Why I am “religious, not spiritual”

Nowadays, it’s kind of politically correct to say, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” Organized religions have gotten a bad rap, maybe because of sex abuse scandals and perceptions that some churches have too much money.

According to the Pew survey in 2017, the number of the “spiritual but not religious” are on the rise, while membership in religious organizations is on the steady decline.

But I have never been a spiritual person. I have been, however, highly religious for most of my adolescent and adult life.

I was more or less a serious Christian between 1990 and 2007, although my involvement in a literalist and fundamentalist form of Christianity ended by 1996. I did, however, take the Bible seriously, even if not literally. I was heavily involved in various church activities as well until I found political activism more rewarding.

After my last departure from a Christian church in the fall of 2007, I did enter a kind of a spiritual desert — ultimately culminating in a “dark night of the soul.”

People around me encouraged me to “find my own truth,” that I did not have to have a religion to be spiritual or be a good person.

Like many people these days, I began dabbling with a kind of buffet spirituality, picking a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Ultimately, I ended up inventing a new religion out of thin air (not ex nihilo, but mostly imagined up based on a few writings I found on the Internet, mostly plagiarizing them, and appropriated a lot of other stuff from traditional Christianity).

I began publishing those on my blog. Some unfortunate people took them far more seriously than I did and they ultimately developed it into a more organized religion.

But as I observe them through their Internet presence, there was no cohesion, doctrinal or organizational. They too were inventing new doctrines and new rituals out of blue almost every week, everything was in flux and changing, and their groups too were prone to so many schisms that every person seemed to have their own faction of that faith.

I was very empty inside me. Nothing could overcome the fact that I made all these up. My “deity” was my own creation, not the other way around. My “deity,” therefore, was smaller than the sum of myself.

In a sense, the post-modern culture encourages people to invent their own gods.

This won’t work.

It did not work for me.

I read somewhere (I am looking for the source, I forgot) that a controversial sociologist got a lot of flak when he was asked what a low-income Black woman in an inner-city ghetto should do in order to be successful in life — and answered that she should attend a fundamentalist church that has rigid doctrines and demanding standards of living.

The undeniable (and inconvenient) truth, though, is that religion creates a frame of reference for life, and gives a sense of purpose far greater than the total sum of oneself. The faith comes from the fact that one is part of something far greater and transcendent, from whom comes the reason for one’s existence.

New Age smorgasbord of feel-good spirituality offers none of this. It is just another shallow consumerism that misleads unsuspecting people into following their emotions (as they say, “follow your passion” or “follow your dreams”) instead of the Ultimate Reality. There is no fulfillment in creating one’s God in one’s own image, instead of allowing God to shape them into an expression of God’s image.