Spiritual But Not Religious by Jim Denison
Have you heard of the “spiritual but not religious” movement? The name describes it well—people who say they are spiritual but have no commitment to any particular religion or institution.
Their movement is generating national attention after a recent editorial on CNN’s website claimed that it “represents some of the most retrogressive aspects of contemporary society.” Why? Because those who are SBNR are not required to do anything with their beliefs. They can feel connected to their higher power without grappling with sin or applying their spirituality to the world. The editorial concludes: “Theirs is a world of fence-sitting, not-knowingness, but not-trying-ness either. Take a stand, I say.”
I’d go further. In my view, the SBNR movement is the greatest spiritual threat America faces today. Consider first its size. According to Gallup, one in three Americans say they’re “spiritual but not religious.” That’s more than 100 million people, equivalent to the number of Protestants and Catholics in our nation combined. If SBNR was a denomination, it would be the largest in America by far.
Next, think about its appeal. You can dine at a spiritual buffet where you choose what you eat. If you like the idea of meditating to alleviate stress, put some Buddhism on your plate. If you want to be one with the universe, add some Hinduism. Select Jesus’ “love your enemies” teachings alongside Islam’s disciplined prayer schedule and Judaism’s embrace of family and ritual. Why not take the best of each, eating the fish but leaving the bones?
What’s wrong with SBNR? First, it violates the religions it claims to embrace. Buddhism is more than meditation; Islam is more than its prayer schedule; Christianity is more than Jesus’ ethic toward our enemies. Second, it keeps its followers from knowing the God they claim to accept. Jesus was blunt: “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter agreed: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which they must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
I understand the disconnect many feel with religious institutions today. At the same time, I’m convinced that SBNR is not the answer. It is spiritual inoculation, giving us enough of the “disease” to keep us from contracting the real thing. Who is behind it? “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Every image of the church in the New Testament is collective—a body with many members, a vine with many branches. There are no solos in the Book of Revelation. We were built for community and accountability. And we need a personal, daily, intimate relationship with the One who made us. You may be spiritual and you may be religious, but here’s the question: are you his? If you don’t feel close to God, guess who moved?