothes and cars if they don't have any marketable skills.

    Religion is totally an invention of humans. It was created as a control mechanism so that "holy" people can tell other people that they are bad if they don't practice religion correctly.

    June 5, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
  5. jimnohio

    For me it comes down to: spirituality comes from a higher power, religion comes from what man wants god to say.

    June 5, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
  6. IceT

    It's Yahweh or the highway, anything else is a cop out. It's classic fear of being wrong, if you're not with me you're against me mentality. The more "members" in your group the better you feel about your "choice".

    June 5, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  7. bbgum

    I am convinced. I will switch from my simplistic 'spirituality' to your more exalted 'religion'. OK now, which one? A decision as important as this must be done right.

    June 4, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  8. Intrepidwings

    This is a great article because it substatiates what I've been telling people everytime I'm asked "Do you believe in God," or "Are you religious?", to which I always respond, "I believe in whatever works." This article also supports the belief that religion, and God, (or Gods, or whatever diety, or dieties one believes in), is a human invention.

    June 4, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  9. Tom

    It think it is just a belief in definitions and what each means to another. My definition of spiritual is that I personally connect to the spiritual realm and can feel and interact with the supreme being and the afterlife. I worship the Lord in an organized fashion with others which to me means religion. I have seen the spiritual without religion and the religious without the spritual and those without either and those with both. My personal opiinon is that if your spiritual life is important to you, you will also exercise some sort of religious practice. Faith without works is dead and vice versa. Also, if one does not like what is going on in thier organized religion, you have an obligation to speak out and demand change.

    June 4, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  10. gheezy

    why does being spiritual involve some sort of belief in god? There is a sense of spirituality that most people could practice but it doesnt have to involve a creator god. I myself would be spiritual but do not believe in a god, since gods were human as well. I think those of us today who are living were raised to believe in a higher power. This higher power is what created "gods" as well as humans. If most understood the true history of religions and realized that it is falsified, we can come together as humanity. For those that are religious, continue to be duped by your religions and your fake god, and nothing but ignorance and hate will be taught.

    June 4, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  11. Ayo

    I'm glad about the movement that is going on. I will love for every religion to be eradicated, because it seperates us way too much. Every man should find his way to God and mind his own belief. So there's no forced way of thinking or organized way of controlling the mass through an esteemed perception. Spirituality will help us as human to own up to our responsibility as a creator of good and bad in this world. Religion has it's advantages, but the disadvantages are way too much. I'm glad the human race is waking up to this consciousness that we can question things as they and have the power to choose or change them. It is our right.

    June 4, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  12. Stubbycat

    The quest for spirituality is the reason religion came into existence. Spirituality is the path whereby the animal-ego surrenders this false sense of mortality for immortality. Jesus exemplified the exceptional good that is possible for mankind when consciousness is spiritualized and the human traditions of accepting limitation and imperfection are left behind. This is how the Mind that was in Christ Jesus works in us and makes heaven possible in the present. If we don't change from within, nothing else will.

    June 4, 2010 at 5:22 am |
  13. tommee98

    The distinction might be mere semantics. Maybe I am more "religious" than spiritual as it the human Christ who matters more than the Son of God (SOG) Jesus. Spiritual is an enormously open ended, vague, and psychologically abused term...it presumes there is a supreme being or some other diviinity. Well if that's so why doesn't he/she get off their throne and pay us a visit now and then, as in GF Hegel!

    June 4, 2010 at 12:33 am |
    • Joel3

      Don't worry tommee- He's on the way. You can bet your LIFE on it. Have a blessed day.

      June 4, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • gheezy

      tommee98 do not pay attention to Joel3, for you are right. gods were actual humans that were relatively more intelligent than your normal humans. For over 2000 years humanity has been duped by religious nonsense in a way that we people of today are feeling the backlash of it.

      June 4, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  14. Totem

    To me, religion is man's attempt to define God and control men by thier defination. Spirituality is man's attempt to know God. A religious man will always try to bend your mind to his way of thinking, he is right, his holy book is right, his name for God is right. There is one way and it's his way. A spiritual man does not care how you find God, how you choose to worship Him or even if you choose to do so. He only cares that you find Him. I think most people regardless of their faith are somewhere between these two poles. I know I am.

    June 3, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  15. Reality

    Again, why we are what we are with respect to religion:

    "John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus." – James Somerville

    June 3, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  16. jeff

    I have a problem with religion bacause their are no gods.

    June 3, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • Ken

      How can you possibly know that? Unless you are claiming total personal omniety, then you simply cannot state that there are no gods. And if you are making a claim of omniety then why haven't you fixed all that is wrong in this world and bring world piece.

      It is a mistake to think that since god cannot be put to empirical tests that there is no god/gods. At the same time, the existence of god/gods doesn't require humankind to do anything about that existence. It isn't as if god will be miffed because some human being thinks he/she is knows everything and makes dumb statements. Religion itself is actually one of the dumbest ideas that humanity ever invented, but the mere existence of religion cannot be used to deduce that god/gods does not exist.

      June 5, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  17. adam

    Some rambling thoughts that I have...

    So there is this never-ending problem of deciding what labels are appropriate to describe myself and/or others. The meanings of these labels are always shifting and used quite differently from one person to the next. Ask 100 people what 'religion' means and you will get 100 different answers (or close to it).

    I tend to shy away from both terms (religious and spiritual) and would prefer to describe myself as a 'person of faith'. It can depend on who I am talking to. But I feel the phrase 'person of faith' would carry fewer assumptions in most people's minds which might (emphasis on might) give me a better opportunity to expound further on my own beliefs without having to worry too much about prior misconceptions. But it's true that the phrase 'a person of faith' is at best only slightly better.

    I even tend to shy away from the term 'Christian' even though the doctrines I espouse and the faith communities I associate with are decidedly Christian. The word 'Christian' only appears in the Bible I believe three times ('christianity' appears zero times), and nowhere does the text say or imply that the term is of critical importance for a person who is a follower of Jesus.
    I certainly don't think I am ashamed to be called a Christian. It's just that since everyone has their own different pre-conceived notions associated with that label, it just seems almost pointless to use that term to describe myself in many situations.

    When it comes to faith communities, I believe it's true, as Ms. Walters states in the article, there are many benefits that come with involvement in a faith community, including but not limited to time-tested practices for enhancing and enriching one's faith. And there is, I think, inherent value in doing these things within a community, as I believe we are meant to be social creatures - in faith as much if not more than in anything else.

    If you are comparing SBRN folks who eschew organized religious communities on the one hand, and folks who blindly and zealously adhere to the traditions they grew up in without taking any real ownership on the other hand, then I suppose the SBNR approach would be the lesser evil. I am very much not a fan of a "Burger King – have it your way" approach to spirituality, but I guess there are even worse ways to go about it. I do believe, however, the best approach lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

    June 3, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  18. riverrunner

    Imagine no religion.

    June 3, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • sheetiron

      Its easy if you try

      June 3, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
    • Bodhisattva

      ...nothing to kill or die for...

      June 3, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
    • gheezy

      no religion ever would = peace on earth.

      June 4, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
    • sheetiron

      Apparently no one got the John Lenin reference

      June 4, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
    • Krush

      Even if religion did not exist, world peace will be unattainable as long as people choose evil and only live to attain things for themselves. People will continue to choose evil over good regardless of religion because they have the free will to do so. Peace is something to be learned, cherished, and developed through a patient and kind love... a wisdom that escapes nearly all humans on the blue marble.

      June 5, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  19. coppedout

    The fundamental problem with religion as a conduit to God is that the conduit is through another man's perception. There will always be a leader of the flock, a preacher, priest, minister who interprets God in his own way. For a lot of people, having someone else decide how God thinks is an easy answer. For others it is better to talk directly to God without the burden of a hiearchy of powers and perception between you and God. It's not a cop out at all, if anything it is a more sincere relationship.

    June 3, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  20. sheetiron

    According to New Testament Pauline theology, religion is a way of the past. Religion is a form of burdensome bondage and is ultimately futile. Religion and not get you to heaven, help you attain salvation, justification, redemption, atonement, etc. The New Testament makes it clear that no human being can achieve or attain these things by his or her own strengths or efforts. The only way is through the saving, cleansing, atoning, redeeming, pardoning, justifying blood of Jesus Christ. In a nutshell, Jesus' last words on religion hours away from his death sum it up. "It is Finished"

    June 3, 2010 at 10:51 am |
    • Reality

      "Jesus' last words on religion hours away from his death sum it up. "It is Finished". But did Jesus really utter these words??

      This passage, John 19:30, appears only in John's gospel and therefore is historically unreliable.

      Professor JD Crossan summary about Jesus' crucifixion:

      "That Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as the Creed states, is as certain as anything historical can ever be.

      : “ The Jewish historian, Josephus and the pagan historian Tacitus both agree that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea. And is very hard to imagine that Jesus' followers would have invented such a story unless it indeed happened.

      “While the brute fact that of Jesus' death by crucifixion is historically certain, however, those detailed narratives in our present gospels are much more problematic. "

      “My best historical reconstruction would be something like this. Jesus was arrested during the Passover festival, most likely in response to his action in the Temple. Those who were closest to him ran away for their own safety.

      I do not presume that there were any high-level confrontations between Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod Antipas either about Jesus or with Jesus. No doubt they would have agreed before the festival that fast action was to be taken against any disturbance and that a few examples by crucifixion might be especially useful at the outset. And I doubt very much if Jewish police or Roman soldiers needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine the casual brutality with which Jesus was probably taken and executed. All those "last week" details in our gospels, as distinct from the brute facts just mentioned, are prophecy turned into history, rather than history remembered."

      June 3, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
About this blog

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.