In Defense of “Spiritual, But Not Religious”

So today I learned that I’m bizarrely defensive of this much-mocked self-description.

I think my basic defense is that “spiritual, but not religious” means radically different things to different people, and some of those things are the result of profound and painful attempts to love and serve God. (“God, as you understand God,” as they say.) Here are some things I think people may mean when they say that they’re spiritual but not religious:

* I had a consumerist relationship with a church or religion, which left me depressed and depleted, and didn’t slake my thirst for surprise, awe, or reminders of my own littleness. I now work pretty hard on my relationship with Someone greater than and outside myself, which I don’t claim to really understand, but which generally seems to make me a less awful person to be around.

* Religion seems like a thing other people own. I admire it, in a way, but I don’t think I know enough about it to do more than kind of stand on the sidelines.

* I work with people in crisis, aka My Job Is My Spirituality. [There are obvious dangers of this kind of spirituality, including instrumentalizing those in need or making your spiritual life rely on your own efforts/strength, but those who know me know that I have a lot of sympathy for this way of thinking.]

* The church I was raised in was genuinely abusive and/or profoundly distorted the Gospel.

* I am an American in 2013 and I have no interesting thoughts on this subject, but don’t want to piss anyone off. I like God, you like me, let’s move on.

* I’m a better (more sensitive, more sincere, more open-minded) person than you. [Literally any sentence can also mean this!]

About Eve Tushnet

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