What does it mean to be spiritual but not religious?

Many today make the claim that they are spiritual but not religious. The one claiming this usually has a good opinion about God, tries to do good works and be kind people. He may pray or read the Bible but does not attend church and doesn’t care to be around people who think you should go to church. The spiritual but not religious tend to pick and choose from many different religions to craft a personalized spiritual experience. They are not people of no faith, but people with their own custom built faith. They have typically rejected Christian institutions and denominations. They refuse to be defined by the beliefs of a religion or restricted by the rules of any particular religious institution. The title “nones” has been applied to this group because when asked on religious surveys what their religion is they select the option “none of the above”.

Spirituality as defined by the nones is the private practice of faith and the personal experience of something greater. Religiousness is associated with the public expression of faith through religious institutions, strictures, rituals, gatherings and official systems of belief. For some of the spiritual Jesus is a guide or a personal guru but is not God. For some being spiritual is about understanding a person’s role in the cosmic scheme of things. The nones cannot be pinned down to any set of beliefs or core tenets, but they do have some things in common. First, and the defining feature, is the personalized crafting of a system of belief that works for the individual. Closely associated with this personalized belief system is a desire for personal improvement that is sought after by means of the spiritual person’s belief system. Often the spiritual accepts some form of mysticism. Mysticism seeks to evoke deep spiritual feeling through a transcendent experience. Mystical experiences can take place while wathcing a sunset, walking on the beach, praying, singing in church, practicing yogic meditation, painting, dancing or drinking a really good cup of coffee. Despite the desire for a spiritual experience the nones are unlikely to participate in any organized form of religion. They will participate in activities with a strong religious undertone, but will not join themselves to any religious system. The spiritual is very tolerant of other religious beliefs.

The nones are the religious embodiment of today’s post-modernism and critical realism. They have rejected any sense of absolute truth and believe the individual is the sole determiner of what is true for himself. The spiritual sees his spirituality as a means of personal development not reconciliation with the Divine, atonement for sin or a means to reach eternal bliss. Much about the spiritual bears strong similarity to the practices of Buddhism and Confucianism. I would describe the spiritual as a particularly American form of Buddhism. The nones try to be good people, seek a spiritual connection, and reject a strict definition of God and of Biblical doctrine.

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