33% of the world population claim to be spiritual, but not religious. That implies for them that they are not attached to a particular religious group. They describe themselves as “unchurched”, spiritually eclectic, religiously unaffiliated, freethinkers, or spiritual seekers. They give many reasons for refusing to subscribe to religion. The most common reason is religious leaders are not living what they preach. They preach the word of God not as God’s calling, but as a career. They don’t want to be confined to a system or structure, as if they are already part of a system. They claim scientism, as if science can explain everything like ‘why there is anything at all’. They argue that while religious’ substance may be good, they don’t like the style as if each believer is not responsible for his personal faith, in some way. I will not answer all these concerns for the sake of brevity. I will analyze whether or not it makes sense to be spiritual without being religious. Can someone have a deep, abiding friendship with God without religion?
I believe in human’s willingness to achieve phenomenon. I know that fundamentally human beings are created good. I know that each one of us has a deep desire to achieve the good. The reality is to know and desire the good does not mean having the capacity to achieve it. Morally speaking, we may learn the Nicomachean Ethics and the golden rule and be very convinced about it, but when it comes to applying it, we break all the rules. We know what to do, but when the occasion surfaces to act, we just fainaigue it as if we never knew better. The truth of the human nature is that we possess both a soul and a body. We are both human and animal. We vacillate between doing the good and the bad. We love the good due to the presence of the soul, but we do the bad because of the animal. As a result, we need to order our lives so the animal or the body does not rule the soul. You only need to read Plato’s republic to understand how we are built and what to do to properly order our lives.
We need light to enlighten our darkness. We need encouragement to stay on course. When crises strike, we just are not in our best, perhaps due to emotions, biases, fear etc. We need to constantly be reminded of why we need to stay on course. It is natural that the more we hear something, the more likely we are to act on it when need there is. It works the other way too. The less we hear something, the less likely we are to utilize it when we should. We need the “good news” to strengthen our good behavior and avoid stupidity. You only have to read Dostoyevsky’s Brother Karamazov to see how immoral someone can be when he starts fabricating his own moral codes without religious guidance.
That is where religion comes in. it is always there to remind us what it means to be human. It is constantly there to help us answer in the right way the deepest and most important questions of our lives that stir our hearts. What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of life? What is the right course of action? Why do we do bad things even if we want to do the good? What ought we to do? What’s our purpose? Where does suffering come from and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What is death? What happens after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?
No one can answer these questions in a way that speaks to the depth, height, and breath of the human soul without turning to religion. No man can remove himself i.e. his emotions, fears, and biases from these questions unless he lets the God who reveals himself through religion speaks, the God who uses man to speak and yet transcends all men in time and places when speaking. These questions stand above any transgression man commits in the name of religion. They go beyond science, particular system, or style. They come from God and lead to God if properly answered.
Finally, no man is an island. Just as no one can finish high school without being committed to some kind of program or school, just as no one can become an engineer without going to an engineering school, no on can reach God without using the ladder of religion to climb to God. It is okay not to be the biggest aficionado of a ladder, but if God used it to condescend and speak to us, why should we despise it? Religion is the mean through which spirituality is built. It gives essence and sense to spirituality. It makes known the true God. Ask any respected anthropologist; he should know that. Religion informs spirituality. There’s no spirituality without religion. Spiritual always has to do with religion. When that is not the case, two things happen. Either a person creates his own religion so he can erect the God that pleases him, or he’s really not a believer at all. This theme, spiritual but not religious, is therefore an illusion.
That being said, the real reason why anyone would reject religion while claiming to be spiritual is really to be able to do whatever he wants without being judged by the standard set by the God of religion. These people want to do what any non-believers are doing, but they simultaneously feel guilty of renouncing God altogether. Their sensus divinitas and conscience bark at them. So they prefer to say that they are spiritual. None of them can answer what it means to be spiritual.