There was an article on CNN website this weekend about the great numbers of people in the U.S. who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.”  It seems that this expression of faith is disturbing and perhaps even threatening in religious circles.  The article  is titled, “Are there dangers in being spiritual but not religious?”   In case you missed it, I will discuss some of the main points of the article.

The danger outlined by James Martin, a Jesuit priest was that this expression suggests “egoism, complacency and self-centeredness.”  He suggests that without a religious community to make demands on you, one ‘will not help the poor’ or serve others. “Being Spiritual, but not religious he says may sound sophisticated, but the choice may come down to pettiness.”  Religion is hard,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just too much work. People don’t feel like it.     I have better things to do with my time.   It’s plain old laziness.”

The article suggests there could be “hidden dangers” in living such a life.  Apparently according to a survey in 2009, by the LifeWay Christian Resources, 72 %  of 18 – 29 year olds consider themselves spiritual, not religious.  The hidden dangers, in religious institutions that divide rather than unite and injure rather than heal are perhaps the reason so many young people have chosen to become SBNR.  Could the “hidden dangers” referred to in the article have to do with the future survival of churches, temples, mosques and seminaries.

June-Ann Greeley, who teaches at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut explains the trend:  “Religion demands that we accord to human existence some absolutes and eternal truths, and in a post-modern culture, that becomes all but impossible,”  “People seem not to have the time nor the energy or interest to delve deeply into any one faith or religious tradition,” Greeley goes on to say,  so they move through, collecting ideas and practices and tenets that most appeal to the self, but making no connections to groups or communities.”

Personally, I have found that those who take on the label SBNR most often had a strong religious upbringing or studied religion quite deeply, perhaps adopting several at some point,  and have an exceptionally clear spiritual faith.

Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life at Smith College in Massachusetts, says, “Religious communities excel at caring for members in difficult times, encouraging members to serve others and teaching religious practices that have been tested and wrestled with for centuries.   “Hymn-singing, forms of prayer and worship, teachings about social justice and forgiveness — all these things are valuable elements of religious wisdom,” Walters says.   “Piecing it together by yourself can be done, but with great difficulty.”

I found this article thought-provoking.   Having never completely allied my heart with any religion I suppose I too, if asked would have to take the position of SBNR.  And probably just like you, I am surprised at the assertion that SBNR is an egoistic, petty and  dangerous approach, lacking in self awareness, prayer, worship, social justice and forgiveness.

Several of those who subscribe to a SBNR philosophy were invited to explain what this meant to them.  There were general themes, which included the universality of man and a disbelief in some kind of universal retribution for being nonreligious.   The  SBNR practitioners quoted in the article placed importance on taking responsibility for one’s actions and for care-taking oneself and ones’ soul.

It is an important step in our practice of Kriya Yoga, as I would imagine with most claiming SBNR  that each  of us piece the valuable elements of spiritual wisdom together for our self.   Connection to and care for the soul is a powerful solitary activity.

SBNR suggests that one comes into his/her faith out of personal experience and adopts spiritual qualities of kindness, compassion and service from an understanding of the unity in diversity.

In fact, doesn’t  SBNR intrinsically suggests that one is influenced by one’s soul and  trusts the Divine consciousness that permeates the appearance of  life in the world.  Certainly, a spiritual person is  reaching to attain a  spiritual consciousness in order to become aware of the  soul.     We do our spiritual practices of yoga asana, pranayama, mantra, meditation and self inquiry for just that purpose.   Ultimately all spiritual yogic practices encourages a cessation of  identification with ones’  mental conditioning and emotional fluctuations, in order to open to the influence and guidance of inspiration and intuition from a Higher Intelligence.

SBNR  requires us to use all the circumstances and events in our  life to grow into the nature of our soul…a  life rich with failure and success, loss and gain and afflicted by spiritual doubt and confusion.  All manner of difficulties naturally arise within the minute details of life to try and test us.   These difficulties, even the most insignificant ones can hinder or trip us up on any spiritual path.

A SBNR person is tempted and tested just as religious parishioner is, until equanimity and surrender is complete.   The self study and self correction required of a SBNR person is certainly as difficult,  if not more so,  than what is  required typically of a religious person.    The goal of a spiritual person is to consistently address the  world through awareness, from the highest perspective of the  spirit, not just be apart of a religious community and its dictates.    SBNR cannot be dangerous for the qualities of the soul provide clarity and purifying energy.   If one can keep oneself centered in the soul (CITS), which is what Spiritual suggests,  one’s actions will be more more loving and compassionate, come what may.

From the Voice of Babaji, Kriya Babaji says “No man can receive any good from anywhere, unless he himself comes forward for it.  It is when time and circumstances are ripe that a man can see the truth of things. Experience is the teacher and a man has to grow himself. Other conditions help in his growth like air and sunshine. We cannot make a blade of grass. How can we make a man religious? The scriptures and teachings are of great use to a man who really does something with them. Water, air and light are useful to a plant that has some vitality already in it.

To talk of God is no belief. A man believes in God when he really believes in himself because God lives in the core of our heart. We talk glibly about his existence. We profess to have faith in him. But is it not very hard to actually believe in him?

Philosophy, prayer and meditation are so many steps that lead a devotee of God towards the tower of belief. Pure reasoning and complete renunciation alone can take a seeker after Truth to its sacred precincts.”

While the path of  seeking faith in the Divine Intelligence may lead to goodness, all along the way there is a looming and  ever-present danger of egoism.   The ego can manifest in so many ways, as desire, self-interest, ambition, pride, self-righteousness, self-doubt, boredom, lethargy, depression and attachment.  These all can deceive the mind and keep us merely skirting the surface of spirituality, regardless if we are religious or not.   The Mother of Aurobindo Ashram was quoted saying,  “the power of self-deception is amazing; the mind is skilled in finding an admirable justification for any ignorance, stupidity whatsoever.”

So how are we to know if we are truly seeking spirituality in the “right way,” and without egoism and all its’ pettiness?

Of course at this point, we could turn the tables and ask, “how does religion demand that its believers work individually to purify themselves of their flawed foundations and ego-centric, self-deceptions?”   Religion requires that one follow its’ doctrines, dogma and participate in rituals ?”

And  what about the foundation of religion itself; is there some kind of eye of truth set in place, ever watching to uncover its own flaws and self-deceptions?    Unfortunately, when we think of religion, we think of an institution or organization that acts autonomously, without an oversight or controls.   And think that as with all organizations, a religious institution has an invested interest in protecting its survival and defending its beliefs and everything that belongs to it, even when those beliefs are obviously contradictory to the principles of divine living.

The  long and short definition of  SBNR is,  one who believes in the existence of  a Divine Intelligence that is still functioning in the Universe and one who accepts that sacredness as a part of their nature.    And while this individual has refused the limitations that organized religion has placed on living a religious life, he/she has chosen to behave according to the principles of living a divine life.

What we should ask our self  is, are we traveling the  SBNR path intensely and sincerely and are we willing to come face to face with our weaknesses, flaws and self deceptions in order to correct them?     For an integrated physical, vital, mental, intellectual, SBNR transformation, we must understand the goal is not empowerment, phenomenal visionary experiences, abundance or good fortune.   The goal is a transformation of ones’ entire being, which demands the ego be diminished so that the soul can step forward.

Yoga and meditation is a path of SBNR and naturally benefits the body and mind and moderates the emotions of the practitioner.    The true benefits of Yoga are awareness, equanimity and soulfulness.    Awareness sets the bar even higher for each of our actions and reactions to life, than does religion.  As our interactions with the world become more aware, our body, mind and heart aligns in caring tenderness with and for the soul. The ego naturally diminishes as the soul enlarges and an energizing consciousness animates the eyes, mind and heart.  Awareness is reflected as a clear, strong, rational mind and a healthy attitude toward one’s part to play in the world. Awareness creates understanding, which harmonizes the being and develops potential and capability to compassionately serve others.  How can that be bad?

What to read the original story?

    • Manidip Ganguly
    • June 15th, 2010


    This is one of your most inspiring blog posts.
    I repeat the request that I made to you during the 2nd Level initiation in Bangalore this Jan, “Kindly publish these into to a Book”. This this not only help our ever increasing SNBR community but also religios seekers.

    Thank you so much.

    Warm Regards,

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