Read Mollie Hemingway’s take on the “spiritual but not religious” line in Christianity Today. An excerpt:
The number of people who self-identify using the long-popular phrase “spiritual but not religious” is still growing. In 1998, 9 percent of American adults told the General Social Survey they were spiritual but not religious. By 2008, it had risen to 14 percent. Among those ages 18 to 39, the increase was even more dramatic, and 18 percent now say they are spiritual but not religious.
The growth is not because people are less likely to identify as religious, but because nonreligious people are more likely to say they are spiritual, says Duke sociologist Mark Chaves.
Part of the phrase’s popularity can be attributed to its sex appeal. No, really. A social psychologist at Britain’s Southampton University looked at 57 studies covering 15,000 experiment subjects, and reported in Personality and Social Psychology Review that North Americans find “intrinsically religious” people desirable—but that the desirability decreases if people portray themselves as extrinsically religious.
Elaborate dating scheme or not, if you wonder what the phrase means, you’ll probably get a different answer from each person you ask. That may be the point.
“Spiritual has, in some sense, come to mean ‘my own personal religion with my own individual creed,’ ” Timothy Paul Jones, a Baptist seminary professor, told the Louisville Courier-Journal.
The word religion comes from the Latin religare (re: “back,” and ligare: “to bind”), so the term is associated with being bound. In that sense, defining oneself as “spiritual, not religious” couldn’t be more apt, reflecting a desire to not be bound by any rules, community, or belief. Being spiritual but not religious is the perfect fit for people who don’t like the demands of religion but aren’t quite ready to say they have no soul.
Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft has noted that our culture’s fear “is not the fear of death, as it was for the ancient cultures of Greece and Rome, nor is it the fear of hell,” as found in the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic societies of the medieval period. No, the fear of the age “is the fear of meaninglessness itself.”
Yet those who oppose organized religion may be missing out on some of the best tools for staving off meaninglessness.
Is it also possible to be religious without being spiritual? Would that be better–or at least less gnostic–than the other way around?