Spiritual But Not Religious - A “Spiritual” Reflection

Have you ever heard this – “I’m spiritual, I’m just not religious.” I find it a curious phrase but one that is incredibly popular. The phrase even has its own acronym (“SBNR”) and has its own entry in Wikipedia.

They define it as follows:

  • Believing without belonging.
  • Identify and criticize the worst parts and conveniently ignore the best parts.


According to Pew Research, It is a sentiment especially prevalent among young people.

Here are some thoughts on SBNRs by Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple (yeah, they got em too…) in Los Angeles as seen in Time Magazine:

  • Spirituality is an emotion. Religion is an obligation.
  • Spirituality soothes. Religion mobilizes.
  • Spirituality is satisfied with itself. Religion is dissatisfied with the world.
  • Thus, religions create aid organizations; aid organizations involve institutions and bureaucracies and committee meetings. There is something profoundly, well, spiritual about a committee meeting. It involves individuals trying together to sort out priorities, to listen and learn from one another, to make a difference. I have found too often that when people say, “I stay away from the synagogue — too much politics,” what they mean is that they did not get their way. Institutions enable but they also frustrate, as do families and every other organized sector of human life. If you want frictionless, do it alone.


Alan Miller, Special Reporter for CNN, says that the entire SBNR movement is basically a “cop-put.” He says that, “it is not so much that people have stopped believing in God, but rather have drifted from formal institutions. It seems that just being a part of a religious institution is nowadays associated negatively, with everything from the Religious Right to child abuse, back to the Crusades and of course with terrorism today.”

Even our own Pope Francis says that there is no such thing as a “do-it-yourself Christian” or spiritual “free agents” in a mature spiritual life. The Holy Father described as “dangerous” the temptation to believe that one can have “a personal, direct, immediate relationship with Jesus Christ without communion with and the mediation of the church.”

I have heard this statement for a number of years. Although a religious sister once said that when speaking about others:

  • It is true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it necessary?

I’ll take the chance and say that I have little time, nor patience, with SBNRs. Spirituality AND personal commitment and engagement in religion is hard so I don’t find SBNR very courageous. Personal spirituality that involved the religious component of spiritual direction – personally making one confess and be accountable to another, a standard, one’s beliefs, is HARD. SBNR has little accountability and no impetus to change. Pointing out problems is easy. Using problems and shortcomings to stay Uninvolved is easy. Saying that “If I’m not part of the solution, then I’m part of the problem so I’ll stay and stick it out and do the difficult work and try and improve the situation myself” IT’S HARD! It is also courageous. It shows character. It demonstrates leadership. It can also not be done without the help of the Holy Spirit, direction, prayer, worship, sacraments, reading and research, etc… all of those “religion” things.

Give me some one who is S.A.A.R. any day.





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