A Note to the Spiritual But Not Religious

It is not an easy case to make, I’ll grant, not easy to support the claim that Christianity has something left to offer to those identifying themselves as “Spiritual But Not Religious” (SBNR). And so as I begin this new blog, I intend to offer a basic rationale, a “theological framework,” to help the reader understand my perspective. To that end the next few posts will have names like, “There is No Such Thing as a Miracle,” “I’m Not Buying the Whole Magic Blood Thing,” “The Anthropomorphic God is a Fiction,” things like that.

Now some may want to argue that in writing such posts I don’t sound much like a Christian at all, (and yet I claim to be just that: a Christian, firmly ensconced in the Christian religion.) It might even be reasonable to ask how I can support the Christian religion. The truth is, I can’t. At least I can’t if the Christian religion is understood to be collection of propositions about a triune God to which I must give intellectual ascent, or be cast into the fires of hell. If the Christian religion is understood to be a series of ethical positions derived from ancient texts that must now be applied to a modern world, then you’d have to say I’m not very religious. If the Christian religion requires me to believe that Mary was a virgin, or that Jesus walked on water, then I’m not very religious. If it means that I have to consign gay people to an afterlife of weeping and gnashing of teeth, then frankly, I’m not religious at all. Nor could I support similar expressions describing any of the world’s religious traditions. After all, it is those expressions of religion that move so many wise and thoughtful people to call themselves “Spiritual But Not Religious.”

But suppose that religion in general, and the Christian religion in particular are not about that stuff at all? I have come to believe that religions offer us a context of meaning within which to live our lives. We are religious creatures. We need a narrative to give coherence to our lives. Neuroscientists tell us that our brains are wired to make narrative sense of the world around us. Having a coherent narrative to frame our lives is the very definition of sanity. Religions provide such a narrative; they give us a framework of meaning within which we live our lives. We are all religious in this sense of the word – all of us – and because of that, if we do not think critically about our religion, our framework of meaning, then we become subject to the manipulation of those who would use our need for a context of meaning, toward their own ends. The marriage of political power and religion has always been about that; but that usury dynamic is also seen in things like consumerism. Consider the marriage of consumerism and the entertainment culture of our society. Consider the values inculcated, the desires manipulated through a media enterprise controlled by those who seem hell bent on directing our work towards rampant unsustainable growth. It’s the religion that drives our economy. The problem here is not that there is such a thing as religion – that cannot be avoided for we are religious creatures – the problem comes when religion no longer serves the purposes of, for lack of a more accurate word, God. The problem comes when the power of religion, which stems from our biological need to make narrative sense of the world around us, is used to bind and enslave us.

My challenge will be to describe a Christian religion devoid of magical constructs, a religion free from the constraints of fear. My challenge in this blog will be to describe the Christian religion in such a way that the seeds of freedom which lie at its core germinate within us. This is not a task for the one, it is a task for the many. I look forward to the conversation.

A Response to Tony Jones’ Question: What’s Good About Integral Theory?
Freedom from a Punishing God
What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual?
How Do We Make Ethical Choices
About Sam Alexander

Sam Alexander works as a Preaching Coach and as a Persistent Pain Coach - and yes, I sometimes wonder if the two are integrally related :-). He is the former pastor of First Presbyterian Church of San Rafael and also serves as Adjunct Instructor in Homiletics at San Francisco Theological Seminary. His website, www.gracecomesfirst.net describes the breadth of the work he does. Sam is the author of Evolving Christianity; Life After Faith Crisis which is available on Amazon or through his website.