The Case Against Being “Spiritual But Not Religious”

Greta Christina on the claim to be “spiritual but not religious.” I’m not sure I agree in all the particulars about which is worse, but she makes a developed argument, worth reading in full.  Here are just two key sections.

When I’m in a less generous mood, though, I see this trope as totally smug and superior, without anything to back it up. I see it as a way of saying, “I am so special and independent, of course I don’t have anything to do with that hidebound organized religion, I’m far too free a spirit for that… but I’m also special and sensitive, and in touch with the powerful sacred things beyond this mundane world.”So what’s my problem with it? Other than the smugness, I mean?

The obvious problem, of course, is that there’s not a shred of good evidence to back it up. There’s no more evidence for disorganized religion than there is for organized religion.

The “I’m spiritual but not religious” trope is trying to have the best of both worlds… but it’s actually getting the worst. It’s keeping the part of religion that’s the indefensible, unsupported- by- a- scrap- of- evidence belief in invisible beings; indeed, the part of religion that sees those invisible beings as more real, and more important, than the real physical world we live in. It’s keeping the part of religion that devalues reason and evidence and careful thinking, in favor of hanging onto any cockamamie idea that appeals to your wishful thinking. It’s keeping the part of religion that equates morality and value with believing in invisible friends. It’s keeping the part of religion that involves conferring a sense of superiority onto yourself, solely on the basis of your purported connection with an invisible world.It’s keeping all that… and abandoning the part of religion that is community, and shared ritual, and charitable works, and a sense of belonging. It’s throwing out the baby, and keeping the bathwater — and then patting yourself on the back and saying, “Look at all this wonderful bathwater I have!”

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.