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Spiritual But Not Religious

  • Elliott
  • October 11, 2012
  • 6

How I See Myself

For years, when asked about my religion, I have replied I was spiritual but not religious. Recently, when I was doing some research, I found this is the fastest growing answer to the question of our religiosity; people who call themselves spiritual but do not consider themselves religious.

Recently, I had made some comment, to my son, lamenting about hearing someone insist that I was a very religious person. This type of comment has always made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. My son responded, “Well dad, you are the most religious person I know.”

“How can you consider me religious?” I asked. “I very seldom go to church. Which religion do you think I am a part of?”  I reaffirmed, to him, that I could agree on being spiritual but wondered how he deduced I was religious.

He said, “It’s just that all you ever read about, all you ever write about, all of your activities, including your prayer and meditation time, it is all religious.”

We agreed to disagree about what it means to be religious. Of course, in the serendipitous manner of my world, it wasn’t a week until I was having this discussion with another person who as a theology student has no problem with being called religious. She informed me that the word religious derived from the Latin word religiō which meant “respect for what is sacred or a careful pondering of all things” and that religiō probably had its foundation in the word religare, which literally meant to re-connect.

Ah, another way of looking at things

This caused me pause to reconsider what it means to be religious. I carry some baggage that defines religious as being a participant in one of man’s created churches. I essentially reject my own definition for religion, but find I can embrace my friend’s definition with no qualms.

Regardless, I think it is an interesting phenomenon that “spiritual but not religious” is the fastest growing segment of the population, when people are asked about their religious persuasions.

What does it mean to be Spiritual but Not Religious? I want to take a stab at defining this concept in my own words.

Ten Characteristics of the Spiritual but Not Religious

1)   The spiritual but not religious honor and bless diversity in all of nature and in the rights of individuals to choose to worship in any manner they see fit, provided this form of worship includes some concept that each and every aspect of creation is valuable and deserves to be treated with respect and the loving kindness we seek for ourselves and our families. Most valid religions include some version of the golden rule. Any religion worth considering must hold valuable everything created by the God they choose to worship. Spiritual but not religious people seek to love one another without being commanded to. They seek to express that love because it makes them feel more alive and makes the world a better place.

2)   The spiritual but not religious person prefers to find their own answers to the questions they hold about life and their role in it. While they are willing to search for these answers in sacred texts, churches, mosques, synagogues, ashrams, yoga studios, the internet, and amongst friends, new and old, they reserve the right to take the information discovered and process it through their own heartfelt wisdom and create their own manifesto of what it means to be fully human and fully spiritual.

3)   The spiritual but not religious person holds themselves 100% responsible for the experience of life they are having now, and they do not surrender this authority to others; be they religious mentors, spiritual gurus, or dead saints. The truly spiritual person knows that all of nature, including everything that shows up in their life, offers the teaching they most need in their quest to live a life that honors the sacredness of “all that is.”

4)   Spiritual people have no need to proselytize. They know that all the healing they accomplish in their own relationship with life, heals the entire human race. While the spiritual person is not opposed to sharing their ongoing life discoveries, they also believe that each and every person is exactly where they need to be for the lessons they have come to learn. Spiritual people, as a rule, do not believe in mistakes.

5)   Spiritual but not religious people believe that the Universe is benevolent and that everything which happens carries a seed of magnificence, although it is sometimes buried by appearances.

6)   Most spiritual people believe there is an underlying force, a power of goodness, from which “all there is” arises. While the spiritual person may resist calling this Source “God” it is mainly because there are so many emotionally-charged definitions which are activated when that word is uttered. Spiritual but not religious people know there is some Uniting Power which flows through all of life but they are often reluctant to give that Force a name at all.

7)   Spiritual but not religious people know they have access to the One Power which flows through “all there is” and that communion with this Energy is found in the quiet; in the silence found in the gaps between the incessant chatter of the human mind. Most have found or believe that communion with this United Field is inaccessible through the human mind; it is realized as an experience, not through thought.

8)   Most spiritual but not religious people know that we (all of humanity) and “all that is,” are ONE. It is this Field (even if remaining nameless) which unifies everything. Because of this Truth, this spiritual being refuses to do harm to another. They are aware that to harm another is to harm self.

9)   Anyone can decide they are spiritual and live by the rules of a spiritual person. Hopefully, everyone who declares themselves to be children of God or participants in any of the world’s religions consider themselves spiritual and are able to see value in the Spiritual but Not Religious person’s choices. Truly spiritual people find all religion to be based in truth and valuable to those who honor its precepts. The spiritual but not religious person simply wants to explore any and all possible Truth, instead if blindly accepting some distilled version which may be contained within the dogma of any one religious tradition.

10)               The spiritual but not religious are likely to find themselves worshiping anywhere, any time. Most, who have chosen spirituality, as their number one priority in life, seek to spend their days consciously praying without ceasing. Not praying to some deity, out there somewhere, but simply being fully present to this Now moment, open to embracing, without judging, the omnipresent beauty which is this life. Because the spiritual person promises themselves this experience,  they may show up at a traditional church for a prayer or healing service on Thursday and may chant in a Kirtan on Friday. By saying “YES” to their inner guidance, they find it easy to be In-Love regardless of where their affirmation takes them. For the Spiritual but Not Religious being “In-LOVE” is the moment to moment goal of their joy-filled life.

As stated these characteristics are not limited to just the Spiritual but Not Religious people, but I believe most of these attributes to be shared by those who readily identify themselves as such. I am sure there are many people who are religious, faithful to their one chosen church/tradition, and still open and inviting to all that life (Love) has to offer. To those individuals I offer hardy congratulations, because I know they are a great blessing to their faith community, as they are to the entire human race.


  1. We all have within us an innate religiosity which may or may not mean going to church or being part of formalised religions. As the definition states: “respect for what is sacred or a careful pondering of all things” but yes, there is a great deal of a baggage with admitting one’s religiosity.

    1. Thank you for your comment Link. I agree about the innate religiosity. We all have a hunger which can only be filled by communion with Spirit. We can try all types of religions and worldly things but regardless of where or how we find it, we will carry an emptiness until we figure out how to connect to our Source, our God, or whatever idea we use for that Spirit.

      I appreciate you!

  2. Very detailed and thoroughly examined post, Elliott. I hadn’t seen that definition of religion before. It certainly opens things up.
    I look forward to a day when we all drop the labels of religious, spiritual, Christian, or Muslim and simply be all that we are in joyful expression. No labels required! Calling ourselves a spiritual person or a religious person is another form of separation created in the human mind. All of life is Spirit expressed, therefore all is spiritual.

    1. I am with you Jacqueline on the separation created by labels. Yet I can not pretend that the labels I was taught and grew up with have no effect on me. I am working in that direction and feel for the most part in my heart that I do not focus on differences, but those of us who strive to live from that perspective are still in a small minority. Even when attending groups designed to eradicate the polarity and separateness of various religions, there is still more focus on the differences than on the commonalities.

      Thanks for your comments. I especially like that All of Life is Spirit Expressed and is therefore spiritual. I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Hi Elliot: As someone who invested many, many years studying and comparing various religious and spiritual ways, I like what you’ve expressed in this post. Really, everyone’s singing the same song, only in their own words. BTW, the word ‘church’ originally referred to a ‘gathering of people to celebrate spiritual ideas’ – it had nothing to do with the building in which they were gathered. The challenge I’ve seen is that (some) people associate religion with ceremony, costume, and often dogma. Two people stand there arguing – both agree that there is only one ‘God’ but each believes his/hers to be better. How is that possible if there’s only ‘One’?

    You might find the story of the ‘Delicious Peace’ Coffee Company interesting. In 2003 a coffee farmer in Uganda saw that they were getting beat by the corporations so he went to his Jewish, Christian and Muslim neighbours and asked them to form a cooperative. More here:


    P.S. You might also like ‘The God of Mike’ – inspired by ‘The God of Jane’, by Jane Roberts:

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