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I’m Spiritual, Not Religious

So, I’ve heard that statement before. Actually, you hear it quite often. They say you aren’t supposed to discuss politics or religion in a social setting. I don’t believe in that. See, those two concepts have shaped not only nearly every moment in history, but the moments to come, and even more importantly, the moments of right now.

So, I was meeting someone for the first time, and as I usually do, I ask questions. I love to ask questions. Where are you from? Do you enjoy what you’re doing with your life and if not, what would rather be doing? Anywhere in the world you haven’t been you’d like to visit? Those sorts of things. But, then I do usually ask, “Do you have any political leanings?” and “Do you have any religious inclinations?”

And this time, I simply couldn’t resist. When I heard, “I’m spiritual, not religious,” I couldn’t help but sit back, sigh, and then say what was on my mind. It’s often the kind of thing you hear juveniles say when they think they’re being profound….edgy….

I hear people make that statement a lot and I honestly think they’ve seen it on a bumper sticker, or heard someone else say it and decided to adopt it as a philosophy. But, I don’t think they REALLY understand what it is they’re saying. I love hearing anyone, everyone, say they’re spiritual. That’s a good thing, that’s a brilliant thing. Being spiritual means you’ve decided to connect your soul to whatever Divine your spirit has moved towards (now, we can discuss at length the difference, but I can’t think of any. No, seriously. Some call it God, the One, the Light, Allah….tree, compost….doesn’t matter, we’re all talking about the same thing, but giving It different names). So, spiritually you have made through the physical, connected with what’s higher, communed, loved, felt the brilliance, glory and grace.

However, religion is when you put that spirituality into practice. Yes, religion is just the aspects of a physical follow through of what your spirit learned when it was connected with the divine. Religion is bringing what is above down here to the below in practice. Religion is the physical exercise of what your spirit learned. And every religion has their own particulars of how you PRACTICE what your SPIRIT has learned. Some have the notion that once your meditations, contemplations and prayers have finally brought you in contact with God, then THESE ARE THE PRACTICES you should follow in order to bring “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” The macrocosm brought forth in the microcosm.  Goodness, kindness, compassion….followed through in great aspects of practice. Religion.

So, when you have the desire to say “I’m spiritual, not religious,” I want you to be mindful that what you’ve said is that “I feel I have a connection to the divine, but I do not put what I have learned into practice.”

“That’s not what that means, it means I believe in something, but I don’t believe in organized religion,” he said.

Your spirit, if it has seen the grand and glorious moments of a connection to the divine, will dictate your actions from hence forth. That is religion. That is religion: how your spirit practices love, compassion, and good will toward man. You can call that religion whatever you want. But, I’m pretty sure some of those practices are already under the umbrella of some religions that already exist. The point is, you must PRACTICE, put into action what your spirit calls you to do. So, when you say you are spiritual, leave it there. Say nothing more. Say nothing else.

“I am VERY spiritual.”

We’ll all understand, we’ll all feel what you mean. When you say, “but I’m not religious,” you have looked me dead in the eye and have decided that no part of your spirit and soul wishes to be a part of the rest of this microcosm.

Its funny. I never hear a buddhist say he’s spiritual, not religious. But I do hear a pagans,  wicans, and naturalist say it often….and I kinda look at them and say, “but you have your rituals, right? Well….dude, I hate to tell you this, but that’s religion. You said you honor your spirit by playing naked in the woods with a smudge stick and a green candle while facing east and saying  a poem……dude, that’s religion. That’s a method of putting into physical action your practice of honoring the divine. Dude, that’s RELIGION.”

I think the phrase said so often in this blog, “I’m spiritual, not religious,” is actually a very cute way of saying, “I believe in God. I believe in compassion. I believe in mercy. I just don’t believe in bestowing those concepts on you.”

Be careful of using bumper stickers as a means of identifying yourself.  That’s all I’m saying. Just because you heard someone say it, and it sounded profound, doesn’t mean it should become a way of life. There is no life in dismissing what your spirit and soul have learned. There is no life in not putting into practice the greatness of love.

 

 

 

 

 

35 comments

  1. Sorry, Dahling, but we’re going to disagree on this one. Religion is man’s idea. Spirituality is God’s idea. When I say God, I am referring to Source, Creator, All That Is, Great Grandfather, Goddess as well. I put my own Spirituality into practice every day – I pray for people, I send Reiki, I do random acts of kindness, I just pray, I chant mantras/prayers, I consciously send good thoughts and Light and Love to Earth and all her denizens. And still manage to find the time to do my day job and brush my teeth and hair. I am simply not doing my spirituality “thing” in a church. For me, God is Everywhere Present, I mean that literally.
    Love and peace, Diana

    1. I totally agree! and everything you said was pretty much on course, wasn’t it??? You actually put into practice your spirituality. YOU DO THINGS of benefit with it. You PRACTICE your spirituality.

  2. I often use that phrase. I am Wiccan and have been for over 20 years (I am in my mid 40s), but even members of my own immediate family tell me I am going to Hell for my beliefs. I am not fully out of the broom closet because of ignorant people. I use that phrase because it usually ends that topic of conversation. I am a teacher. The community would freak if they knew my true religion.

    1. I LOVE wiccans. (and between you and me? I am a Christian, but I follow hermetics), I just don’t like the idea of someone claiming their philosophies off an overheard phrase.

  3. I agree with Michelle. Living in the “Bible Belt” can be hard if you’re not of Christian based faith so I use that phrase as a way to politely tell people that I’m not of their religion without having an uncomfortable conversation in where they tell me I’m going to their hell for what I find myself being spiritual about.

    I can see how that phrase would incite frustration when said in a more intimate conversation between two people trying to get to know each other but said passingly to people you’re never going to see again it has its purpose.

      1. Exactly. I’ve learned from experience that flat out telling someone, “I’m not a Christian” has lead to me not being welcome in local shops and eating establishments. So, thus – I prefer to use the, “I’m spiritual, not religious” phrase to squelch, in my opinion, what is none of any random persons business.

      2. Although I wouldn’t say that phrase because, like you, I think it has been said into meaninglessness, I think it often means: 1) I am not Christian; and/or 2) I don’t have a name for the feeling that I have. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people are not acting on the feeling. I am not connected to any religious tradition but I spend quite a bit of my time volunteering for hospice. My Kindle has a Q’uran, a Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, a Bible, some poetry, or I can just shut up and hold your hand if you prefer to die that way.

        And I think if we go back to Latin, spiritual comes from the same source as breath or inspire, whereas religion comes from the word meaning to bind. Once people are inspired sometimes they want to bind together to act. Though some of us don’t.

        I think it is a good thing to talk about this.

      3. I guess what it means it that “yes, I believe in something, but I am uncomfortable in telling you what my beliefs are.” It has been a painful journey in finding a religion that espouses my beliefs. The painful part of the whole shebang has been the negativity and ignorance of people, like my sister (a Christian), who condemn me out-of-hand for my beliefs. I live my life by the Wiccan Rede and I am a good and compassionate person, yet, for some that is not enough.

      4. SO, i guess again my idea rests around, if you make the claim of spiritual not religious, it only applies to Christianity. You’re not letting someone know you’re not a Buddhist, nor a Muslim, but the phrase was meant to infer, I’m not a Christian?

  4. Interesting! Me? I’m classed as an atheist in that I don’t believe in God. Capital G. I DO believe in something greater than man – but at forty I still don’t know what it is. I choose to not dwell on it or try to pigeon hole or find a religion that fits since (after years of thought) I still don’t know what IT is. I just lead my life as best I can with a clear heart and conscience and trust that all will be revealed eventually. Which makes me a Spiritual Atheist. There’s an oxymoron! So……spiritual but not religious?

      1. So what I SHOULD be saying is “I’m spiritual, religious (coz I practice what I believe by being the best person I can be) but am not a member of an organised religion.”?

        You’ve really got me thinking here, my man!

    1. Actually what you are referring to is called agnostic, not atheist.

      agnostic |agˈnästik|
      noun
      a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

      Maybe the term can help you?

    2. “I believe in something greater than . . .” is what/who we call “God” in English. “God” is just a word, because without words we can’t communicate. The “something greater than” is key, and if you could define or describe it, there would still be some greater indescribable. That, I think, is why when Moses asked for a name for the one who was speaking to him, the speaker just breathed (the sound of the consonants without vowels). The one we name is the breath within our breath.

  5. I am Pagan and I fully agree with you. Too often I see other people who call themselves Christian, Pagan, Spiritualist, or whatever label, and they don’t follow through. I haven’t been religious in over a year and it hurts me. Yes, I light my candles when I say my prayers for other people’s healing and I say a blessing over the meals I prepare, but that’s as far as I’ve gone. I miss the rituals and the depth of studies. True, religion is “man’s idea”, but we are humans and it is up to us to put our faith into practice. Service attendance, charity work holidays, mantras, rituals, and everything else – these are all ways that we focus our spiritual connection. Now that I’m getting past the severe bout of illnesses and depression, I am looking forward to including the religious aspect of my spirituality in my life again.

    1. Perhaps the question of “what religion are you” should never be asked, but instead, “are you religious,” would be a greater question. It would be a greater slice between yes and no. DO you practice what you feel, or do you not? I think you’d see a lot more people say yes, rather than no.

  6. Greetings; I have been following your blog since its inception, but not posted before. The subject today grabbed me in a way that few do. I agree that if one does not actually practice one’s spiritual (of any description), life is rather meaningless. I raised myself as a Christian (another way my family could get rid of me for a few hours a week), but after the experience of having a gay son who was bashed more by “Christians” than anyone else over his lifetime of 44 years, I no longer have any connection with “organized religion” either. It simply became way too painful, even after my son died of AIDS, the ultimate of all sins, apparently. Of course, I’m guilty of having given birth to a lovely person who was born gay, so I’m not acceptable to the “Christians” either. He died 13 years ago. I would trade every “Christian” I’ve ever known to have him back…..

    1. No matter who he was, he was loved. He was not a sinner for being gay or having AIDS and neither are you for being his loving mother! I’m sorry he was judged and you were judged in return. The actions of the so-called Christians were very un-Christian! Please know that not everyone feels that way. As a Catholic, I know that God loves you, your son, and his soul is at peace. Peace be with you, too!

    2. Oh, Sue, I hear your pain and I am so sorry for it. I’ve heard that gay folks are actually of a “higher” calling in that they can embody more of both masculine and feminine energy. There is also that old saying that has been attributed to several people, something along the lines of first they vilify you then they try to kill you, then you are mainstream – something like that. In my opinion, gay folks may have been born before “their time”. You might want to seriously consider forgiving those yahoos who gave you (both) a hard time – not because you think their words/actions were wonderful, but because it will free up your own sweet self. May you be at peace. Diana

  7. “Religion” is like saying “Band-Aid” or “Kleenex.” It’s a brand name. It’s associated with “organized” religion, which has its own negative connotations. I would rather be known as spiritual any day of the week than be known as religious.

  8. I am not a fan of organized religion in general. I just say I am spiritual. I leave off the religious part. I don’t really have any rituals I regularly practice so I get by with your definition😉 with that being said though, religion has turned into a dirty word defined as a person who looks down on others for not believing the way they do etc. I think a lot of people just don’t want to be associated with that bigotry

  9. Wow, that really made me consider what the church I used to belong to would say. Yup, they would say they were spiritual not religious but they thought they meant they weren’t like organized religion. I’ve always said no matter what we need to lead by example. You wanna teach what Jesus is about you need to be loving, caring, considerate. Guess that’s why I left that church… eh, they don’t exist anymore anyway. I need fellowship but not the kind that tell me how to be without showing me by what they do. Thanks for your insight.

  10. This is a very interesting (debate?) topic you have going here. This is a phrase I have also used in the past but when I thought about it I stopped. It is a phrase that means something different depending on whomever said it. All of these are true, but the receiver doesn’t always get the same translation that the phrase-giver intended. All those years ago I was hiding from my faith due to abuse. I am now practicing again, albeit imperfectly, and am better for it.

  11. Amen!!! I like to say I am a believer, I believe in God, I believe that Christ came to save me. I also practice my beliefs. I am by no means a perfect believer but, I strive to become more like Christ, which is what believers are called to do. If you were here, I’d give you a hug. Drives me nuts when people say that to me!

  12. I love your idea about spirituality as the connection and religion as the practice. It makes perfect sense to me. (And explains why that statement “Spiritual not religious” never made sense to me.)

  13. Gregory, this post had such an impact on me, that I asked my husband to read it. My husband is a pastor, and the first words out of his mouth were, “Wow. Wow. Wow. WOW!” He said that you have explained this better than any theologian he has ever studied. (He asked me to pass that along.) He is in school currently, studying to obtain his degree and, eventually, teach Religious Studies. We have both worked with youth for many years, and we hear this recurring theme: They are willing to be spiritual and to put that spirituality into practice, but they are NOT willing to connect with organized religion.

    This is all due to people who label themselves as “Christians”, but fail to put their words into actions. Hypocrites! They shouldn’t believe that attending church and pointing out sins makes them “Christian”, any more than I should call myself “Car” because I can stand in the garage and make motor noises. “Christian” means “Little Christ”, as in “following, copying the example of Christ”. We should be religious; striving to follow where our spirituality is pointing us.

    Thank you so much for this blog. God bless you with love and peace, within and surrounding you,
    Kerri

  14. For a long time I have preferred to consider myself as ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘religious’, meaning that I have a confident relationship with my Maker, but I don’t feel the need to be in church every Sunday. This comes from having many negative experiences in churches over the years. But reading your post, I see your point, and have to agree that there is a definite connection between having a spiritual nature and employing religious habits in worship or in celebration. Maybe I should let go of my past experiences and take some chances…Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  15. Hey All. I’m a United Methodist Pastor – and love reading Gregory’s blog. Appreciate his insights into life, and the great example he is of shining the light – and Gregory – I’m so thrilled that you, in your spiritual life, practice Christianity! I think “I’m spiritual, not religious” is often used by folks who have been stung in one way or another, or disappointed in “the organized church”…but the thing of it is, I think part of faith is being part of a community – virtual or otherwise!…we don’t do this alone – but are encouraged by mentors, teachers, fellow travelers, fellow thinkers and doers! I like the line of thought that “religion” – what ever that might be to people, is indeed the way one lives their spirituality out….and if spirituality is not really being lived out, gotta question if it is true and real….Keep the faith brother – and thanks for enriching my life.

  16. When people ask me about my spiritual/religious beliefs, I say I’m “open minded”. I refuse to believe there is only one “right” way to love the divine. The “God” I believe in is all-encompassing, and not so petty as to quibble over being called by the wrong name/gender/whatever.

    I prefer to focus on the things that all or most faiths have in common, because those are the closest to “truth” in my mind. Love or at least respect one another, including yourself. Help others when you can, and if you can’t help, don’t make it worse. Acknowledge the good things, learn from the bad. Not everything in existence is tangible/understandable, and that’s okay, because that’s where that all-encompassing divine does its thing.

    I’m not sure how all that fits into the spiritual/religious conundrum, but it works for me.

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