Spiritual But Not Giving a Damn

Religion is a guy in church thinking about fishing.

Spirituality is a guy out fishing thinking about God. – John Fischer

Religion is for those who believe in hell.

Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there. – David Bowie

Creative Commons, by batintherain, Flickr

I’m a Christian and as such I consider myself as being both spiritual and religious but these quotes do seem to be potent and convey something worth pondering.

Over the past few years, there’s been a notable rise in the percent of the young adult population who identify themselves as being either spiritual but not religious  or as none of the above” – entirely unaffiliated spiritually.

I suppose this may be related to a tendency for young adults to register as “independent” instead of as either Democrat or Republican politically. Seems we don’t like to be “defined” or “labeled.” And yet, being unaffiliated is its own label – and people still define us.

In the same way that non-denominational churches have effectively become a denomination of their own, a case can be made that “spiritual but not religious” have become their own tribe (denomination).

Some will read that and resist saying, “but we’re not like a religion or something.” Indeed. And that’s the problem.

Too many of the growing crowd of those who are spiritual free agents are doing plenty of things to improve themselves. They’re growing to some extent as self-helpers. They’re meditating, doing yoga, lighting incense, wearing patchouli, toking mary jane, and re-posting all sorts of pretty pictures on Facebook with cool quotes or feel good aphorisms. They’re “doing their work” – exploring (some of) their shadows, “circling,” and otherwise learning how to divorce themselves from their elders and traditions and become their “authentic selves.”

Good for them.

The trouble is, for too many of these spiritual unaffiliateds, their spirituality begins and ends – with them. In other words, what’s good for them, isn’t good for us. The collective us. The community. You know, the other 7 billion people on the planet.

Spirituality that is unrooted; divorced from lineage; or intentionally disassociated from anything “organized” – is about as useful as a cell-phone without a battery or a QR code without a smart-phone. Not so much.

In tandem with this rise of spiritual individualists has been a marked rise in the number of people walking around our streets, and shopping malls – and driving on our streets – looking down at their Ipods or Iphones. It’s not an accident that these gadgets are called “I.”

It’s gotten to the point where it’s the rare occasion when we are able to have a conversation with someone we meet on the bus, or at the gym, or walking down the hall at school – because we’re all off in our own little worlds. Indeed, many youth today prefer to TXT thr parnts & frnds instead of having face to face meetings or chatting on the phone. They’ve become socially handicapped by their electronic devices.

A stroll across many college campuses will bear this out. Over 50% of the people are talking on their phones, looking at their phones, or unavailable due to having ear buds in their ears so as to avoid human interactions.

They’re plugged in and tuned out.


I can’t say for sure that these same people identify as “spiritual but not religious” or “none of the above,” but it is the case that an overly Americanized (individualistic) way of being spiritual is claiming that one is spiritual in an unlabeled, nondesript, generic manner. This ubber American spiritual way is also one that overly emphasizes self-help, self-development, self-“consciousness awakening,” and self-“evolution” — and it fosters self-centered narcissism.

Yet a society that is comprised of mere individuals who have little connection with, or concern about, others isn’t one that can function or survive for long.

Boxing champion Muhammad Ali has become a powerful elder in his later years. And even though he’s lost most of his abilities to speak due to Parkinson’s syndrome, he still packs a wallop.

Not long ago, Ali was the keynote speaker at a large public venue. He was assisted to the stage and the microphone was adjusted to his height. He stepped into the lights and simply held out his hand with one finger held up, saying, “Me.” Then he formed his hand into a fist – with all of the fingers working combined — and said, “We!”

Powerful lesson. Alone, we are weak. Together, we are strong.

It’s not an accident that Ali would choose to convey that particular message. Ali is a Muslim and Muslims are religious –- and religious people seek to work together with others.

The word religion comes to us from the Latin term “religare” which means “to bind together.” And at their best, the various world religions work to instill a sense of communal identity, communal unity, and a general sense of giving a damn about the well-being of others. The Golden Rule common to most religions conveys this –- and Jesus’ version of it has us not merely not doing wrong to others, but pro-actively “loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

Loving strangers and extending hospitality and inclusion to them isn’t something that is particularly natural to humans. We need to be taught to be that way. And that’s precisely what religion excels at — and it’s precisely what is lacking in many among the growing throngs of the Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR).

Ironically, certain spiritual practices popular among the SBNR crowd are in fact quite helpful in fostering and sustaining a yearning and desire for cohesiveness and mutual support. Centering prayer, meditation, fasting/“cleansing,” labyrinth walking, raking a sand garden, tracing a finger mandala, praying with beads, and spending quiet time in nature are the sorts of things that helped Jesus to not burn-out during his first year of ministry. But, without anyone connecting-the-dots (aka organized religion), unity isn’t what is fostered by such practices, rather, selfish isolationism.

Other practices are more overt in fostering caring for one another: weekly worship services; weekly scripture study; weekly prayer gatherings; monthly potlucks; group singing; coming of age rites of passage; as well as certain rituals which can’t be done alone such as foot-washings, baptisms, and communion.

Moreover, organized religion is by far the largest source of our nation’s charities and ministries for the poor. In fact, in order to effectively provide for the needs of the poor, sick, imprisoned, and needy – as well as to effectively advocate on their behalf in the political realms – a certain degree of organization is required. Free agents can’t do anywhere near as much good in the world as the combined power of religious persons banding together with a common cause, e.g., the end of slavery; Women’s Suffrage; the Civil Rights movement, etc. What about Bill Gates? Gates wants to help end rid the world of Malaria and he wants to be effective. So he’s giving his money to UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief) because he knows that they’ve got history and cred in Malaria-striken nations and they’ve got the boots on the ground and organizational know-how to provide him the most bang for his buck. Random acts of kindness simply aren’t as potent as organized ones.


Granted, at its worst, a case can be made that there is nothing than has brought about as much pain and suffering in the world as organized religion, e.g., the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch trials; genocide of native peoples. There’s a difference, however, between bad religion and good religion and it is unfair to paint all religion with the same broad brush.

As a Christian, I’m most familiar with Jesus’ Way. Jesus and his first followers were both spiritual and religious. Jesus fasted alone in the wilderness; he was familiar with his tradition’s scriptures and he preached in synagogues “as was his custom”; he gathered a group of followers and taught them how to live life fully in community; he healed people in order to restore them to their religious communities; he engaged with religious leaders; he associated with, and physically touched, those who were deemed “unclean;” he prayed with others in olive groves; and he even died communing with others.

Though Jesus was religious, he didn’t necessarily toe the party line. Instead he pushed back against his religion’s dogmas and in some cases radicalized things even further — and in other cases, outright broke the laws if they did more harm than good. He emphasized the spirit of the law instead of the letter. But Jesus couldn’t have reformed his religion – or given rise to a new one – if he wasn’t committed to the inherent value of organized religion and engaged with it. He challenged his religion because he loved it. He criticized it because he loved it. He died because he loved it.

I write now in particular to those who lean Christian in their Spiritual But Not Religiousness. There’s no such thing as solo Christianity. You can’t follow Jesus by yourself.

Following Jesus requires community. It requires a community of fellow believers who you share life with and who can help you to grow to be the best you can be as you participate in the journey together. Jesus taught us to forgive 70 times 7 times – you can’t do that without others, if nothing else as the ones to forgive. Jesus taught us to tell others about the imminence of God’s kingdom – and he said we should to have at least one other person with us when we do that. He sent out 72 people in pairs of two as his advance team, telling them to “take nothing with you” – no extra coats, no extra shoes –and no cell phones, ipods, or mp3 players either. Jesus taught that he is present whenever “two or more are gathered in my name.”

By yourself at the moment? Cool. God is with you. But Jesus isn’t really with you unless another person is in your presence –- someone who you can heal, and can heal you; someone who you can forgive, and who can forgive you; someone who is in need and you can help, and they can help you with your needs.

According to Acts (chapters 2-4), following his death, the early Christians honored Jesus’ communal teachings. They lived together, shared their resources, “provided for each other as any had need,” and they worshiped, fellowshiped, prayed, and ate together. They organized ways to tend to “widows in their distress;” visit each other when in prison; and in Rome, they even organized proper burials for that city’s poor (a need that wasn’t being met). Tacitus tells us that they were known for their notable love ‘’See how they love!” –- and they couldn’t have done any of that, or acquired that reputation, without organization in their religion.

If you currently identify as SBNR, and yet you like Jesus and identify with his teachings and values in your spirituality, I’m inviting you to consider cohorting – joining a church.

That may sound like the last thing that you might want to do but it doesn’t have to be meeting on Sundays in a traditional church building, let alone joining the institution of a Church by becoming an official member. It can mean getting together with a group of like-minded and like-spirited people at a coffee shop, or in someone’s apartment. The main thing is to find a group of Jesus-oriented people who pledge to intentionally be there for each other and to be “for” each other as they live their lives. Being involved in a healthy Christian congregation or community is sort of like being at a military boot camp — but for being trained in how to love instead of how to kill. A healthy cohort will offer experiences where people have the opportunity to rub up against the lives of other fellow believers and to put into practice what they’re learning about. This can even involve people buying a home and living together in intentional religious community, sharing their possessions, and life in general, with others.

People can say that they are football players. Yet, if they only workout on their own and never train with the team, they won’t learn new plays and practice drilling them. They won’t be able to learn from coaches and players who are more seasoned and better than they are. And, if they will never show up for the games… well, you do the math.

Similarly, people can say they are Christians even though they aren’t active with a church or Christian community. However, people who meet regularly with fellow believers will be far more effective as workers in God’s Kingdom than those who don’t. When we’re active in a Christian community we benefit from inspiring and challenging sermons, studying the Bible with others, engaging in sacred rituals with others, praising God together, participating in community service projects, learning from elders, mutual support and accountability, opportunities to grow as leaders, and practicing the ways of Jesus.

Believing in the Jesus way to connect to God makes one a Christian, and Christians are by definition members of the living Body of Christ, which is the Church universal. Being active with a local church or Christian community is our way of being on the team. Your teammates are your fellow ministers, the ones who help you grow in the faith and with whom you worship, celebrate, grieve, play, pray, learn, and serve God. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Being active in a local church or Christian cohort involves rubbing up against other living, breathing people who are struggling along and living life as best they can. Sometimes we offend and hurt each other. Those are moments to cherish. They are the crucible that tests and refines us. In the safety of this cocoon of grace and love we can practice forgiveness and reconciliation, loving and being loved.

As Jane Redmont put it in her Open Letter to Anne Rice “What I am writing to tell you is that there’s no such creature as a lone
 follower of Jesus. You can’t be a Jesus-person away in a corner. Even
 hermits pray in Communion with a larger tradition, a church beyond 
themselves in a world which is the place where God becomes incarnate.”

The following parable is a bit hokey but it conveys the value of being active with a local church or organized ministry: John had once been faithful to attend his church regularly, but had become inactive recently. The pastor knew that she hadn’t seen the gentleman in a while, so she went for a visit.  

John greeted the pastor and welcomed her in, directing her to the chair beside the fireplace.  The pastor didn’t mention anything about her concern about not having seen him in awhile, instead she simply said, “So, what’s up with you these days? How are you doing?” As John started responding, the pastor listened. After John had finished talking. The pastor casually grabbed the fireplace tongs, picked up a hot coal from the fire, and set it away from the fire, out on the hearth. They then watched the coal. While the fire roared on, the coal that had been red hot began to lose its heat. It gradually lost its red color, and then cooled off so that it became cool to the touch. The pastor picked up the coal, and handed it to John for a moment… neither said a word. Then the pastor reached out and took the coal back from John, and returned it to the roaring fire… and in just a few short moments, the coal once again glowed red hot, as the pile of flaming coals caused it to heat up again. The pastor then got to her feet, put her coat on, and shook John’s hand. At that point, John looked at the pastor and said, “You know, I think you might start seeing a bit more of me in church again.”

You may be feeling a bit resistant to the idea of visiting church — let alone joining one. Some of you have felt burned by members of the Church when they weren’t at their best. Maybe you’ve seen them at their worst. You see them as a bunch of hypocrites. Fair enough. I’m not going to try to talk you out of your experience. What happened to you happened. It shouldn’t have. On behalf of the Church, we are sorry. But being in community is where it’s at and what it’s all about.

There would be no “We Shall Overcome” song to sing if it’s only you or I. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.”

Back to those quotes at the beginning of this piece. Mr. Fisher, it isn’t an either/or — either being in church or being out in the world – Christians are called to both. And as much as I love your singing Mr. Bowie, not all Christians believe in hell (as an actual place), and there are plenty of people who are religious who’ve been through hell (as a state of being).

So instead, I offer this alternative statement that I think more accurately conveys the nuances at hand:

Spirituality is awareness of the water in the ocean, and religions are the currents in the ocean that fish can choose to swim in to go faster and further than they otherwise could. Fundamentalisms are aquariums that keep fish confined. – Roger Wolsey

I close with a poem.


i’m a GenXer who flies with Gen Y

and i can’t stand religion that can’t handle “why?”

like brother stipes, i was losing my religion

but like newton before me, i found it …was blind but now i see

like marley’s son sings it, love is my religion

my religion is agape

my religion is the glue that unconditionally brings out the best in each other and holds us together

and because jesus dunked me in a giant vat of that thick and sticky agape glue, i promise to love you by holding doors open for you and offering to share my umbrella when it rains

i promise to love you by not wearing ear-buds in the gym so i can notice if you need a spot

i promise not to walk around looking at my e-vices when i’m out on the town

i promise to love you by not only not txtng while driving but also by embracing that awkward time of silence with you in the elevator or on the subway by not pretending to be txtng someone to avoid interacting with you!

my religion is to promise to at least catch your eyes and give you a smile if i see you begging on the street

i promise to acknowledge your existence and honor your humanity

i promise to buy you a meal and learn about your life

and if i have some work to do around the yard, i promise to invite you to hop in my car and do that work so you can earn an honest days pay for an honest days work.


ecclesiastes says

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

..and my religion is to lie down with you to keep you warm

my religion is to come to your side to help you fight your battles  

my religion is to volunteer at local soup kitchens, and to read the local paper, and to write letters to that paper, and to volunteer for political campaigns, or at least to vote!

my religion is to promise to help build homes for you through Habitat for Humanity 

my religion is to increase awareness of your hunger through joining my local Crop Walk

my religion is to reduce your hunger by lobbying congress through Bread for the World 

my religion is to give a damn about you

  — trusting that you give a damn about me too.

my religion is to promise to ask you “how is it with your soul?”

and my religion is to hope that you ask that of me

my religion is to sing my heart out with my church’s gospel choir so i can express my highs and my lows

– as i hear the heart-aches and joys of those around me

my spirituality isn’t private, and it isn’t personal,

and neither is yours

you are my brother and i am your keeper

– please tell me that you are mine

 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. - James 2:14-17

 Blessed Be the Tie That Binds


On a related note, check out International Get Unplugged & Get Connected Day!A day for people to not pop in their ear buds, to not text, and to be available to interact with the people who surround them. An annual event on the 1st Monday in October.

Though I’m a progressive Christian, here’s a link to a blog I wrote that shows that “I get” spiritual oneness and that I’m not some stereo-typical Christian zealot. We’re in this life together. Religions help us to do it. Granted, many churches have work to do to become places that SBNR folk might even want to attempt visiting. Shedding judgmental, anti-woman, anti-gay, and exclusivistic stances are great places to start. And frankly, many churches really ought to be doing more to tend to the poor and reduce poverty than they do. Addressing all of that is partly why I wrote my book Kissing Fish. That said, progressive churches are on the rise. Google “progressive church nameofyourtown” or “gay welcoming church nameofyourtown” and see what comes up. You might also consider swaying an existing church to become progressive, or starting such a progressive church if one doesn’t exist.

I realize that this blog may lead to some ruffled feathers. My intention is not to bash but rather to help people I know and love to be the best they can be by holding up a mirror that shows a few shadows and blind spots. For those who may be feeling resistant to what I’m seeking to convey, I would be curious to hear your thoughts after a couple of days of leaning into these ideas…kind of like leaning and breathing into a challenging yoga asana instead of becoming rigid or giving up on it… to see what happens when we move deeper. Finally, consider the possibility that becoming actively involved with a religion may be a needed gift to it as much or more as it might be to you. Peace.

xx – Roger

Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who directs the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

Click here for the Kissing Fish Facebook page

Why I’m Spiritual *and* Religious.
Christianity in Crisis: from fear to faith
Christianity in Crisis: from fear to faith
When Atheists Kill – (or when our assumptions go wild).
About Roger Wolsey

Rev. Roger Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor who serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He's the author of "Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity."

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    Please note, I’m not seeking to be judgmental and I took pains to avoid saying that “ALL” SBNR act in X manner. However, if people are being honest with themselves, they will not be too defensive when having someone hold up a mirror so they can see their shadows and blind spots.

    Indeed, as a religious, person, I expect others to do that for me.

    “Bread for myself is a material question. Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual one.” – Nikolai Berdyaev

  • Louise Dotter

    “Loving strangers and extending hospitality and inclusion to them isn’t something that is particularly natural to humans. We need to be taught to be that way. And that’s precisely what religion excels at” Wrong on SOOOO many levels! The religious communities (or tribes as you so aptly call them) are exclusive by definition because they require blind faith and obedience to a rigid set of beliefs. Even the most open, caring religious community is dogmatic, judgmental and exclusive at this basic level of “my religion, my belief is the correct one”.

    Although, as an elder, I too regret the lose of public, personal and physical interaction I’ll put my hope in the young people who use their electronic interconnectedness to create fluid and sometimes temporary but positive, inclusive and caring action groups that address immediate social and human problems. Example Kiva Micro Loans. Yes the electronic “net” can be dehumanizing (trolls, cyber bullies etc) but more and more I see these kids coming together in supportive, caring online communities formed to address issues from sustainability in agriculture, cities and business to feeding the hungry and food safety/security.

    The difference between religionists and the SBNR’s is their communities are truly inclusive! They are formed around commonly perceived PROBLEMS that need diverse approaches to solve instead of revealed ancient dogma that addresses none of the real world problems and often compounds them! (gays, women’s rights etc etc etc)

    We elders are beginning to see the light (Charter for Compassion and the Open Society Foundation) but I think it would behoove us to follow the example of the “connected ones” and start dealing with real world problems instead of continually arguing about the “number of angels that can dance on a pin”! Remembering that it is not what you BELIEVE but what you DO that makes you a good person. Which is the modern SBNR version of the golden rule!

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Louise, as you put it, “wrong.” There are many forms of the various world religions that do not think that their religion is the one right and true one or that everyone should join their religion. Progressive Christianity is an example of this within the Christian tribe.

      • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

        and re: “Remembering that it is not what you BELIEVE but what you DO that makes you a good person. Which is the modern SBNR version of the golden rule!” Sounds a lot like that passage from James that I quoted at the end of my blog. ; )

        That said, in the city I live in, the folks who who’ve organized meeting the needs of the homeless are religious.

        • Guilford

          “Remembering that it is not what you BELIEVE but what you DO that makes you a good person. Which is the modern SBNR version of the golden rule!” Although for the most part I whole-heartily agree with this statement, I want to bring up this quote by Mahatma Ghandi, “Before the throne of the Almighty, man will be judged not by his acts but by his intentions. For God alone reads our hearts.” Just because you “do” good things, this does not make you a good person. Your very heart and mind and soul should be in agreement with your actions. Although I will say that acting good may be the first steps to being genuinely good, It does not make a person good if their intentions are to gain a higher standing or to look down on the ones we help (which I believe the Church has fallen in these areas). Just my two cents. The rest of the article was a fantastic read. I myself am both religious and spiritual. I used to lean more to the religious side, but I have come to find a balance between the two. Through much reading of different spiritual and religious authors alike, I have come to understand that balance tends to be the issue for most people. I have learned that fear or anger or negative emotions tend to point to some sort of insecurity, and as a Christian I am to question myself, pray, and give these things to God. This helps me find balance and it has drastically shaped me into what I hope is a well-anchored yet free individual who welcomes any Being in. C.S. Lewis puts it well, “He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites…He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” I fully agree with this quote, and I tend to relate it to all extremes except one: My extreme love for God and his creation. I don’t know that one can overdo true selfless love. It is a joyous yet perilous journey God has taken me on.

    • Leum

      Yes the electronic “net” can be dehumanizing (trolls, cyber bullies etc) but more and more I see these kids coming together in supportive, caring online communities formed to address issues from sustainability in agriculture, cities and business to feeding the hungry and food safety/security.

      THIS. The net isn’t disconnecting my generation, it’s ramping up our connections from a local to global scale.

      • Ceejay Garrett

        Roger, at 66, I am tired of church. Growing up in a minister’s home and required to be at church every time the door opened formed a lifelong habit that just recently became tiresome. I’m retired and enjoy sleeping late. I get as much spiritual nourishment from FB as I was getting at church and it gives me the opportunity to help people in a way that was not available at church. Don’t get me wrong. I love my small progressive Episcopal church and enjoyed singing in the choir, but in January while staying in with Pertussis, I discovered I really enjoy a more relaxed pace on Sunday. It’s almost a luxury I’ve never allowed myself. I’m seriously considering becoming an Easter-Christmas church-goer. The introvert (INFP) in me is loving the quietness and solitude. I’ve contributed money and energy all my life and I’m ready to take a break. Do you think this is a long-term ambition or just a short sabbatical? I’m surprised my conscience hasn’t hurt, but it hasn’t.

        • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

          Ceejay, you’ve put in a lot of time and energy into the life of the Church and a sabbatical can make sense. this isn’t about a guilt trip, it’s simply a fact that we’re more healthy in concert with others than going it alone. Enjoy your break. Peace.

          • Tina Y. Richards

            Ceejay, I agree with what Roger says. Enjoy your break. However, as a thirty-something in my own church, the church in which I was raised, I encourage you to keep in touch. In my congregation we have many elders who gave and gave and gave of themselves in their younger years, and when they reached retirement they retired from committees and Sunday School involvement as well. And I understand, they needed a break. However, now they are in their 70′s and 80′s – and still vital and regular attendees, but they are so isolated from the actual “life” of our church community. Take the time you need for yourself, but leave the door open so that people like me can know the joy of engaging with someone like you – we have so much we can learn from one another.

    • Mike Peterson


      Jesus left us a Church to teach us. Like the Ethiopian Eunuch, how can you learn without somebody to teach you.

      SBNR is just another Church, a personal one. Soon there will be as many “Churches” as there are people.

  • Pingback: Spiritual But Not Religious()

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    The “spiritual” vs. “religious” split is a false one. I am both spiritual and religious and I invite others to be as well. Peace.

    • Rich G

      how about belonging to a church, yet feeling I am spiritual but not religious?

  • Pingback: Spiritual But Not Giving a Damn | cynthiabeard()

  • Jan S

    Pastor Wolsey, I think there is much truth in what you’re saying and I believe there is a lot of selfish isolationism, even within the church’s walls. But I would never want to give people the idea that they MUST be affiliated with some mainstream denomination (or political party) to be real in their spiritual life or dedicated in their political activism. In fact, I take being an independent politically as a sign of intelligence. I’ve been in churches that had a sign in the yard denoting their denomination who eventually pulled the sign up and threw it away. The sign means nothing as far as the spirit found there, and I’ve been around some non-denominational churches who are very doctrinally sound. What matters is that Christian wisdom, knowledge and discipline flow from within from a right relationship with God and without that as a starting place, what have you got? Indescriminate “joining” can be as dangerous as isolationsim. It may be more edifying to study on one’s own for a season than to mindlessly follow the first group who sounds good. Scripture says we no longer have to be taught by our neighbor because God gives us His Holy Spirit, who will teach us all things. John 14:26 and Hebrews 8:10. Again, I get where you’re coming from but I also I know that people are so sick to death of judgmentalism, dogma, tribalism and peer pressure, who just want to find God for real. I admire those independent spirits, believe God honors their seeking hearts. When they find Him, then reaching out to others will be an irresistable fact.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Jan, I didn’t call for anyone to mindless follow a group. Indeed, I lifted up Jesus’ example of pushing back against one’s religion and wrestling with it in order to help it be the best it can be.


  • Amalthea

    Organized religion has infiltrated our government much to my dismay. As a woman, I loathe the Tea Bagging Republican religious wingnuts, who are passing laws at state levels and attempting to do so at a national level, in favor of their religious “beliefs”, such as banning certain types of contrapception for women because it’s against their particular brand of misogynist “beliefs”, or other medical care, such as passing anti-choice laws to force a woman pregnant from a rape to give birth to the criminals’ child whether she wants to or not. At this point in my life and political awareness, I am at war with “organized religion” because so many catholic, fundamentalist, and evangelistic “organizations” have declared war on the civil rights of women.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Amalthea, there are even more Christians in the U.S. who disagree with the Teapartiers and who have been organizing to resist their efforts to sway our government. Rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, how about joining forces with Christians whose views are more in line with yours. Example: https://www.facebook.com/ChristiansForAChange

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    for those who may be feeling resistant to what I’m seeking to convey, I would be curious to hear your thoughts after a couple of days of leaning into these ideas…kind of like leaning into a challenging yoga asana instead of becoming rigid or giving up on it… to see what happens when we move deeper.

  • Pat

    I could agree with some of what you say about a religious community and being effective at that level. However to lable all those who use electronic equipment in their many variations as spiritual not religious is a misnomer. Some of the most religious people I know are maintaing contact with texting and email communication and wi-fi etc., using it as a tool and sometimes avoiding contact with “non-believers”. We simply must accept that as the latest way of communication in a very modern world and find a way to use it for the benefit of all. I do find that electronic “behavior” to be just as exclusive whether in the religious, spriitual, or a general society setting. In my experience, organized religion is exclusive in general. Spiritual “groups” are inclusive. Being more spiritual, rather than religious may be many people’s way of trying to find the “middle ground,” that ground where organized religion most fails. That is in the self-righteous judgment of any member or non-member that causes the religious organization to accept or exclude a person or group for any self-justified reason; and I believe that goes for any religion. Spiritual people do help others, and they don’t just help those who “believe” as they do. Religions only help those they think they can get to eventually help the religious organization, or “save” someone, which first has to say that there is something wrong with that person to begin with. There is a deeper divide between religious and spiritual people than just electronic devices and helping the community.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      re: ..To label all those who use electronic equipment in their many variations as spiritual not religious is a misnomer.” But I didn’t do that. I made a point not to over-state things in that way.

      I also disagree with your statement that “religions only help those they think they can get to eventually help the religious organization..” That may be true of some forms of it, but certainly that is not the case for any of the mainline denominations. Curious that you wrongly called me out for over-stating something — and yet you did just that.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      A further thought, for those of you who are on the fence about connecting or reconnecting with a religion, consider the possibility that becoming actively involved with a religion may be a needed gift to it as much or more as it might be to you. Peace.

  • rachel

    This was certainly an interesting read, but I disagree on a number of fronts. You are trying to fit a Christian framework over non-christian ways of being, and that where you go off track. You misunderstand a lot about these other paths because you only try to see them through your own way of being, a sort of religious ethnocentrism. It is the “my way or the highway” mentality that turns a lot of people off of organized religion generally and Christianity specifically. And that is what you are doing when you make absolute statements about what people can and can’t do. You can’t be a solo Christian. You can’t do good without organized religion. Etc. Etc. Not everyone needs the rigidity of organized religion. We can translate our spiritual beliefs into good acts with religion telling us that we have to or that we have to in a specific way. We can behave like good people without the threat of falling out of favor with God/the church/the community. There is something to the notion that to heal the world first heal thyself. Get right with yourself and the good ripples outward. I agree with your point about technology and the disconnect from those around us, we do need to put down our phones/tablets/music players and really be with each other. Community is important but our community doesn’t have to be based on religion. Religion has spread so much discord and people use it to spread so much hate and judgement, is it any wonder people turn to a more personal connection to the divine? It’s not selfish, it’s about a deep inner connection with the divine. To me spirituality is about the connection to the divine and all that is, religion is what people do in order to appear like they are good or are doing good, when really they using Jesus’ teachings to judge and condemn. Many who would call themselves religious aren’t doing any of the inner work. In the end it doesn’t matter what you call it, spiritual or religious (or both), or if you do it alone or in a group as long as you are doing the work for yourself and others.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Agreed, certain forms of religion have “spread so much discord and has been used to spread so much hate and judgment,” but again, that is bad religion. Not all forms of religion are hateful, judgmental. Please let’s admit that. Progressive Christianity is a form that comes to mind and is one that I advocate. (And there are similarly non-hateful versions of the other world religions too).

    • Anna

      I think most folks aren’t seeing what young folks are doing because this new generation is not out crowing about what they are doing. Believe me, they are in community.. it’s encompassing a wider area that folks my age (old) can only marvel at. They are working silently under the radar dismantling all the “isms” for which this country has been criticized. It’s hard work and the young people I have met who are truly involved know this is a life’s work. They are committed to getting their hands dirty and often with very little rewards and more often with condescending attitudes from the conventional culture.

  • Donna

    I have no problem understanding that many progressive Christians are Spiritual and Religious. The problem is that the vast majority of those who claim the name Christian are Religious, but not Spiritual. In my experience these are the folks who truly don’t give a damn. They simply have filled in the space on their “social resume” with the word “Christian” and have no idea what it mean to lead a life that follows the example of Christ. People who define themselves as Spiritual but not Religious are far more likely to give a damn because of the way they have been wounded by the organization of religion. Sorry Roger, I think you really missed the boat on this one. I know you do great work in a wonderful inclusive and progressive congregation, but you really don’t get those of us who are so weary and disgusted with the organizations that we can’t stand the label “religious.” It seems so disingenuous and contrived. I am a much better Christian when I’m not attending a brick and mortar church. And yes, one CAN be an “independent” Christian without a formal affiliation with an organization. Especially now that there is such a wealth of information, study materials, and fellowship opportunities online. And I do support UMCOR and other such organizations dedicated to truly helping people. Do you have to be smart and cautious “doing church online? – of course – but no more than those gullible souls walking into some tiny podunk church with a “local pastor” with no education trying to be pastor to 3 or 4 congregations.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      I hear you but in my experience, while the majority of church-going Christians that I know aren’t exactly mystics or engage in mystical practices, most all of them do spend time in reguarl personal prayer. I’d say that counts as being spiritual as well as being religious. Moreover, I specifically stated that one does not have to attend a brick and mortar church — what’s important is gathering with fellow believers. Peace.

      • Donna

        Yes, I agree. But gathering with fellow believers, whether in real life or online, does not make one “religious.” To me, religious means subscribing to the outward physical trappings of an organized religion. It means attending community worship, singing songs with questionable theology, listening to sometimes ill-informed messages with no opportunity to debate, participating in the political structure as decisions are made about how to spend your tithes and offerings, going to monthly pot lucks (which I really don’t like, but attended for many years), and subjecting oneself to emotional manipulation. It means talking the talking and walking the walk in the way you are expected. In my experience, about 60 years in the church, 14 as a lay minister with a seminary degree, prayer by most Christians consist of recitation of childhood bedtime prayer and graces, and the typical 911 call – HELP ME NOW!!! That is a “religious” discipline, but to me is not spiritual. I believe that anyone can “see” if a person is religious, but only God knows if a person is spiritual. I am now a C & E Christian, and I very much enjoy seeing old friends at church when I do pop in, but it really has nothing to do with my spirituality but more about social-ity. I am, however, quite “religious” in checking my email and Facebook. This has become my supportive and caring faith community, and is infinitely more satisfying and fulfilling than any other faith community of which I have been a part. I refuse to believe that people identifying as SBNR are just doing so because they are too lazy to interact with others or to go through the prescribed motions of any given church. A congregation like yours can be a great blessing for many, many people who are searching and have felt marginalized or dismissed by other congregations, but please don’t assume that spiritual people who don’t “belong” to a church don’t give a damn. They do, or they wouldn’t identify as spiritual. Like I said before, it is the “religious” folks who are just going through the motions who really don’t give a damn. I believe this is the majority of church-going people.

        • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

          what you stated about what “religion” means to you is a sad consequence of a hijacking of the word by those who don’t “do church” well. In the same way that I am seeking to reclaim the word Christian, I’m also encouraging us to reclaim the word religion from those who have tainted it.

          also, i don’t assume that all SBNRs don’t give a damn. sadly, i know more than a few for when it comes to dealing with poverty and the poor– the phrase applies.

  • Susan d

    @Ceejay…you are not the only one. After years of teaching Sunday School and all kinds of churchy things, my Sunday mornings have truly become a day of (much needed) rest. As I watch our episcopal congregation get older and older and older, I no longer feel the sense of vitality and enthusiasm that was there 15 years ago, so now I tend to stay home and honor ‘my’ time and take care of me for once.

    • Frank

      Sorry but isn’t it this idea of church being self serving the problem? Isn’t church about what you can give to it not what you get from it?

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    A further thought, for those of you who are on the fence about connecting or reconnecting with a religion, consider the possibility that becoming actively involved with a religion may be a needed gift to it as much or more as it might be to you. Peace.

  • smrnda

    Thought I’d add something, since I’m relatively young, and am not only not religious but not spiritual either. Socially conscious – yes, but certainly not spiritual. I and most people I know don’t seem that socially isolated, and as people tend to be involved lightly in many organizations and activities, rather than heavily involved in a few, I think I see enough people who are spiritual but not religious or even neither be pretty well-connected socially.

    I think that the issue there is that people can connect with others without having to have some sort of Main Group Affiliation. Churches tend to be a kind of one-shop-stop for a community, a spiritual space, a charity organization, self-help group and even sporting events. It does provide some level of connection, but it can become pretty insular as well. For a while I wanted to attend a church as an experiment, but I was already too involved in other activities, groups and volunteer work to make anything but the Sunday service. Honestly, I found most church communities, even more progressive ones to be pretty cliquish – for everybody who is in, it’s their home and primary social circle. For people who already have a social circle, it’s kind of impossible to maintain both.

    My own thought is that strong membership in well-defined groups is fading, though people are still connecting to others. I think it’s also dangerous to think of the past as more connected – you got community at the cost of a high level of conformity back then, which we sometimes forget.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      nice feedback. you seem fairly content so I only offer this suggestion academically — one might want to check out the growing number of overtly progressive or emergent congregations. They have a high expectation for diversity and a low tolerance for conformity. Peace.

      • smrnda

        Thanks. I actually think we should look at city planning as a cause for social disconnection. Compare a suburb to an urban area, and one major difference is the suburb is built around the assumption of atomic households living in houses, and everybody driving 30 or more miles to buy anything more significant than gas. If you live in an area with high pedestrian traffic and lots of public spaces, be they parks or cafes or even pubs, you get a much different scene. I actually think our real physical spaces could be the cause of a lot of problems like the ones you talk about.

  • Julie

    What a wonderful sounding board, which, by the way, is being done electronically!

    I have to say that I did take some time to respond after reading this.

    Labels, in my view, are not necessary. They tend to separate rather than bring together. They have nothing to do with seeking and finding that connection with the Divine…with God. The truth is that we are all children of the Divine, and are equal. When we can see each other in that light, as “brothers”, that is when we become one, that is our community. It matters not where/what place we seek God. Some do in a church and others do not. The important thing is that we hear and listen to that small, quiet voice that comes from within. The Voice of Love. The Voice of the Holy Spirit directed by God. And, it is through that Voice of Love that we reach out…to everyone, yes, to each other as well, because we all struggle in some way. Enjoy your quiet time, your solitude and listen. That is what meditation is for. That is what prayer is for.

    Blessings to all of you.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      agreed, but meditation, solitude, and quite time that don’t bear fruit in praxis such as helping the poor — meh.

      • Julie

        Ah, but it does bring you to that connection to Spirit, which in turns sets you on the path to helping the poor and those who are in need. Prayer, too, is done during quiet time and solitude. The act itself bears more fruit coming from a place of Love.

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    On a related note, an excerpt from my book Kissing Fish, “…Now, all of that said, the other reason why you should consider being a part of a congregation or intentional Christian community isn’t because it will change you—it’s because you will change it. Your presence and participation will change, and help create, the Church of the future. You’ll be a new fish in the fishbowl and the fishbowl will have to adjust and grow. Come on in. We need you to stir the pot!”

  • Sheila

    I have a lot of thoughts about what you’ve written. I agree at some points and not at others. I think, basically, that your experiences have shown this to be true for you, while my experiences have been different. I am not at all opposed to being a part of a healthy church. However, I have not had success finding such a church, and the looking wore me down. I do think, though, that you should really not discount random acts of kindness. Personally, I have found the kindness of strangers to be much more potent than the organized actions of churches. I have felt more loved, for example, by the strangers who helped push my stalled car out of an intersection, than I have by churches I attended for months.

  • Nancy

    There were soooo many misguided assumptions and attempts to covertly attack what the writer thought are the practices of non-religious people, I hardly know where to begin. Firstly, I a non’religious person and I’m not young. I’m older and have been on my person path for many years. It was a choice and not a choice. Leaving the church was definitely a choice. I also text, (a lot) because I prefer it many times to a long conversation. I have friends from all over the world and different religions and consider them to be part of community. In particular, I try not to judge but do not feel comfortable around those who attempt to do so. Whatever practice or belief system a person adopts should not be judged unless it is harming another. Which brings me to what was the real intention of this article?

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Nancy, re: “Whatever practice or belief system a person adopts should not be judged unless it is harming another.” My point is to argue that merely not hurting others isn’t enough. Spirituality that is meaningful instills, inspires, and fosters a disposition toward pro-actively helping others. That is what is lacking in many of the SBNR community. To the extent that it is lacking in the religious community, I call that out too — and have a long history of that esp. within Christian circles. I don’t care what religion someone belongs to, but I do care if they call themselves spiritual — and don’t do anything to help the poor.

      My intent was to respond to a calling that I feel to hold up a mirror/reality check for would-be spiritualists. Peace.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Nancy, re: “Whatever practice or belief system a person adopts should not be judged unless it is harming another.” My point is to argue that merely not hurting others isn’t enough. Spirituality that is meaningful instills, inspires, and fosters a disposition toward pro-actively helping others. That is what is lacking in many of the SBNR community. To the extent that it is lacking in the religious community, I call that out too — and have a long history of that esp. within Christian circles. I don’t care what religion someone belongs to, but I do care if they call themselves spiritual — and don’t do anything to help the poor. I do know a few SBNR folk who help the poor — I know many more who don’t even have the idea of helping them on their radar.

      All this said, many churches have work to do to become places that SBNR folk might even want to attempt visiting. Shedding anti-woman, anti-gay, and exclusivistic stances would be a great place to start.

      My intent was to respond to a calling that I feel to hold up a mirror/reality check for would-be spiritualists. Peace.

  • Guilford

    “He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites…He relies on your extra dislike of one to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.” -C.S. Lewis

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Indeed, and that’s why I’ve long been a critic of how many Christians view their faith — and run their churches. Indeed, I’m not equal opportunity in my critiques — 99% of my mirror holding is to the Christian community; i.e., my own. Peace.

    • Guilford

      Oh, and I think this could apply to humanity, even if one did not believe in “the devil” So I hope no one get’s caught up on that. The error is extremism.

  • F

    “Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” -Orwell

  • Sarah Heidt

    Very good piece. It reminds me also of Zizek: ” However, when today’s New Age ideologists insist on the distinction between religion and spirituality (the perceive themselves as spiritual, not part of any organizationed religion), they (often not so) silently impose a “pure” procedure of Zen-like spiritual meditation as the “whiteness” of religion. The idea is that all religions presuppose, rely on, exploit, manipulate, etc., the same core of mystical experience, and that it is only “pure” forms of meditation like Zen Buddhism that exemplify this core directly, bypassing institutional and dogmatic mediations. Spiritual meditation, in its abstraction from institutionalized religion, appears today as the zero-level undistorted core of religion: the complex institutional and dogmatic edifice which sustains every particular religion is dismissed as a contingent secondary coating of this core. The reason for this shift of accent from religious institution to the intimacy of spiritual experience is that such a meditation is the ideological form that best fits today’s global capitalism.”

  • Tim Olmstead

    I personally find this article a little bit insulting. To me, this reads as a nicely wrapped condemnation directed at these individuals because they lack a specific faith in G-d. This is no different than outright calling them sinners because they don’t follow your denomination and belief in .

    I think that at the end of the day, as long as they are a good person, and they are treating their fellow human beings with respect and dignity, then who cars what the structure of their belief system is?

    When can we finally move past this mentality and REALLY call ourselves accepting people of religion by accepting those who may not even have a religion?

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

      Tim, re: “the end of the day as long as they are a good person.”

      What I’m trying to suggest is that good people — put that goodness into action in tangible ways and show that they are good by helping the needy. People who call themselves “spiritual” but who don’t engage in concrete actions to help the poor — give spirituality and other people who are spiritual (religious or not) — a bad name. Spirituality for it’s own sake — isn’t.

  • Pingback: Me, Myself, and I | D. All of the above()

  • Lawrence

    Shorter: You kids today! You I-People. For shame! It’s worse than those damn hippies in the “Me Generation”. And didn’t I just pond a bottle of Maalox after reading the Pew numbers. Who the hell do you “Nones” think you are kidding? The mortgage on all this property and buildings we keep buying to Do God’s Work doesn’t pay for itself. Also, too, how am I and the rest of The Community supposed to subject you to all the authoritarian bullshit, from the stunningly petty to the crimminally grandiose, if you don’t show up? All those mind games arent just an unfortunate side effect of the faith. They are the entire point of the faith!

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

      Lawrence, That truncated version would be appropriate if it was coming from someone who endorsed “authoritarian bullshit.” I’m an advocate of progressive Christianity. For us, orthopraxy (right action) trumps orthodoxy (right beliefs). We celebrate diversity and have a low tolerance for conformity — esp. top-down forms of it.

      My beef isn’t with people who aren’t members of religions. My beef is with people who call themselves “spiritual” who don’t put whatever faith they have into action in concrete ways to tend to the poor and reduce poverty. They give spirituality a bad name. Peace.

  • Carol

    When a *church* is betraying the Gospel Message in teaching and practice are we really “leaving the church” or has “the church” left us.

    I can remember when it was possible to have compassion for the poor without being called a “socialist” by Conservative professing “christians” for whom the Trinity is no longer Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but God, Church and Country and who have replaced the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love with the civic virtues of the Protestant work ethic. Their eschatological vision sounds more like a 50′s political agenda than a certain Christological hope.

    When is a church not a church? When it is a Republican PAC!

    Mainline Liberal “Christianity” is often no more than secular humanism cloaked in church-speak and their vision sounds suspiciously like a 60′s political agenda.

    When is a church not a church? When it is a Democratic PAC!

    Individuals can certainly become self-centered, but so can institutions.

    There are three fundamental reasons why people who remain faithful to Jesus are leaving the institution churches:

    1. Dogmatic absolutism

    2. Self-righteous judgmentalism

    3. Sectarian triumphalism

    All three common ecclesiastical attitudes encourage rather than challenge narcissistic egoism.

    “The institutions of Churchianity are not Christianity. An institution is a good thing if it is second; immediately an institution recognizes itself it becomes the dominating factor.”

    — Oswald Chambers

    “In a rare interview in 1967 with Thomas McDonnell, [Thomas] Merton pronounced that the great crisis in the church is a crisis of authority precipitated because the church, as institution and organization, has overshadowed the reality of the church as a community of persons united in love and in Christ. He now charged that obedience and conformity with the impersonal corporation-church are a fact in the life of Christians. “The Church is preached as a communion, but is run in fact as a collectivity, and even as a totalitarian collectivity.”

    “In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe , where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.” –Richard Halverson, former chaplain of the United States Senate

    “We should be less concerned about making churches full of people and more concerned about making people full of God.” – C. Kirk Hadaway and David A. Roozen

    “My bent is to say that, to the degree that a pastor, for the gospel’s sake, becomes political, he probably in the long run, blunts his gospel power to transform culture.”~John Piper

    When we blindly adopt a religion, a political system, a literary dogma, we become automatons. We cease to grow. –Anais Ninn

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

      I agree with much of what you stated. However, progressive Christianity is a form of one religion that doesn’t embrace or operate with “1. Dogmatic absolutism 2. Self-righteous judgmentalism

      or 3. Sectarian triumphalism”

      If those were the only ways of being Christian, I wouldn’t be. Happily, they aren’t.

      re: that Ninn quote. I’m not calling for anyone to “blindly” adopt a religion.


  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    On a related note, here’s another article I just discovered written by a SBNR who appears to come to similar conclusions as the ones that I do. “Has Spirituality Become Like Religion?” I’d say that — no, not enough!


  • Eva

    Oh my goodness there is so, so much good stuff here. I started to comment but its becoming a blog post in its own right!

  • Joe

    Your point about needing community to grow spiritually is well-taken. I would say, though, that the reason many folks have drifted away from their churches is that they stopped helping them grow. They realized something important was missing. Their churches seemed to be frozen in the past, either unable to address the reality of their everyday lives or hostile to the idea that they should adapt to try to do so. And sadly, they don’t see many alternatives. Yes, God is passionate about the “we” rather than the “me.” We approach God as “our father” rather than “my father.” And it’s certainly true that some who describe themselves as spiritual rather than religious are avoiding having to deal with the idea that we are all equally God’s children and must care for one another, especially those who are in need or who are marginalized. But it’s also the case that “Christianity” has evolved into a very self-centered affair. So many “traditional” churches teach that our only real concern is saving our individual souls _ it’s all about me and my future. What they refer to as acts of charity are helpful only insofar as they earn us brownie points for heaven. Avoiding sin is the thing. And those Sunday gatherings are about encouraging one another in this self-absorbed mindset. It’s no wonder so many people are turned off. They understand on some level that the Divine is different, something much more. But they don’t have many passionate voices like the one 2,000 years ago directly challenging the orthodoxy and showing a much different way and inviting them to come and form a loving, inclusive community based on love rather than doctrine, dogma or centuries-old traditions. There are some churches, like the one I attend now, that are inclusive and welcoming and committed to the notion that we are to love one another as God’s children above all, but it’s certainly in a minority. I think most churches aspire to remain old wineskins, and few that are willing to buck tradition and accept the challenge of becoming a new wineskin, one that is comfortable with mystery and committed to taking people’s individual experiences of the divine seriously. We need more of those.



  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com Roger Wolsey

    A SBNR blogger who “got” what my blog was seeking to convey.


  • J. Bob

    Excellent Article,

    reminds me of the comment:

    “If you can’t get along with people while on earth, how will you get along with them in heaven, for eternity?”.

  • Steve

    Interesting topic. Thanks, Roger. My story is similar to others. I’m a PK raised in a fundamentalist Baptist church. I rarely go to church anymore, and when I do go, I feel either disgust or a warm satisfaction that I was there. I am interested in all denominations — and none of them at the same time. I wish I were like so many of my friends who “fit” and are very committed to the Way. I just can’t check my brain in at the door. Too many big questions that church can’t answer. Too many churches with real organizational or personality problems. This problem, in fact, is what I grew up with: Dad was pastor of many churches with huge problems that always ended in crisis and shame and exits to nowhere. I could never be an atheist, but I simply don’t think God gives a damn (borrowing wording from this column). I’m more of a deist. Just sense that church participation is a wasteland. Even if a congregation could overcome it’s own defeating behaviors, churches with the greatest potential spend all their time studying the Bible instead of doing and living the faith in a dark and hurting world. This fascination with the Bible, with studying the history and feelings of peoples far removed from contemporary life, is very disturbing to me. What’s going on out there?

    • Joe

      You make a great point about the fascination with the Bible, Steve. If you think about it, the Bible was never intended to be an end-all, be-all book. It was a collection of stories about how people tried to perceive God in their time, in their culture. Never was it intended to be the final word. And we can see how people’s experience of God grew over time by looking at the various books. Unfortunately, at some point, religious leaders decided to put an ending to the Bible _ a final chapter _ and wrapped it in a cover, which is NOT what it’s intended to be. Truth is, the Bible should be an ongoing work, with each generation _ each person _ adding their chapter to the story of humanity’s experience of the Divine. There should be a book of Steve. And a book of Joe. And a book for everyone else. And our personal stories of our encounter with the Divine should all be treated as stories to be shared and cherished and learned from. Yes, folks from thousands of years ago encountered the Divine in their lives. And we do so today, in our way which is different from their way. When we say we can only encounter God through a primitive mindset we go off the tracks. I think I understand what you’re saying, and agree fully. The Bible is a work in progress and it’s so vast that no building could contain it, let along a book cover. I’m more interested in how God is speaking to us now and hearing that still, small voice in our time, in our cultures, in our world, which is much, much different than those worlds of thousands of years ago.

  • Pingback: The Aspirational Agnostic()

  • Tracy

    Meh. I can’t get with at least the first half of this. So now its the SBNR who aren’t as good as the Christians? — great, that used to be the Buddhists. And the reason is, they aren’t organized. Okay, so a group of Humanists that get together for potlucks, visit each other in the hospital, maybe run a book group — that would do it, wouldn’t it?

    Guess what you’re saying is that we really don’t need God.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com rogerwolsey

      Tracy, you might want to consider the possibility that any group of people who get together for meals, to visit the sick in hospitals, or to feed the poor, etc — do so because of God, and when they do, they experience God.


  • Semich

    Well, part of the problem is imposing the Abrahamic concept of religion on the SBNR crowd. One can be bound together as part of a philosophical school without weekly congregational meetings. One can be bound together by practice as opposed to creed. And one can be bound by geography or language, as opposed to either. Many Catholic church goers do not believe in the Church’s teachings, but have a cultural affinity for it rooted in their familial and ethnic heritage. That is religion, certainly, but it is not directly tied to their own good works, unless you are counting their tithing, which goes to good and ill in equal measure.

    Additionally, you should not assume that practitioners of yoga or meditation are practicing solo, or that if they are they are not guided by those same practices to engage in community service. Many of these people are not only engaged in good works as a side practice,but have also embraced jobs that enhance their communities and are socially responsible. In other words, they live their beliefs. Many are also vegetarians and vegan, living an ethical diet rooted in ahimsa (as opposed to ethically problematic diets that are solely rooted in ritual obligations, as in halaal or kosher). And I know that *you* know this, because you are also engaged with both yoga and meditation.

    And as much as you point to the existence of welcoming congregations, your own denomination is rabidly anti-gay. I know, because I was raised and confirmed in the UMC and my own family left because of its anti-gay policies. The most recent reform vote wasn’t even close. Sure, they do good works, but so does the UCC and other denominations or individual congregations that come without the baggage. Do you marry same-sex couples, for example? I mean this is pretty basic, because if you do you know as well as I do that you could end up defrocked.

    No practicing Jews, Christians or Muslims, progressive or otherwise, are in a place to critique SBNRs.

    • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com rogerwolsey

      Semich, Thank you for your thoughtful feedback. I agree that the Church has plenty of work to do to get it’s own house in order. Indeed, I’m not “equal opportunity” in my criticism as 99% of my criticism over the years has been toward my fellow Christians. I too am upset by my own denomination’s stubborn refusal to become fully inclusive. Here’s the Pastoral Letter to the UMC that I wrote last year: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2012/04/a-pastoral-letter-to-the-united-methodist-church/

      That said, progress has been made. If you were to only count the delegates to the General Conference from the United States, in each of the last 2 GCs, the proposals to end discrimination in the UMC would have passed! Moreover, the Western Jurisdiction has taken matters into their own hands and are pledging to be the church that we’re supposed to be, not the church that the G.C. says we are.

      I remain hopeful. Peace.

      • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com rogerwolsey

        BTW, the grass isn’t really any greener in the UCC, as while they may ordain gays and lesbians, they have a hard time finding congregations to hire them as congregations can still determine if they want a homosexual (or a woman) as their pastor

        And to answer your question, I’m the pastor of a Reconciling ministry. I am provide full pastoral services to all of God’s children.

  • http://thesacredgrove-nathair.blogspot.com Sam Smith

    1 And now I speak concerning baptism. Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.

    2 Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.

    3 And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.

    4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.

    5 And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.

    6 And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.

    7 And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ.

    8 But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven.

    9 And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.

    Moroni 6

  • http://www.progressivechristianitybook.com/ Roger Wolsey

    Well how about that? Apparently something I said tickled the ears of a nationally know Jewish Rabbi! : ) http://ideas.time.com/2013/03/21/viewpoint-the-problem-with-being-spiritual-but-not-religious/

  • Eric Kindberg

    Roger, you say that an organization can support and encourage a person in their beliefs. But that is a concern best illustrated by Muhammed Ali’s one finger, one fist.

    Your interpretation? Powerful lesson. Alone, we are weak. Together, we are strong.

    Mine? Wrong!

    True religion is the relationship between an individual and God. David alone slew Goliath – the army behind him just stood there. Jacob wrestled with God deep into the night – alone. Job’s friends criticized his challenging God yet, even though he lost, Job alone argued with God. Sampson pulled down the temple pillars. The prophets spoke for God, alone, at his insistence and the religious authorities (the organizations) killed them. The apostles abandoned Jesus to a crucifixion with criminals; his own organization failing to stand with him as he obeyed God. Paul’s companions on the road were not privy to his conversion conversation with Jesus. Peter had to explain his departure from the orthodoxy of the newly formed church after visiting Cornelius whom God knew without aid of the church. And in Hebrews Paul raises the martyrs, the individuals who suffered and died for their faith many at the hands of the very religion they sought to reconcile with God.

    Why!? Because organizations take on a life of their own and the very individuals who thought their faith would be strengthened find it only atrophied as the organization subsumed them to subservience as a prerequisite for membership.

    You and Ali got it wrong. The single finger is/was a christian gesture that there is one God. The closed fist is a symbol of power (which corrupts). An open palm is a symbol of strength that can support.

    I would be interested to get your take on my comments.