"spiritual but not religious"
[I wrote this on November 2, 2015]
This phrase seems to beg me to make fun of it ;-)
I can't speak for everybody who would use this phrase to describe herself, but there was a time when I used it to describe myself.
Speaking only for my former self, in light of the experiences I've had since then ... today I would say that "spiritual but not religious" means that the person wants to believe in unreasonable things, but only in a non authoritarian way ;-) More tactfully, the person wants to become a member of the contemplative traditions, without being controlled by any particular tradition. They want to believe in something, but they also want to figure it out for themselves.
The spiritual but not religious person struggles with the mysteries of being a temporally-limited sentient being among billions of others inside a massive and ancient universe, while rejecting the religious hierarchies that claim to answer these mysteries for us.
I don't struggle with it so much anymore. I think I'm more at peace with the idea that there are fundamental limits to my construction of a verifiable model of reality. There are fundamental limits to any model's ability to model reality. Putting on a robe and setting yourself up as an expert in areas that are fundamentally impossible to model is just a con game. Maybe a sincere con game for most? I can't judge everybody's sincerity, or capacity for self-delusion, or need for certainty/denial. For some people, being a religious leader is just a job, providing a salary and room & board, like any other job.
To some people, these mysteries aren't a big deal anyway. They always understood that life is random or arbitrary, that evil and suffering exist, and that we all die, so what.
But for others, they were taught from an early age that each person has a special relationship with a powerful-yet-invisible deity or deities, that there is a secret Plan for everybody, and they spend their lives struggling to figure out what this Plan is. Maybe they reject the particular deity of their parents, but continue to believe that there is still a deity of some other kind.
Meanwhile, throughout history political leaders have used religions (and vice versa) to secure their control of human hierarchies. In some places today it is dangerous to openly question these political/religious hierarchies.
I think spiritual but not religious is better than authoritarian religion. But the human brain's ability to ask questions fundamentally surpasses its ability to answer them. We've all encountered the curious child who persistently asks a series of, "But, why?" until the adult finally shuts them down with, "Just because." To the spiritual but not religious folk out there, reality will eventually shut you down with just because. But whether you continue asking impossible questions until then, is totally up to you ;-)
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