This phrase is a cliché that describes a significant trend in self-identity.
The trouble with the idea of 'being religious' is that it has become associated with all the ways we humans can make religion bad: things like hypocrisy, oppression, abuse, control, misogyny, closed minds, hatred of those of different beliefs, spiritual blindness.
Because of such things, to be called 'religious' can feel like a criticism - a bad thing to be. To be called 'spiritual' sounds like a compliment - a good thing to be.
It's not surprising that 'spiritual but not religious' (SBNR) has a Facebook page. I've taken a look. The page invites you to 'like' it if you
"believe that spirituality can exist outside of organised religion".The focus of the page is on
"sharing a sense of wonder and the rapture of being alive".
Recent posts on the page follow the theme of 'truth' and the previous week was 'serving others'. These are values that most organized religions hold dear and I noticed that some of the quotations on the page are from members of organized religions, for example quotes from Martin Luther King (a Christian) and Mahatma Ghandi (a Hindu).
'Spiritual but not religious' is not an organized movement in the sense of a society to join. People who self-identify as SBNR do not all share the same perspective and are not necessarily anti-religious, though some may be. Many may take a 'pick and mix' attitude to create an individual spirituality/ethical/belief system. I see the attraction of this. It fits in with a prevailing philosophy of the importance of 'be true to yourself'. One problem though is that this could be a way of avoiding the spiritual and ethical challenges that most religions present. And it can elevate the individual above the community - a particularly western problem I think.
Jesus could be described as 'spiritual but not religious' in that he strongly criticized religious leaders as hypocrites and as people with hearts of stone who concentrated on outward performance of religious observance while missing the heart. On the other hand he was religious. He worshipped and taught in the Jewish synagogue and temple. He prayed alone and with others. He had faith in God as revealed in the Hebrew scriptures which he knew well. He was deeply spiritual but also religious.
Those of us who try to follow Jesus as 'the Way, the Truth and the Life' find that to be a solitary Christian is a contradiction in terms. Christianity is founded on community, co-operating together as the body of Christ. Sometimes the way the church behaves makes it hard to be spiritual in a Christian sense and is why some leave or never join. 'I can be a Christian on my own' some say. But this makes no sense in relation to New Testament teaching.
What the popularity of the idea of being 'spiritual but not religious' shows is that there is a deep hunger for spirituality and many do not expect to find that satisfied within organised religion, or have tried it and been disappointed. What are your thought about what Christians could do about this?
Image Credit:Photo by Richard Saxton, Flickr, CC License