Thursday, 31 December 2015

Spiritual, but not religious

I read an interesting book review today by Anthony Robinson on the book
Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes:Finding Religion in Everyday Life
By Nancy Tatom Ammerman.

The review contains the following:

"So it comes as a bit of a surprise to hear the eminent sociologist of religion Nancy Ammerman conclude in her new study of religion in everyday life that the SBNR [spiritual, but not religious] is a unicorn—a species that does not exist in reality. For most people, Ammer­man found, organized religion and spirituality are not two separate realms but one. Respondents who were “most active in organized religion,” she reports, “were also most committed to spiritual practices and a spiritual view of the world.”... The other side of the coin is that those who invoke the distinction between religion and spirituality (“I’m spiritual but not religious”) turn out to be neither. For the most part, such language is what sociologists call boundary-maintaining discourse. It is a way that people who want nothing to do with religion have found to say to religious people or institutions, 'Don’t bug me.'"

I suppose I would have found myself in that crowd at some point (especially as a very anti-Christian teenager). But, I have to admit the phrase has always kind of bugged me. Bruxy Cavey is one of my favorite preachers and his church the Meeting House has the tag line "the church for people who aren't into church". He also wrote a book called the "End of Religion". His teaching is that Jesus came to end "religion" which is defined as a effort and rule based way of reaching God. Jesus came to dismantle that and in its place gave us a relationship with him that connected us to God which is essentially outside those rule based methods. 

I get what Bruxy is on about. I'm just not all that crazy about forcing the word "religion" into that box. When I was doing my BA in religious studies one of the difficult things to do was define the word "religion". It seemed to be something you knew when you saw it, but no definition really seemed to work for both non-theistic Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans, Hindus. Couldn't we define "religion" for the Meeting house as "a relationship with Jesus"? 

The word "religion" has become a kind of dirty word. Obviously it is touching a heart string in our culture because videos like the following have spread like wildfire.

Which has produced responses like this:

And this (shot in the church I served in Lethbridge):

I remember being trained as a Hospital Chaplain (CPE) one summer and one of the chaplains have a presentation on "Religion vs Spirituality". She drew a lone down the middle of the whiteboard and on one side she wrote "religion" and on the other she wrote "spirituality". The people in the room helped her populate the empty space below the two words. Under "religion" there were words like "rules" and "institution". Under "spirituality" there were words like "relationship", "connection", and "prayer". It seemed to me that under "religion" were all the things the group (particularly the chaplain) didn't like about religion. Under the word "spirituality" were all the things they liked about religion. 

To me it just doesn't seem like playing semantics like that really helps us move ahead at all. I would much rather us talk about what we like about religion and what we don't like about religion. I would even prefer that we spoke about what religion is at its purest and truest.  


  1. Hi,
    Thanks for the interesting ideas about SBNR. I'll keep this in mind the next time someone says they are spiritual but not religious, and might ask them questions about what being spiritual means to them rather than just accepting this at face value and moving on to a different topic.

    Good selection of videos too - really enjoyed the third one.


    1. i was really surprised by the person's research actually. but it makes sense when i think about those who have used that to describe themselves.

      Regarding the video: I think we are in the midst of a huge anti-institution movement, which is a big part of what I think they are getting at when talking about hating religion, but loving Jesus. There's an interesting philosopher by the name of Charles Taylor who has some very interesting thoughts on what it means to be "secular". James K A Smith makes his thought a bit more digestible in his book "how not to be secular"-


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