But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. – Luke 5:16
Do you know anyone who describes themselves as spiritual but not religious? Based on some anecdotal evidence gathered from my field research (cough) on dating websites, I have noticed that a lot of people categorize themselves this way.
It’s understandable why categories like “other,” “neither religious nor spiritual,” and “spiritual but not religious” abound because religious affiliation is declining. According to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study, from 2007 to 2014 the percent of religiously unaffiliated people in the United States increased by more than 7 percentage points. Seventeen percent of Baby Boomers are unaffiliated with a religion, but more than 34% of millennials fall into this category.
I see the trend of decreasing religious affiliation when I follow the blogs and posts of some prominent (read: featured by Oprah, y’all) young life coaches such as Mastin Kipp, Marie Forleo, Kris Carr, and Gabby Bernstein. I notice that instead of using a name like God, they tend to use words like the Divine, Creator, Spirit, or the Universe. Are all the cool kids spiritual but not religious?
These days, it seems that being spiritual but not religious is associated with being sophisticated, intelligent, reflective, and healthy. By contrast, being religious seems to denote being old-fashioned, unintelligent, closed-minded, and unhealthy.
Yikes! With such stark differences in connotation, I want to reject these either/or categories and adopt a both/and outlook. And I think Jesus is the perfect example of what that approach looks like.
Jesus was very religious. As a devout Jew, he preached in synagogues, he participated in Jewish holy observances, and he knew scripture intimately. Jesus was also spiritual. He had a calming presence, he healed those who were physically or spiritually sick, and he often “would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” I can imagine Jesus meditating for hours in stillness like a yogi and preaching with authority from the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is surely both spiritual and religious.
I think there are a lot of people who have a both/and approach to their religious/spiritual identities. I recently talked openly about my faith with my cohort in a progressive leadership seminar. I was nervous about sharing because saying the word “Jesus” out loud seemed taboo among this politically liberal group. However, it’s precisely because I’m a person of faith that I share values with my progressive peers. My belief that God loves each of us infinitely and my understanding of Jesus’ example inspires me to do my best to love others, to fight for justice, and to care for the poor and marginalized. After sharing with the group, I was surprised at how many of my peers told me they could relate and shared their diverse faith stories with me.
It feels good to not be confined to a single category. I love attending church, and I love meditating in my room. I feel stretched after Bible study and after yoga. Taking communion and taking a hike can both be holy experiences for me. “Do I contradict myself?” Walt Whitman and I ask. “Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
How do you define yourself when it comes to your personal religious landscape? Do you feel like you fit into a category or would you create your own? I would love it if you shared your thoughts below.