The following article is no way made to convince you to be “spiritual but not religious. It was made to allow you to understand them and the way they “think”. A lot of atheists and theists as well consider spirituality and religiosity the same thing. A growing number of people however have considered the two words different and claim that they are “spiritual but not religious”.
If you are fond of visiting internet forums which discuss religion, spirituality or even atheism, you have probably heard of the following question, “what do you call people who believe in god, but do not subscribe to any specific organized religion”. Then the post gets a lot of answers, deist, agnostic, etc. Some will even say that those people do not exist. Actually, I believe that the proper term for this is “spiritual, but not religious”.
Let’s talk about definitions. Definitions change and sometimes two groups will haggle about the definitions of words. Sometimes parties will not even bother to check the dictionary, because definitions change with time. For example, the word atheist. Some say that atheists are those who say that god does not exist. Others add that those who say that they have no idea of god are also consider atheists. Like Tarzan for instance, if he did exist and he was never taught of the concept of god and he never did worship any god, would he be considered an atheist for having no concept of god or would he simply have no label since he never specifically stated that he does not believe in god. And how about children who at the age of say, 2 years old who have not yet received any religious instruction, are they also atheists also because they have no concept of god?
And how about the difference in the words “cult” and “religion”. Are religions just really large cults?
I believe that that is similar to the problem of the words “religion” and “spirituality”. Some will say that spirituality and religiosity are one and the same, and that the term “spiritual, but not religious” is an oxymoron. Mind you there is already a term called “spiritual, but not religious”. Just google it and you will see.
For the rest of the article I shall be using the acronym SBNR for the term “spiritual but not religious”. Let us now proceed to find out what SBNR means, not by separating the two words “spiritual” and “religious” but by getting the meaning of the whole phrase in its entirety.
” But for millions of others it is nothing so esoteric. Instead, it’s simply a “feeling” that there must be something else.”
” Gaetan Louis de Canonville practises mindfulness meditation in Richmond, south London. “We’re not worshipping a God or paying homage to something in the sky. It’s about learning to accept things like impermanence and living in the moment. If you get a glimpse of how happy you can be by embracing the moment, all the chattering of your thoughts stops.””
” Defining religion might be the best way to start this part. Religion “is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols which relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values.””
” A spiritual person is one who seeks to elevate himself, to connect with a higher power, or simply his higher self. He believes there is more to the world than what is easily seen, than what is merely physical. He will have certain guidelines of behavior and diet that he will go by, but all in the name of properly attuning with the infinite and entering some higher state of consciousness. Tibetan monks are the best example of the spiritual.”
” A spiritual person is merely a religious person who dispensed with some of the trappings and seeks to find the change and power within himself, where it has been all along.”
” A group of social scientists studied 346 people representing a wide range of religious backgrounds in an attempt to clarify what is implied when individuals describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious.” Religiousness, they found, was associated with higher levels of interest in church attendance and commitment to orthodox beliefs. Spirituality, in contrast, was associated with higher levels of interest in mysticism, experimentation with unorthodox beliefs and practices, and negative feelings toward both clergy and churches. Most respondents in the study tried to integrate elements of religiousness and spirituality. Yet 19 percent of their sample constituted a separate category best described as “spiritual, not religious.” Compared with those who connected interest in private spirituality with membership in a public religious group, the “spiritual, but not religious” group was less likely to evaluate religiousness positively, less likely to engage in traditional forms of worship such as church attendance and prayer, less likely to engage in group experiences related to spiritual growth, more likely to be agnostic, more likely to characterize religiousness and spirituality as different and nonoverlapping concepts, more likely to hold nontraditional beliefs, and more likely to have had mystical experiences.”
Upon examining the various websites, we see a common idea. The SBNR group seems to imply that they are not loyal or belong to any specific organized religion and probably have no set belief system. They just believe that there is something out there which they cannot explain which may give meaning to their lives. Some may consider this meaning outside the material world while some may not even bother to think about its origin at all. They may feel that their fulfillment and happiness is not simply due to their hormones.
While a lot of atheists use logic to arrive at conclusions, this group doesn’t use logic but rather feel their way around. Some may feel that god is responsible for this meaning without even bothering to define god. While atheists use logic, the SBNR will use intuition, for lack of a better term. If this seems foreign to atheists, let me remind you that when religious fundamentalists ask atheists where they get their morals, a lot of them would reply “from empathy”. So it seems that arguably we have three “sources of knowledge”, logic and empathy for the atheist, intuition and empathy for the SBNR and dogma for the religious fundamentalist. While the religious fundamentalist may hold firm to his belief system as unassailable, the SBNR may not.
This lack of loyalty to any religion is sometimes mistaken as agnosticism or even atheism. This is not really the case since quite often these people believe in a life force and even in a god which they do not care to define.
The variety of the SBNR is large. SBNR is like a group of all the people who do not want to be loyal to any religion. It is like the mixed martial arts of spirituality. It gets ideas from different belief systems at will. The people here will believe what they want to believe with no central authority to tell them if their belief is wrong or not. They also have no specific book to follow. When these groups meet, sometimes they share ideas and are not as opinionated as fundamentalists of other religions.
If there is any core belief it would probably be like this.
- There is something out there aside from the material world.
- There is a certain oneness of all living or even non-living things.
- This oneness is created by a certain energy or life force.
- Maybe this life force is god.
- God is unknowable and we do not attempt to define him.
There are though certain groups which would possibly consider themselves SBNR even though they do not strictly follow all five. For example some people may consider god or the supernatural portions questionable or even untrue, and yet feel a certain correctness in this unknown wonder or feeling which they choose not to define. Such may be the case with Sam Harris who is a neuroscientist who is popular among atheist circles.. He is open to meditation.
The following are quotations from his book “Waking Up, a Guide to Spirituality Without Religion”
“Twenty percent of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Although the claim seems to annoy believers and atheists equally, separating spirituality from religion is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It is to assert two important truths simultaneously: Our world is dangerously driven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn, and yet there is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit. One purpose of this book is to give both these convictions intellectual and empirical support.”
“Authors who attempt to build a bridge between science and spirituality tend to make one of two mistakes: Scientists generally start with an impoverished view of spiritual experience, assuming that it must be a grandiose way of describing ordinary states of mind —parental love, artistic inspiration, awe at the beauty of the night sky. In this vein, one finds Einstein’s amazement at the intelligibility of Nature’s laws described as though it were a kind of mystical insight. New Age thinkers usually enter the ditch on the other side of the road: They idealize altered states of consciousness and draw specious connections between subjective experience and the spookier theories at the frontiers of physics. Here we are told that the Buddha and other contemplatives anticipated modern cosmology or quantum mechanics and that by transcending the sense of self, a person can realize his identity with the One Mind that gave birth to the cosmos. In the end, we are left to choose between pseudo-spirituality and pseudo-science.”
“There is now a large literature on the psychological benefits of meditation. Different techniques produce long-lasting changes in attention, emotion, cognition, and pain perception, and these correlate with both structural and functional changes in the brain. This field of research is quickly growing, as is our understanding of self-awareness and related mental phenomena. Given recent advances in neuroimaging technology, we no longer face a practical impediment to investigating spiritual insights in the context of science. Spirituality must be distinguished from religion—because people of every faith, and of none, have had the same sorts of spiritual experiences. While these states of mind are usually interpreted through the lens of one or another religious doctrine, we know that this is a mistake. Nothing that a Christian, a Muslim, and a Hindu can experience—self-transcending love, ecstasy, bliss, inner light—constitutes evidence in support of their traditional beliefs, because their beliefs are logically incompatible with one another. A deeper principle must be at work.“
SBNR is quite often confused with atheism and agnosticism. While both are not religious, the SBNR still usually believes in god or at least in something out there other than the material world.
In a European Union survey in 2010 on religious beliefs it is seen that:
51% would say, “I believe there is a god”
26% would say, “I believe there is some sort of spirit or life force”
20% would say, “I don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, god or life force”
3% would decline to answer
I would believe that the 26% comprise the SBNR. I would also think that part of the 51% would also comprise the SBNR.
The sources or reasons of their belief are varied. A lot have left religion but remain with their belief of god arguably because of this feeling within, that god or something there exists. Something religion has talked about but has been in error over the specifics due to translation error, deceit or even politics.
While the atheists use logic and rationality, the religious use doctrine and faith. The SBNR on the other hand use intuition or gut feel for lack of a better term. SBNR believe in the existence of god in roughly the same way a lot of people believe that romantic love exists. If you believe that romantic love is a connection between you and your loved one beyond simple hormones and flesh and blood you would probably get my point. But in the SBNR’s case it is a bonding with a creator which gives him unconditional love. With that analogy, the SBNR would feel that debating about the existence of god is like debating if romantic love is simply due to hormones or not, they simply will not indulge in such thing. They will not spend time arguing over the internet. For one, they somehow know that they have no proof.
Some will try to find other materials which they can relate with. This may come out in different books or articles on the web. One such book which has become a bestseller is “Conversations with God”. The book was supposedly a conversation between the author and god.
“So let’s enter the dialogue with a question I had been asking for a very long time: How does God talk, and to whom? When I asked this question, here’s the answer I received:
I talk to everyone. All the time. The question is not to whom do I talk, but who listens?”
“Now the supreme irony here is that you have all placed so much importance on the Word of God, and so little on the experience. In fact, you place so little value on experience that when what you experience of God differs from what you’ve heard of God, you automatically discard the experience and own the words, when it should be just the other way around.”
“The Highest Thought is always that thought which contains joy. The Clearest Words are those words which contain truth. The Grandest Feeling is that feeling which you call love.”
“But my truth about god comes from you.
Who said so?
Leaders. Ministers. Rabbis. Priests. Books. The bible, for heaven’s sake!
Those are not authoritative sources.
Then what is?
Listen to your feelings. Listen to your highest thoughts. Listen to your experience. Whenever any one of these differ from what you’ve been told by your teachers, or read in your books, forget the words. Words are the least reliable purveyor of truth.”
Some find friends on the net who share similar beliefs and meetup. Some will have study groups on books they have read. You can search for “spiritual but not religious” in Facebook.
Some have had near death experiences which they can find no explanation to.
One may argue that religious texts show that god is actually more evil than good. That is actually one reason why some of the religious have chosen to be SBNR. As said earlier, usually the SBNR believe in god as a friend rather than an entity to be feared.
A lot of SBNR are content with just sitting or meditating by themselves in silence trying to relate to a god without trying to figure out anything else like how he looks, what is good and evil, what is happiness.
A lot of the SBNR believe that spirituality is a very personal thing which should not be imposed on any one, and that they have better things to do than moralize what is right and wrong. A number of SBNR have been victimized by the fundamentally religious, the rest of them could just imagine what could happen if they talk openly about their belief to theists and atheists alike.
Spiritual beliefs are actually also in fiction. Notable are the films “Avatar” and of course “Star Wars”. For some reason we connect to them and we are fascinated. For the sensitive SBNR he could go further. He might say that he connects to it because somewhere outside this material world it is true. There really is this force which connects us all.
Other beliefs of the SBNR are varied. In terms of the afterlife, some believe in reincarnation while other are more inclined to only one life.
In terms of morality, some SBNR may have a different outlook on morality. Usually, they do not fear god. They treat god more as a friend than as a supernatural entity to be feared or worshiped. The idea of morality is based on empathy more than anything else, something very similar to atheists. They usually follow the universal belief that you don’t do to others something which you don’t want done to themselves. Due to this empathy, their beliefs on masturbation, premarital sex, homosexuality are very similar if not the same with atheists.
Other SBNR are a bit more technical in terms of morality. They believe in “cause and effect”. Usually this is called karma, the belief that what one experiences now is due to what one did previously. There are numerous situations though that very decent individuals live unhappy lives. This is usually attributed to karma. But one thing is you will rarely hear an SBNR blame someone for his unhappiness due to his immorality. This is because unlike religious fundamentalists, they usually consider their belief system is a work in process, a system where nothing is certain and that believing they have the answers to everything is simply arrogance.
What could be very surprising is what the SBNR thinks of religion. One could think of the SBNR as an offshoot of people who have left religion due to what they perceive as inconsistencies of their teachings or lack of morality in their leaders. Some of course could have been born of SBNR parents and have just followed their parents belief system.
Some of the SBNR though have a slight or even strong distaste of religion. Following is a portion of a speech by Jiddu Krishnamurti on the very day he was supposed to be made the head of the said order.
““We are going to discuss this morning the dissolution of the Order of the Star. Many people will be delighted, and others will be rather sad. It is a question neither for rejoicing nor for sadness, because it is inevitable, as I am going to explain. “You may remember the story of how the devil and a friend of his were walking down the street, when they saw ahead of them a man stoop down and pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, “What did that man pick up?” “He picked up a piece of Truth,” said the devil. “That is a very bad business for you, then,” said his friend. “Oh, not at all,” the devil replied, “I am going to let him organize it.”
I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. Truth cannot be brought down, rather the individual must make the effort to ascend to it. You cannot bring the mountain-top to the valley. If you would attain to the mountain-top you must pass through the valley, climb the steeps, unafraid of the dangerous precipices.
So that is the first reason, from my point of view, why the Order of the Star should be dissolved. In spite of this, you will probably form other Orders, you will continue to belong to other organizations searching for Truth. I do not want to belong to any organization of a spiritual kind, please understand this. I would make use of an organization which would take me to London, for example; this is quite a different kind of organization, merely mechanical, like the post or the telegraph. I would use a motor car or a steamship to travel, these are only physical mechanisms which have nothing whatever to do with spirituality. Again, I maintain that no organization can lead man to spirituality.
If an organization be created for this purpose, it becomes a crutch, a weakness, a bondage, and must cripple the individual, and prevent him from growing, from establishing his uniqueness, which lies in the discovery for himself of that absolute, unconditioned Truth. So that is another reason why I have decided, as I happen to be the Head of the Order, to dissolve it. No one has persuaded me to this decision. “This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish new theories and new philosophies. Then you will naturally ask me why I go the world over, continually speaking. I will tell you for what reason I do this: not because I desire a following, not because I desire a special group of special disciples. (How men love to be different from their fellow-men, however ridiculous, absurd and trivial their distinctions may be! I do not want to encourage that absurdity.) I have no disciples, no apostles, either on earth or in the realm of spirituality. “Nor is it the lure of money, nor the desire to live a comfortable life, which attracts me. If I wanted to lead a comfortable life I would not come to a Camp or live in a damp country! I am speaking frankly because I want this settled once and for all. I do not want these childish discussions year after year.”
And let us not forget the scathing attack of god who supposedly dictated ‘Conversations with God Book 2’. This book has grown to be a bestseller followed by some people who are SBNR.
“Religion would have you take its word for it. That is why all religions ultimately fail. Spirituality, on the other hand, will always succeed.
Religion asks you to learn from the experience of others. Spirituality urges you to seek your own.
Religion cannot stand spirituality. It cannot abide it. For spirituality may bring you to a different conclusion than a particular religion—and this no known religion can tolerate.
Religion encourages you to explore the thoughts of others and accept them as your own. Spirituality invites you to toss away the thoughts of others and come up with your own.”
“Return to spirituality. Forget about religion.”
“because it is not good for you. Understand that in order for organized religion to succeed, it has to make people believe they need it. In order for people to put faith in something else, they must first lose faith in themselves. So the first task of organized religion is to make you lose faith in yourself. The second task is to make you see that it has the answers you do not. And the third and most important task is to make you accept its answers without question.
If you question, you start to think! If you think, you start to go back to that source within. Religion can’t have you do that, because you’re liable to come up with an answer different from what it has contrived. So religion must make you doubt your self; must make you doubt your own ability to think straight.
The problem for religion is that very often this backfires— for if you cannot accept without doubt your own thoughts, how can you not doubt the new ideas about god which religion has given you?
Pretty soon, you even doubt my existence—which, ironically, you never doubted before. When you were living by your intuitive knowing, you may not have had me all figured out, but you definitely knew i was there!
It is religion which has created agnostics.
Any clear thinker who looks at what religion has done must assume religion has no god! For it is religion which has filled the hearts of men with fear of god, where once man loved that which is in all its splendor.
It is religion which has ordered men to bow down before god, where once man rose up in joyful outreach.
It is religion which has burdened man with worries about god’s wrath, where once man sought god to lighten his burden!
It is religion which told man to be ashamed of his body and its most natural functions, where once man celebrated those functions as the greatest gifts of life!
It is religion which taught you that you must have an intermediary in order to reach god, where once you thought yourself to be reaching god by the simple living of your life in goodness and in truth.
And it is religion which commanded humans to adore god, where once humans adored god because it was impossible not to!
Everywhere religion has gone it has created disunity— which is the opposite of god.
Religion has separated man from god, man from man, man from woman—some religions actually telling man that he is above woman, even as it claims god is above man— thus setting the stage for the greatest travesties ever foisted upon half the human race.
I tell you this: god is not above man, and man is not above woman—that is not the“natural order of things”—but it is the way everyone who had power (namely, men) wished it was when they formed their male-worship religions, systematically editing out half the material from their final version of the “holy scriptures” and twisting the rest to fit the mold of their male model of the world.
It is religion which insists to this very day that women are somehow less, somehow second-class spiritual citizens, somehow not “suited” to teach the Word of God, preach the Word of God, or minister to the people.”
If you look closely, a lot of atheists could have thought the same way of religion. It’s just that atheists have gone further by stating that there is no god.
I feel the SBNR are open to secularism. I would think that they are basically pro contraception, pro LGBT, pro premarital sex. They are the large but quiet group which atheists really have no gripe about with the exception of their supernatural beliefs which they do not force on anyone even their kids. They have a sense of morality whose priority is on empathy, which is similar if not the same as humanists. A lot of them believe in god because they feel comfort in him and not due to fear.
The SBNR are just like you and me. They may have different belief systems. They may arrive at them not necessarily through logic, but more on intuition or gut feel, but I don’t think they are to be put in the same category as some religious fundamentalists who are considered brainwashed by some militant atheists.
Before I finish this article, I think it would be incomplete without giving an example of A public figure who is arguably SBNR. I say arguably because as stated earlier there is no clear definition for the phrase. But since the person to be talked about below is spiritual with seemingly no loyalty to any religion and at the same time follows several spiritual disciplines at a time, I guess we could speculate that he is SBNR.
Surprisingly for a lot, this person is no other than Steve Jobs.
This is from an interview from the author who made his autobiography.
“SQ: You’ve written books on Franklin, Einstein, and Steve Jobs. None of them were what you would call overtly religious, but they were all spiritual. Are you driven to that kind of person?
WI: I do think it’s important, if you’re going to be very creative, to be a seeker. And Steve Jobs believed his whole life that he was on a journey, a journey for enlightenment. And he said you’re never going to achieve all the answers, or perfect enlightenment, but that the journey is the reward. Just being the seeker, somebody whose open to spiritual enlightenment, is in itself the important thing and it’s the reward for being a seeker in this world. Steve was not conventionally religious because he was very unsure. He said, “I’ll never know the answer. It’s the great mystery.” But he at least knew it was a great mystery instead of dismissing the whole notion of a quest.
SQ: How would you compare him and his spirituality to that of Einstein and Franklin?
WI: I think Steve Jobs was more on a quest for enlightenment. When he was young, when he was 13, he looked at a cover of Life Magazine that had two starving children. And he had been going to the Lutheran Sunday school of his parents. And he brought it to the pastor and he said, “does God know about this?” And the pastor said, “Steve I know you don’t understand, but God knows everything.” And Steve said, “Well I don’t want to have anything to do with that God.” And he didn’t go back to church. But he felt that there was a great mystery and there were many, many doors that could lead you on the quest for seeking enlightenment about the great mystery. And that different religions were just different doors to the same quest for enlightenment. He was not religious in the sense that he thought his own particular door, or his own particular path, or his own particular quest was the right one. He was religious in the sense that he thought it was a great mystery, and event though we’ll never know the answer, we still continue on the journey.
SQ: What would you call him if you had to give him a label?
WI: I would call him a seeker.
SQ: Would he use that word?
WI: I think he felt he was on a journey. A journey that was in some ways a quest for enlightenment, that he did feel there were truly enlightened beings. He engaged in Zen Buddhist training and a quest of his own to India, as he sought enlightenment. Off and on throughout his life, his Buddhist training influenced his understanding of enlightenment and our purpose in this world. I don’t think he would consider himself a practicing Buddhist at all points in his life. But I do think he would say that Buddhism influenced his appreciation for the journey that we all are embarked upon.
SQ: When he had that experienced when he was 13, did he give up in believing in God or he just decide that God was not good?
WI: Oh, I think that he gave up on going to church and of conventional worshipping of a personal God who directs everything in life. But he didn’t give up the notion that there is a mystery about what more there might be, and – and that one should always be open to whatever enlightenment can come from such a quest.”
“SQ: That conversation you had with him in the garden where he said, “I’m about 50-50 on believing in God. For most of my life I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.” You say that he was hoping that there would be an afterlife. What do you think about that? What do you think he believed?
WI: I think he believed what he told me, which is, he didn’t know. It was a great mystery. And the mystery, sometimes he felt there was more, sometimes he felt, maybe there wasn’t more. He said that all religions are just doors that try to help you on a path of enlightenment about the great mystery. But he didn’t pretend to have any answers, and that’s why he called it the great mystery.”
“Jobs believed that Zen meditation taught him to concentrate and ignore distractions, according to Isaacson. He also learned to trust intuition and curiosity — what Buddhists call “beginner’s mind” — over analysis and preconceptions.”
In the next website you will see that aside from Buddhism he would also read up on Hinduism.
“According to Isaacson’s biography, Jobs “first read it as a teenager, then reread it in India and had read it once a year ever since.” In 1974, Jobs traveled to India, seeking some spiritual enlightenment. “He had the incredible realization that his intuition was his greatest gift, and he needed to look at the world from the inside out,” Benioff said. “Steve was a very spiritual person. In many ways he was a guru.””