About When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough
When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough, began life as this short essay for the Huffington Post. Readers shared and liked it all over social media and the writer, Rev. Lillian Daniel, decided to respond by turning it into a book.
It’s a fun, easy read with some laugh out loud moments (especially Chapter 6: We and They about her grandmother’s dog). Rather than being a sustained discussion on the topic of the title, it is instead a collection of the author’s essays which cover a wide range of topics. This being so, it gives off a kind of ‘author’s greatest hits’ vibe.
You might also expect, from the title, that a very conservative Christian would have written this book. This, in fact, is not the case. Instead, the author is a person who is fairly sympathetic to spiritual but not religious thinking. In fact, she expresses frustration at one point, that her church is just the kind of church that spiritual but not religious people would want to go to … but don’t.
Whilst sympathetic to the movement, it is nevertheless … not enough for Rev. Lillian Daniel (as the title might just have given away). Let’s take a look at why.
Rev. Lillian Daniel’s Contributions to the Spiritual But Not Religious Debate
SBNR – Not Challenging Enough
Rev. Lillian Daniel’s main criticism of the Spiritual But Not Religious mentality, is that it isn’t very challenging.
This is because Spiritual But Not Religious people don’t have a spiritual community around them to grow with. As a result, they miss opportunities to be challenged to think deeply on issues which religion can offer answers to. Topics such as what happens when we die, why there’s suffering and evil in the world, and what God’s like.
Instead, SBNR people go around saying clichés like that ‘they find God in the sunset’, as if they’re some extraordinary original thinker. They don’t apparently realise that it is in fact just that … a cliché which has occurred to almost every Christian ever (church-going or otherwise).
We Worship God and Not the Other Way Around
Rev. Lillian Daniel also highlights the importance of worshiping a God that made you and not the other way around. We can’t just make a God of our own imagining based on our own personal preferences. Instead, we should be challenged by the long traditions of what centuries of Christians have experienced Him to be. (This is a point that I believe deserves strong consideration – as I talk about in this post about C.S. Lewis’ discussion of this idea.)
This tendency among Spiritual But Not Religious types to deify a version of God based on their own preferences would, she argues, be quickly curbed if they went to church. Not just because they would enter a larger tradition or community. But because they would be confronted by messy humanity … close up and first-hand. You’re unlikely to want to base God on human preferences when you realise how flawed and imperfect humans really are. At a good church (one where you truly enter into people’s lives), you’re inevitably going to be confronted with these imperfections pretty quickly – perhaps just by hearing people’s different singing ability.
My Criticism of ‘When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough’
The essay format keeps things interesting in terms of varying the topics. It does however leave you feeling that there could have been more effort made to outline why the topics chosen were relevant to the title of the book.
The only essays where that’s clear are Chapter 1: Spiritual But Not Religious , Chapter 11: Things I am tired of, and Chapter 19: Please Stop Boring Me. All of these grapple directly with the issues she has with the Spiritual But Not Religious movement. Between these essays there’s some overlap in content – which, unfortunately, contributes to the impression that the essays have been lumped together without much reference to each other.
The Topics of the Essays and How they Relate to the SBNR Discussion
That being said, I can see why some of the topics of the essay were chosen. Whilst not contributing to a coherent argument about the SBNR movement that runs through the book exactly, she seems to have chosen them instead based on how likely they would appeal to the SBNR mentality.
Take for example, her essay based on her experiences at her yoga class. The very fact that she’s drawing on yoga (associated with Eastern spirituality rather than Christian spirituality) suggests that it isn’t just Christians who access truth and that there is instead something to be learnt from other forms of spirituality. This, of course, is a common idea among SBNR people who sometimes like to pick and choose their beliefs unconstrained by a single tradition.
This idea is further explored in another essay, where she suggests that it is the love and inclusiveness that Jesus demonstrates in the Bible that teaches her to hope that people from other religions and beliefs will be included in Heaven alongside Christians.
My Rating and Why
I give this book a 3.5 out of 5.
I love the author’s writing style and laughed out loud at several points while reading it. I also think that she makes some valuable contributions to the SBNR discussion whilst modelling a kind of Christianity which would likely be appealing to the SBNR mindset.
Nevertheless, my reservation is that she could have made clear and sustained connections between the essays and the SBNR discussion they are supposed to be contributing to. As it is, we’re just left to surmise and wonder why particular essays were chosen – leaving us with fairly large question marks in some cases.
Prompts for Thought
Do you consider yourself Spiritual But Not Religious?
What do you think are the pros and cons of being spiritual or religious?
Do you agree with Lillian Daniel that being Spiritual But Not Religious is less challenging?