One often hears this refrain when engaging with others in the public square. “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” These two things were once seen as synonymous, but no more. It seems that a growing contingent of Americans – particularly young Americans-separate the two in this way. But what does this mean? It’s always helpful in any discussion to define terms. Being a 60+ year old Baby Boomer, I admit I had to do a little research.
This is what I found from the Barn Research Group: to be religious is to be institutional-to practice one’s spirituality in accordance with an external authority. But to be spiritual but not religious is to possess a private and personal spirituality. Religions point oneself outside oneself to a “higher power;” to be spiritual means to look within oneself for purpose and meaning. It also is a “virtue signaling” of sorts-it means that the person trumpeting this notion is not only concerned with one’s diet, going to the gym, or trends in the stock market, but with his/her own mental and emotional state. By focussing inward, it’s thought, the person can reach some degree of self-awareness which helps the person in their daily existence.
Allow me to “get religious” and quote an external authority for a moment. The Bible says that true religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is to “look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). I don’t think that any of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd would object to that! But that’s not how they define it. No, for them it’s all about rejecting the external trappings of organized religion, with its dogmas, creeds, and liturgies.
What as a Christian pastor do I see as the problem with the spiritual but not religious mindset?
Self-awareness is good, but an honest self-assessment will reveal that within us, that is, within our fallen nature, there is no good thing. Measure yourself by God’s standard for righteousness, His Ten Commandments. Have you feared, loved, and trusted God above all things? Used His Name in vain? Disrespected parents and others in authority? Wounded another with your fists, or even your words? Lied, cheated, coveted another person’s home, car, or spouse? This is what turning inward on ourselves does-it exposes our shortcomings.
No, in order to find peace with God and meaning in our lives we must look outside of ourselves. We look to a person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus the Christ, who came down from heaven and was made man; who lived the obedient life we should have lived; was delivered up for our sins by God the Father to a bloody cross, suffered and died; who rose from the dead on the third day; who ascended into heaven and is coming again to judge the living and the dead (if that sounds like something “religious,” it is – excerpts from the Apostle’s Creed). Through Him our greatest dread (eternal death) is taken away and our greatest desire (eternal life) is granted to all those who put their trust in Him. “He who believes in Me, even though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”
So give up the navel gazing and the heart searching. Lift your chin off of your chest and look outward and upward, to the One who loves you with a perfect love. In Jesus Christ you will find what you are searching for.