On Being Spiritual but not Religious


Like many people you will probably have
an experience of the divine in your lifetime. It might happen in a moment of
prayer or meditation, it could happen in one of those moments where you’re
looking up the night’s sky and you’re overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty or
it could happen in those quieter,. more subtle moments like a personal exchange
with somebody else However it happens, for most people, when
they experience it, they struggle to find words to describe it. Nothing seems
adequate to convey how stirring the experience actually is.
I think it’s experiences like that that can cause people to look at religions,
with their rules and doctrines, as a pale shadow of the thing that they
experienced. I imagine that’s why more and more people are describing
themselves as spiritual but not religious. Religion is seen as something
that suffers from stale formulas that do little to express the rapture of
spiritual revelation. In a sense, they’re right. If you were to encounter God,
religion would seem like a reduction that comes drastically short of the real
thing. It’s like comparing the experience of looking at a picture or a map of the
ocean to the experience of standing on the threshold of that vast expanse. But
here’s the thing: while a map may not be the ocean, it’s still indispensable if
you want to know anything about it. It’s a record of all the knowledge that has
been left behind by the explorers and travelers who experienced the real thing
and then given it to us so that we don’t get lost at sea. Standing on the
shoreline of spiritual reality can be like that. The beauty and magnificence of
it can implant a desire in us to want to go into deeper waters, but if we don’t
know what we’re doing, it can be extremely dangerous. All of our
experiences in the material life are like that. The world can be a dangerous
place so why would we expect spiritual reality to be any different. Religion is
a lot like that. It’s not God and it might seem pedantic and trivial in
comparison, just like a map is to the ocean, but it can be vital in helping you
navigate your spiritual life. Being spiritual but not religious doesn’t mean
you’re not going to have religious ideas or even doctrines, it just means that
you’ll run the risk of having very juvenile ones that great thinkers and
theologians have tried but abandoned. If God exists and if we want to respond to
those experiences then, we have to do something
with them. We have to try to interpret them and understand what is being asked
of us if anything. The difference between a religious and a non-religious response
is a matter of experience and objectivity. On your own, you have very
little of either of those things but in the context of a community or a
tradition, you benefit from a collective of knowledge and experiences. Without
that collective of knowledge you’re stuck operating within your own narrow
perspective and assumptions and if the divine exists, I imagine it would
challenge those assumptions and offer qualities that are surprising and
unexpected. If it wasn’t, I’d be afraid that it was merely my own invention or
a projection of my preferences. Every religion proposes doctrines that will
challenge your assumptions and preferences but in the “spiritual but not
religious” scenario there’s nothing that will force you to do that.
There’s a much higher risk of picking and choosing ideas and assumptions that
will suit your preferences but what is the likelihood that ultimate reality and
the divine will be completely compatible with your preferences. If you are the
only one who defines the doctrines of your personal spirituality then you’re
not really connecting with anything outside of yourself. You’re just
worshiping your own assumptions. Good religion will draw your attention out of
your own selfish perspective and towards God and a community of people. Being
spiritual is something that happens by default – it’s an accident of your
existence. Religion is what happens when you put your spiritual reality to work.


49 Responses

  1. Celia Arrazola

    June 17, 2017 2:27 pm

    very good, brian. as always. … I pray your work and ministry help more people each day. I am sure it already is. God bless you

  2. Be A Saint

    November 24, 2017 5:18 pm

    LOVE THIS! Very well put! I'm working on a video like this to combat all the "Spiritual but not Religious" videos ("I love Jesus but hate religion"). If we are the only authority on truth, we end up worshiping ourselves and not God.

  3. Michael Polcin

    January 2, 2018 12:44 am

    this reminds me of the incorruptible body's of ROMAN CATHOLIC SAINTS! Including saint Podre PEO .Check it out on YouTube:)

  4. Margaret Mojica

    January 7, 2018 2:59 am

    Religion is a guide book you can follow completely or partly, but it still gives you a suggested pathway to follow and a suggested belief system.  (Belief example:  Christianity, man born with original sin; Judaism, man born pure but with the capacity to choose good or sin.)  Being spiritual is just a capacity to feel.

  5. Michael Ibach

    January 22, 2018 3:50 am

    Spirituality without Religion can lead you anywhere.
    Religion without Spirituality can lead you nowhere.
    Only Religion with Spirituality can lead you where you want to go.
    It’s like triangulating a certain point. You need two points and angles of reference to determine the third.
    This analogy also screams trinitarian thought, as well as Jewish thought. All capital punishment cases required two collaborating eyewitness testimonies.

    Matthew 26:59-61

    59 Now the chief priests and the whole council sought false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, *
    60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward
    61 and said, "This fellow said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.' "

  6. balintuna

    March 15, 2018 9:41 am

    Your analogies are always on point Brian! You really have a gift. BTW your discussion here reminds me of the 2015 New Year's day homily of Pope Francis, particularly this part — "No manifestation of Christ, even the most mystical, can ever be detached from the flesh and blood of the Church, from the historical concreteness of the Body of Christ. Without the Church, Jesus Christ ends up as an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling. Without the Church, our relationship with Christ would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods"

  7. Jennifer Wilson

    March 22, 2018 5:49 pm

    My confessor told me, in so many words, that I can no longer listen to the super-ridged, Catholic channel, here on YouTube (and I'm not talking about the sedevacantist, who thinks he isn't one) because knowing too much can be dangerous to one's soul –especially when the knowledge gets the mind off God, but he okayed you!

    And now that you've realized IT is not your calling from God, it makes me wonder, is you last name Fischer, or Peterman, for you are like Cephas, a fisherman of souls.

    PS Please don't let my compliment cause you to sin against charity (for all newcomers to the faith, the sin aginst charity is called "pride" and its a sin against the 1st commandment: "You shall have only One God").

  8. Alexiscom1

    April 15, 2018 6:34 pm

    Good reasoning to weak up spiritual but not religious. Biggest objective for me to believe is my pride. I struggle every day whit pride, thanks for religion reminds me about it.

  9. Nunov Yrbznes

    April 20, 2018 5:07 am

    You're talking down to people who prefer to put their own interpretations on their experiences, even those most numinous. In the end you advise joining some organization, without which we poor saps are hopelessly lost in our own meditations. Life is a journey that over some stretches is, and must be, traveled alone. As long as we are alive, and awake, we have an almost infinite capacity to sort these things out for ourselves, without the help of any "community," including the Catholic Church, which I notice you take pains not to mention, but which is your real affiliation as you elsewhere indicate.  You speak of wanting to go "into deeper waters, but if we don't know what we're doing can be extremely dangerous." And that without some superior guidance and authority, we will have only  what you call juvenile outcomes. This is not only supercilious and presumptuous, but to someone like me  who is three times your age, my son, faintly  amusing. I can assure you that taking the risk of casting off all lines and standing out for the farthest horizons on your own can reveal glories undreamed of in common hours, or inside any church. Your basic position is that some authority is necessary to help us make sense of our experiences and that we need to, like children , hold Someone's hand, To which I say, Bunkum. And just by the way, my son, who are you who has only  just begun to shave, to be talking about Ultimate Reality? What you know about Ultimate Reality can be written on the back of a postage stamp!

  10. Chuckie Peoples

    April 25, 2018 5:55 am

    You said, “picking & choosing” like that’s not what religious people do daily.

  11. citri valac

    April 30, 2018 1:10 pm

    religion is corrupt thats the reason why people dont respect it. christianity is a good religion its the institutions twisting the words for the benifit of the individuals in power that turns people away. if the pope stopped harboring pedophiles and sold his solid gold castle to feed the poor and care for the sick more people would take catholism seriously.

  12. c. randall

    May 7, 2018 12:36 pm

    All religious doctrine is open to interpretation. I believe it is important to recognize interfaith connections and how they can help led one to The Way.

  13. Leocomander

    May 27, 2018 1:14 pm

    Those people see the faith as arbitrary instead they just focus on these “spiritual experiences” that they struggle to put together and yet don’t realize that that is them yearning for a deeper relationship with God.

  14. Charles Anthony

    May 31, 2018 6:00 pm

    How can one have a spiritual experience in the context of a religion? It's impossible. If one is religious, they will have a religious experience. To have a spiritual experience one must leave religion behind and search for a connection between the divine and the individual. Religion does not want people to do this because they soon discover that there is no need for religion. I heard a RCC Priest talking about the evils of Harry Potter. Then he expanded it to include meditation. Meditation when done properly, will induce a spiritual experience like no other and the result is that there is no need for religion. How many millions have been killed in the name of religion? It's beyond counting. How many have been killed in the name of spirituality? None. Figure it out for yourself.

  15. B Well

    June 18, 2018 12:54 am

    Very well put. I am in the process of trying to convince people that religion and spirituality are different, and nourishing the spirit is vital. Unfortunately Christians in the US are so divided and confused that they give Christ and Christianity a serious disadvantage when it comes to open-minded, loving spirituality. I went to a Catholic School in India, and my experience with Christianity was WONDERFUL. I'm not Christian, but respect Christ, Mother Mary and Christianity, but Christians here are nothing like Christ – They're pushy, narrow minded & competitive. Some actually believe that Christ is a Jealous God, who will be offended if you visit a temple, mosque or learn about other faiths. Good gracious, that makes me want to weep!! I see that you are pro-Christian, that's your faith. But please try to live with the fact that others have free will, are not Christian, and wish to co-exist in Peace. So try not to push it and be accepting of all beings. Study Omnism – It's a great way of looking at religion. Be Well & At Peace. Blessings.

  16. Azzy

    June 26, 2018 7:44 pm

    C.S. Lewis said it best:

    I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, "I've no use for all that [theology] stuff. But, mind you, I'm a religious man, too. I know there's a God. I've felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that's just why I don't believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who's met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!"

    Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single isolated glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

    Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God — experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion — all about feeling God in nature, and so on — is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.

  17. Kawaii-Five-0

    September 17, 2018 6:18 pm

    Christianity, Islam, Mormonism. Are all cults.
    Judaism, Methodism, Lutheranism, Episcopalianism and Baptists are NOT cults( these are only Abrahmic religions.

  18. Brendon Burns

    January 1, 2019 3:23 pm

    i think people say Spiritual to cop out honestly. basically saying "I believe there is a God and i acknowledge that he exists but well thats it and I talk to him when i need something." Its a cop out born of this bullshit modern day concept that any sort of rules or standards are now considered narrow minded and intolerant. screw that tolerance isn't a virtue

  19. PeacePlease!

    January 20, 2019 10:26 am

    I agree. We are all "Spiritual Beings, having a Human Experience" – The One Almighty Spirit is within us, (that part of us that is Holy and Good) and in Everything that is Good. Good is God. God isn't a form or a human (thank Heavens he's not!?) So that spirit within us that is pure & good connects with the Heavenly Spirit, God, Almighty One, Lord, Whatever we want to call it, but that label is too confining, like the doctrines and religious books that tell us how we should worship, and who we should worship. Through the years, religious wars, religious bigotry and hatred that has stemmed from it, has put people off. Faith is Key, Each one's relationship with the holy spirit, that Divine spirit to spirit connection – That's what you mean. It's a Wonderful feeling and you don't HAVE to be religious, to feel it.

  20. S.Dilip Kumar Singha

    March 4, 2019 8:48 am

    To me, spirituality is a journey of seeking the ultinate reality. It is different from religion which is a set of practices to follow. To me further, d goal of a particle physicist and spiritual seeker is same- i.e. experiencing d ultimate reality though diff approches. One aporoach from physical lab, another from mental lab, which is a meditation process. We call this ulyimate reality as God, which modern science has limited to d tiniest physicality alone, whereas vedic literatures say that beyond physicality, there is certain formless features called 'Chit' (pure consciousness, a massless force/energy). All forms r his diverse manifestations of d formless energy within.. .. I m from north east India.

  21. ThePeopleAreFucked

    March 4, 2019 4:21 pm

    wtf. why not assume that being spiritual means to be openminded to the vast realm outside of our little material world, but not being bound by ancient manmade books and regulations? why not assume that being religious is simply the easy way out of facing yourself and your inner divine being? who am i? what am i? why am i here? why do i exist? what is the point of all this? if you really seek answers to those questions, then your spirit will become wiser and more mature in the process, even if you will never find the answers. religion offers you the answers in detail…so much that it can show you how to live. you may find compfort in this and you will find happyness within your tribe of likeminded humans. you will feed your need of being part of a group as a social mammal and if you remain unchallenged by other tribes with other gods and views, then you will live a happy life. however…you wont find true wisdom and you will only cripple your own social and spiritual potential.

  22. Dragon Age711

    June 11, 2019 2:34 am

    what i have in mind:
    1. We don't know for sure the number of planets in our galaxy, the number galaxies in our universe, the number of universes in the multiverses, the number of multiverses in a dimension and the number of dimensions in the multi dimensions.
    2. It has the highest probability that we are not the only living being. If not, will the others have the same construct? Will they have the same perspective of The Source/God/Creator? Will they have the same religions?
    If not, then..
    3. The Source of All/God/Creator does not have name, religion, face, etc like the one that people tend to assimilate God with and which gives birth to atheism, agnosticism, satanic churches, terrorist, etc..
    4. I don't care what God's name, gender, face, physics cause God is much beyond the box of ideas that we assimilate God with..
    5. But I'm living in Earth. Thus, I choose to believe the teaching of Love by Jesus. Because Love is the only universal language. I don't care whether He is God or not. Jesus does not invent christianity, His pupils do..
    6. To understand God, the universe and all is way outta human brain capacities and abilities. Just live life to the fullest and share love toward each other and the nature.
    Call me a dreamer but this dream of mine will void any wars, poverties, natural disasters..

  23. Jessica Maden

    July 1, 2019 11:57 am

    I just think that there are people trapped in some insular religions because they are paying out their karma.

  24. Sam Smith

    August 28, 2019 3:29 pm

    Here is a revelation of the future of the Catholic Church… https://youtu.be/DrDf036TzWU
    It’s hell and destruction
    Rev 18:4


Leave a Reply