The more I ponder the “spiritual but not religious” cliche the more I see that it is not only creepy but also non-Christian. The essence of the Christian faith is sacrifice. First Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and our self sacrifice as we seek to emulate him and follow his command that “unless you take up your cross and follow me you cannot be my disciple.” So for “spiritual but not religious” we should really say, “spiritual but not Christian.”
How can a person who is “spiritual but not religious” also claim to be Christian? I don’t know. A Christian is a disciple of Christ and the word “disciple” is linked with “discipline” and a person can only be disciplined by someone in authority over them or through self discipline which is self submission to one in authority or a set of disciplines to follow. Therefore if someone is “spiritual but not religious” what discipline do they follow? How do they make a self sacrifice of any kind? I don’t get it. Looking at it this way, saying you are “spiritual but not religious” is like saying you love to play the piano, but you don’t read music, you don’t take piano lessons, you don’t know how to do your scales and you can’t be bothered with learning your fingering. In other words, you really really love playing chopsticks.
I can’t see that being “spiritual without being religious” is anything more than a self indulgent piece of wishful thinking and sentimental self delusion. Furthermore, I blame the Protestant, subjective individualistic religious climate in America (both the Catholic and the non Catholic sort) for the malaise. For too long the religious leaders in America have been selling a feel good, cotton candy sort of religion that is a mish mash of sentimentality, positive thinking, prosperity gospel and self help philosophy. They’ve been telling folks for too long that religion is all about feeling great and wonderful and being kind to baby seals and walking on the beach with Jesus and sometimes he carries you that’s why there is only one set of footprints.
So people aren’t that dumb. They say, “If that is what religion is, well I don’t need to go to church for that!” I can go to the beach and watch a sunset and feel peaceful. For that matter, if the Sunday morning thing is only about feeling good and loving and kind, I can get that fix by sleeping in with my current bed partner then tool down to Dunkin Donuts for some coffee and sweets.
C.S.Lewis said it years ago, “If Christianity is all about making you feel good–a bottle of port is easier.”
The only thing which gives Christianity any authenticity at all is when Christians live a life of radical self sacrifice.
Otherwise the critics who say it is all a gooey mix of superstition, wishful thinking and sentimental self indulgence are right on target.