Spiritual but Not Religious

In the last 24 hours, at least three of my Unitarian Universalist clergy Facebook friends have posted a snarky little article deriding people who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” It is by a United Church of Christ minister. The UCC chose to publish it on their site. I hear it has gone viral. I am sad.

Clearly, this piece has struck a chord for people who understand the value of religious community. While I could argue a bit with content, I get that there is a point worthy of consideration in the piece. However, my overriding sense is the one that I get standing in a group when a racist or homophobic joke is being told, and everyone is laughing.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of religious community. That’s why I do what I do. It’s something I lift up at the beginning of every worship service. Being in religious community can call us to our best selves and teach us more about the gifts and challenges of being human. Being in human community is hard work. As the author of the article says “What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you.”

OK, so let me disagree and call out some stuff. Unitarian Universalism is a covenantal tradition. We are held together by the promises we make about how we will be together. For me, this means that when we disagree and need to call each other on stuff, we do it respectfully. Snarky, derisive behavior and eye-rolling may sell better, but it does not represent our best selves and it does not represent either community or religion at its best. It certainly doesn’t represent religious community at it best.

I suppose you could say that since these “spiritual but not religious” folks have chosen not to be in our congregations (perhaps, me thinks, with good reason) that they are outside the scope of our covenant. That is not how I live my covenant. We are trying to build inside our walls the world we want to see outside our walls. I want my best self operating in both places and my best self interacting with all people.

I recognize that popular culture and our media thrive on division and bring up ratings using conflict. I think as a religious people we are called to be counter-cultural with regard to the divisive tone that is tearing our culture and our world apart.

I get that the piece in question has a witty tone that might make it compelling on first read. But, on second read, imagine if this was written about some other group. Perhaps some of the people enjoying it might feel differently. Provocative tones capture us. I get it. Still, I think as religious people we are called to a different way of being — something with more respect, more understanding, more love.

So those of you bored and otherwise annoyed by these good folks who are “spiritual but not religious,” please, send yours to me. I have a place for them in my heart and in my world.

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21 Responses to Spiritual but Not Religious

  1. Sarah Buquid says:

    Wow. The original article came off as hostile to me. It reminds me of the looks I get when I tell people I’m a church-going atheist. That’s usually the time I have to dust off my elevator speech about UUs. The author of that article fails to consider that perhaps spiritual, but not religious people are people who believe in god, but who are turned off by what they know about religion. I fit that category for a brief time after I left catholicism, but before I settled on my current beliefs. So perhaps, instead of berating or rolling your eyes at the person who sees god in the sunsets, you could learn more about how they reached that place and contribute your own perspective! /rant.

    Thanks for this post Rev. Kathy. I’m extremely lucky to have a spiritual leader who can lead me from so far away.

  2. sandy cawthern says:

    I entered “spiritual, not religious” on Harmony.com because of a wish to weed out fundamentalists. Folks of many paths including Buddhism responded.

  3. Ana Hubbard says:

    I had to giggle a little when I came upon your post. I was actually trying to track down the above mentioned “snarky” rant to respond to someone else and my response was nearly identical to yours, which is comforting to me since the local UU church has been one I’ve considered joining for a while and just hadn’t gotten the nerve up to do. Perhaps it’s time :)

  4. maryann1u says:

    I found the tone of that article very disturbing, too. If you are like me and have been a UU for a few years and dared to talk about it, you have probably gotten your share of eye-rolling — discreet or otherwise — about our own religion. (I’ve had to listen to people joke about what they perceive as our lack of morals, call us “the church that doesn’t believe in anything,” ask if we’ve ever read the Bible, ask what we’ve got against Jesus, etc.) So as the follower of a spiritual path that some people find weird and open for ridicule, I am certainly loathe to take any pleasure in poking fun at another’s spiritual path. Thanks, Rev. Kathy, for “calling out” the fallacies here. You are right on target. I appreciate you so much!!

    • revkathys says:

      Thanks, Maryann! I don’t think any of us like being ridiculed. I don’t have a problem with honest critique and debate. My concern, in this case, was that such such sweeping generalizations were made. My experience of the SBNR folks is different than some of my colleagues… but I suppose that’s a topic for another post ;-)

  5. Herb Tyson says:

    I approach this from the other side of the coin, so to speak. As an atheist UU, I see myself as religious, but not spiritual. And I’m happy to have found a church that welcomes the likes of me. When I read the snarky article in question, it left me wondering about other confessed atheists I’ve known, but who attend non-UU churches–for the sense of community, and despite the theological disconnect. And I wonder if they can ever feel as welcomed and as “at home” as I feel each time I enter the doors of my UU church, or if they can be honest about what they believe without risk of censure or expulsion. As a teen, I was kicked out of DeMolays–because I talked about my theological (dis)beliefs. So I have first hand experience with being ostracized for my atheism. It’s nice to know that at my UU church, if I’m ever challenged or called out, it won’t be because I’m an atheist.

  6. Cat R. says:

    What about CHILDREN? They are born spiritual. They have to LEARN the religion of their family. Their parents raise them with some decent values and then launch pad them. Child must then find their adult religion. Even if they come back to same one, they still have to be kicked out of the nest to fly. Take the journey, and the process, come to new understanding of themselves and how they fit in the world anew with new adult perspective. It is ALL about journey. Spiritual development isn’t static. You only stop growing when you die. Bus driver making fun of one of the possible karma bus stops because you don’t happen to live in the neighborhood? Wow. Irresponsible ‘tude from a senior minister. Why be a karma bus driver then? Hate the traffic and the people you have to serve so?

  7. Leaping Loon says:

    Thank you for expressing so eloquently what I, too, felt upon reading that article. I know that the “spiritual but not religious” tag tweaks some people’s sensitivities—even those of UU ministers, on occasion. But if we want to follow our highest ideals, it is in our interests to welcome these seekers and do our best to understand the personal truth from which their chosen spiritual identity comes.

    • revkathys says:

      Thanks! SBNR can cover so many different perspectives. My personal experiences has been with ones who I found to be genuine seekers. It’s just unfortunate to paint everyone with the same brush. We don’t do that with other perspectives, so I’m not sure why people felt it was ok to do it with this one. I guess their experience is different than mine. Long term, I think/hope the conversation that has been generated will be fruitful.

  8. revkathys says:

    I try to avoid doing so, but I am declining to approve a comment. While not inaccurate, it contains a personal remark about someone else and a mild (though common) reference to physical violence. This is part of my taking responsible for what happens in my little corner of cyberspace. Thanks for your understanding.

  9. Susan Raccoli says:

    Long ago, I was an organist/choir director in a Christian Church, though I am a 3rd generation UU. (Musicians go where the work is.) The minister’s wife wanted to give me a bridal shower and was dying to know my religion. Finally, she asked where the wedding would be so I had to tell her: a UU church in Madison, Wisconsin. “Humph,” she said. “All those Unitarians think about is sex.”

    –I couldn’t resist posting this because admitting that you are a UU can elicit strange reactions, but this is the strangest one I have heard. And I am still doing music in Christian churches, though like many church musicians, I’ve seen and heard too much behind the scenes to be impressed.

    • revkathys says:

      Thanks, Susan. It is really amazing the generalizations and stereotypes that people are willing to articulate. I think most of us know better when we stop to think. If someone wrote a similar pieces about all “Christians” based on what some Christians do, I suspect people would be a little less amused. Of course, I know there are people who write such things all the time, and I don’t like them any better than this one.
      And, as for the behind the scenes views, I think that’s so true of most of our institutions, try as we might for it to be otherwise. Thanks for adding your perspective.

  10. growbeets says:

    I am a SBN(yet)R, though I have been attending UU services for a year now. When I followed the link to that article from Heather Christensen’s “Interdependent Web” blog, I was so hurt and frightened for a moment that the church I was getting to know and growing to love was going to endorse that perspective that makes fun of and rejects where I am on my own spiritual journey. It was like overhearing a favorite aunt and mentor deride you to her friends. But then, of course, I saw that UU’s are not whole-scale endorsing this perspective, and I read your response. Many, many thanks for that.

    • revkathys says:

      I’m glad it was helpful. Just as we Unitarian Universalists have a lot of differences within our congregations, we also have a lot of diversity across our movement. Your comment, among others I have received, help me realize how important it is to take time to get our various views out. Jumping into controversy hasn’t actually been my favorite hobby, but if harm is being done, and in this case I think there is clear evidence it was, it is important to speak up. Thanks for encouraging my new hobby! My very best wishes for your continuing journey!!

  11. Maria says:

    Wow, how holier-than-thou can one be? That was an obnoxious post.

    Belonging to a religion that most people have never heard of, and being a church going agnostic as a child (raised UU) and, after a long hiatus, for the past 6 years as an adult, it’s the best way to explain my beliefs in ways others will understand. For most people “religious” implies dogma and a theology that all must believe. It also implies, for better or worse, self-righteousness. I didn’t expect to see that from a UCC minister.

    • revkathys says:

      Thanks for sharing your perspective. I’ve been fascinated by how some people don’t see it as holier-than-thou. Even it they didn’t read it that way at first, after they read all the perspectives, it surprises me that they still can’t see that the attitude reflects badly no matter how good the point. Words have many meanings and it really is amazing that human communication works at all. Perhaps we should be a little more humble before THAT miracle.

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