Since the time when spirituality has been contrasted with religion more and more persons have opted to be spiritual without religion. They want a spirituality without religion. In a recent survey in the United States 33 percent said that they were spiritual but not religious. So the question many people ask now is: Can a person have a spirituality without religion?
Before I give my answer to that question there is a need for me to clarify these two terms, spirituality and religion.
Spirituality is a quality of life wherein the invisible realities take the priority. These invisible realities include the source of everything there is, the working out of this source in our life and in the world around us, the conflict between the good and evil around us, the desires of all created and uncreated realities.
Religion is a system of doctrine, morality and rituals by which human beings try to make meaning out of life.
The system of doctrine is expressed in a creed or in a summary of basic teachings, such as the Apostles’ Creed for Christians or the Four Basic Truths for Buddhists. Its system of morality is in a list of laws to govern one’s conduct, written or unwritten, such as the Ten Commandments for the Jews and Christians, or the Eightfold Path for Buddhists. Its rituals are prescribed actions by which people may have contact with God like sacrifices and prayers, such as the sacraments for Christians or meditations for Buddhists.
When we ask therefore whether a person can have spirituality without religion we want to know whether a person can give priority to the invisible realities of life without having a system of doctrine, morality and rituals.
The answer is a big “Yes”. A person can live on a spiritual level without the crutches of religion.
According to Robert Putnam and David Campbell in their book AMERICAN GRACE, HOW RELIGION DIVIDES AND UNITES US, the sudden rise of persons who are spiritual without religion is the most significant trend in the US religious landscape in the last 50 years. These persons are labeled Nones (for persons who want to have “none” of the religious trappings). A most typcial example of a None is the singer Sahffi Lynne. She never affiliated with a church, in fact never went to a church on her own. She never learned a code of conduct. She never went through a series of actions to reach God. And yet she is spiritual. Her music is a testimony to her spirituality.
The fact that more and more people are becoming less religious and more spiritual, that is, that we have more and more Nones in our society, is proof enough that a person can have a spirituality without religion.
Many books have already been written about this phenomenon, such as SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS: UNDERSTANDING UNCHURCHED AMERICA by Robert C. Fuller, and SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS: A CALL TO RELIGIOUS REVOLUTION IN AMERICA by Sven E. Erlandson.
There have been studies purporting to prove that to be spiritual without religion leads to mental imbalance. An instance of these studies is the one published in the British Journal of Psychiatry by Michael King of the University College London and his colleagues.
These studies confuse spirituality with spiritualism, a system of spiritual beliefs and practices trying to contact and manipulate spirits, such as in seances.
Genuine spirituality has nothing to do with spiritualism. Spiritualism can indeed lead to mental imbalance, seeing things that are not there, imposing one's views on others. True spirituality leads to an integral life, one that balances the activities of the body, mind and spirit. Those studies by Michael King are on spiritualism, not spirituality. A person can really have spirituality without religion.
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