Saturday, May 2, 2009

Religious, But Not Spiritual

For a while, I tried to think of myself as "spiritual but not religious". I think what I was trying to say was that I had a sense of wonder and awe, but I felt that religious institutions could be destructive and harmful.

But recently, I have started to think of myself as "religious, but not spiritual". In this, I am saying that I think being in community with people who share my values is important. And I think ritual is meaningful and significant in my life. But I don't hold belief in any specific deity any longer. Oh, I have a sense of wonder. I have a profound sense of the sacred. And I believe there are higher powers than myself (love, justice, to name two) at work in the world. But god? I don't disbelieve. But I have enough doubt to keep questioning. (I used to say that my faith was in my questions. I don't know what that means anymore.)

Having said that, I do feel that religious belief, specifically belief in God, CAN give people much meaning, strength, and hope. I see it every day in my job as a chaplain. And it can be a great motivating force to work for justice and peace in the world. I also know that participating in ritual, even if I don't believe that ritual creates an ontological change in the world or myself, can help to connect me to something bigger than myself, namely community.

I still think that religious institutions can extremely damaging and hurtful, both to individuals (I count myself among the wounded) and to communities and societies. And religious belief can give people and peoples justification for perpetuating injustice and oppression. But I also know it can be a positive and healing force in our world. And while I may not personally have a spiritual connection with any deity, I do feel as if my religious connections provide me with strength, support, nourishment, and hope.


  1. Great post, Rachel.

    Before I met LJ I was a happy, well-adjusted agnostic who sometimes described himself as "spiritual but not religious." Like you, I think I meant that to mean I wasn't some soulless automaton just because I went to church.

    Now that I've been going to church regularly for many years, I think of myself as a "practicing but not believing Christian." Which sounds somewhat similar to your "religious but not spiritual."

  2. Hi Tim, thanks for reading and responding. I can appreciate your "practicing but not believing Christian" identification. Though, I don't think "not believing" accurately applies to either of us, as there are many things we do believe in - the potential for goodness in humanity, the power of people working together, community, ritual, love, liberation, reconciliation. These may not be God, but higher powers, nonetheless. So you and I are "believers", of a sort. [I have another post about "belief" brewing...]

  3. That's a good point - I do believe in lots of higher powers. I guess I would clarify to say I don't believe in the supernatural - which I suppose leaves open the option of "watchmaker" deism and a created universe that runs according to natural laws.

  4. Wow I really appreciate your perspective on this more so because of how we are acquainted~ I have spent a great deal of time and energy on how to classify my personal beliefs and connections to the divine and interpersonal relations~ I posted a blog about my feelings on the chemical make up of God...and the fundamentals as I see it~ take a look and let me know what you think

  5. Candyce, I like the ocean vs. bottled water comparison. Mind if I use thatsometime? I am still formulatign my response to your post, and I intend to comment there soon. In the meantime, check out this post by Disciple writer Christian Piatt.

  6. Why not call yourselves Christian humanists, instead?

  7. Great description of your spirituality! I know this post is a bit dated so I am unsure of your present beliefs but if you haven't already I invite you to check out the SBNR group on Facebook.

    Or if Facebook isn't your cup of tea and you like interfaith dialogue you can visit my site here.