“I’m spiritual, but not religious.”
How many times have you heard that pithy, ignorant phrase? What is it supposed to mean?
The person who claims to be spiritual but not religious (SbNR) probably just thinks he is affirming a belief in things and/or realities that exist beyond our purely material existence. Defined as such, it could mean a thousand different things. It might mean believing in one god, or many gods; it might mean believing in the existence of an immortal soul; it might mean believing in reincarnation and karma; it might mean believing in nature deities. These are all speculations, but one thing we can say for certain it doesn’t mean is the belief in the Christian God, in Jesus Christ, and in the Blessed Trinity, or any other religious dogma or institution for that matter.
By defining specifically what they are not (i.e., religious), the SbNR person is therefore drawing a line in the sand. He or she is saying that spirituality does not require one to be “religious”, by which they mean, typically, an organized body of public worship that defines specifically what they believe in, and that all believers must therefore assent to in order to be a part of the body of believers. SbNR people reject the idea that any person or group knows precisely what God wants or expects from people. Therefore, they simply cannot give their assent to anything that smacks of Absolutism or goes against what they believe.
The depth of serious thought behind the SbNR position is about that of a puddle of muddy water. Actually, maybe less. Consider a few points. First, the position that we cannot know God’s will for us is not based on any evidence at all. It is merely a statement of opinion. Every true religion makes a Truth claim about what God is and how human beings are related to him. The mere fact that there exists a multiplicity of religions that make contrasting claims is no proof at all that one of them isn’t right and the others wrong. If nine people all had different answers for the question “What does 2+2 equal?”, but only the tenth person answered “4″, the other nine would be wrong. A multiplicity of conflicting claims is not evidence of relativity.
Second, the SbNR position makes its own truth claim, i.e., that there is no absolute truth (or one that we can know). Of course, if the SbNR position is true, then it is also false (since the claim “there is no absolute truth” is a statement of absolute truth, and thus by its own claim would be false). This fallacy of relativism has been well-known at least since Plato and probably earlier. As such, every SbNR position exists by the mere whim of personal opinion and lives in a logical contradiction. One person believes in reincarnation, another doesn’t. One person believes in a multiplicity of gods, another in one God. Without religion, there is no basis for picking one view over another. It comes down to what one simply likes better. Whatever view of God one likes the best, that becomes the truth for them.
And here is where we find the real reason for the SbNR position. It really has very little to do with being spiritually broad-minded and almost everything to do with pride. Being SbNR means creating a God in your own image. In means worshipping only as you please. It means not assenting to anything that goes against what you think is right. It means not thinking deeply enough about God to imagine that if He exists, He might not view things precisely the way you do. It means rejecting outright the idea that God has truly revealed himself in any way to human beings. It means not thinking seriously about religion and the truths the various religions claim to hold. And it means that the only God that really exists is you, because a God that didn’t agree with what you believe cannot possibly exist.
Being SbNR might look great on the surface, but it is about as substantial as smoke. More seriously, it might lead you toward a complete separation from the true God. Remember, the Israelites that worshipped the golden calf had reverted from the worship of the true God to one of their own liking. They were happy and “dancing” and worshipping as they pleased without that cranky Moses pestering them all the time. They were quintessential SbNR people. And we know what happened to about 3,000 of them.