With the rise of the spiritual but not religious, have you ever wondered where you fit on the spiritual vs religious spectrum? Take our quiz to find out!
But first, let’s discuss a bit about what the categories of ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’ mean and why these categories are becoming so important.
Spiritual or Religious?: Some Characteristics
According to Pew Research, 27% of people in the USA now consider themselves ‘spiritual but not religious‘. No wonder so many prominent Christian figures have something to say about this topic!
While definitions of what it means to be ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’ vary, let’s take a look at some common themes.
Religious People: the Pharisees of the Bible
For some people, notably Tim Keller, ‘religious’ means the attributes displayed by the Pharisees of the Bible. The gospels show that Jesus had a lot to say against these ‘religious types’ who He saw as hypocritical, judgemental and legalistic. Keller strongly identifies these attributes with some religious people today and suggests that this is one of the reasons formal religion is losing its appeal.
On the flipside, Keller has a slightly unique approach to describing the opposite of ‘religious’. For Keller, people who are not religious aren’t necessarily spiritual either – but Christian.
Keller doesn’t believe that Christianity is ‘religion or irreligion’ but something else altogether. In his books he talks a lot about how, for him, Jesus’ ideas diverge from those of all other religions. According to Keller, if you’re practising Christianity right – you shouldn’t turn out either spiritual or religious but something totally unique. (For more on his ideas on this topic check this article.)
‘Religious’: a Member of a Religious Institution
Another common way to view the term ‘religious’ is to say that it refers to whether you adhere to a particular religious institution (e.g. church). Robert C. Fuller provides this definition (which you can find here), for example, in his founding study on this topic back in 2001.
‘Religious’ Christians often value the community and sense of being grounded in the wisdom of Christians who came before them, that institutional religion can provide.
By contrast, ‘spiritual’ Christians, want to distance themselves from Christian history. They don’t want to identify with people who used the Bible to argue for things they don’t agree with, like, that slavery was okay. Some, like Barbara Brown Taylor, choose to create their own Christian symbols to wear to distance themselves from the historical baggage of the traditional symbols.
‘Spiritual’: Believing that all Religions are One
For some spiritual people, they feel no need to identify with any particular denomination or (sometimes) religion. This is because they believe that all Christian denominations or (even) religions essentially teach the same thing. Some cite ‘love’ as being one of these universals that all religions teach.
According to these people, ‘religion’ is something that creates division where there shouldn’t be. This makes wars incited by religion especially tragic.
‘Spiritual’: Intellectual Freedom
Others see spirituality as giving them the freedom to discover their own beliefs first-hand. They regard religion as something that forces you to have your views mediated through a pastor or religious institution. Those who follow this line of thought sometimes view ‘religion’ as mental slavery or mind control.