Spiritual But Not Religious?

I thought I was done with blogging until after the Gorsedd, but then a Facebook friend pointed me toward this column by Rev. Christy Thomas, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Krum, Texas. It’s part of a series she’s doing rebutting the excuses people give for not going to church (or, to be more generic and inclusive, for avoiding religious community).

In this column, Rev. Thomas blasts the “spiritual but not religious” crowd for their ignorance of religious foundations, traditions, thoughts, and practices. She says such people are essentially saying “My feelings about God, however vague and unformed, do not need the discipline of examination, study and exposure to different ideas to develop and grow healthily.”

She’s right.

A lot of folks in UU churches call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” Amy Martin’s Earth Rhythms seasonal celebrations are filled with them. And I know and have known many. Most of them are good people. A few of them are genuine seekers: people who’ve figured out that the religion of their childhood doesn’t work for them but who haven’t yet found their true path.

But those who are genuinely seeking are also reading, studying, praying, meditating, and visiting various houses of worship. They haven’t yet found what they want to dive deeply into, but at least they’re working at it – they’re trying stuff on to see what fits. Calling yourself “spiritual but not religious” is all too frequently an excuse for spiritual laziness.

Spiritual growth requires work. Much of that work is done alone, in daily practice. But there is a limit to how far you can grow on your own. You need someone or someones to bounce ideas off, someone to help you figure out if what you’re thinking/feeling/believing really makes sense. You need someone to be accountable to – someone you know will ask if you sat in meditation this week or if you read the book you said you were going to read.

Beyond that, you need a community to provide a place to put your faith into action. Religion and spirituality are great, but they’re not just about walking with God or drawing down the Moon. They’re also about making a tangible difference in the material world. Alone, we can’t do much.

Together… that’s another matter entirely.

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