The pros and cons of being 'spiritual but not religious'

More and more people consider themselves spiritual, but not religious. What are the differences between spirituality and religiosity?

There is much talk in the world of the rise of Islam (the religion destined to become the most numerous in the world) or of growing atheism, and less is mentioned what is perhaps the fastest growing position in the world in this regard. : people who define themselves as "spiritual but not religious". A survey of the Public Religion Research Center showed that, in the United States, 18% of individuals are defined in this way. These people, according to the survey, tend to be more liberal, their most useful spiritual activity is to listen to music and help others more (this they share with religious people).

Obviously, this group of people seeks to demarcate from the religious without neglecting the spiritual, as if they obtained the juice and threw away the peel, or at least this is what is usually believed. Religion has taken a bad name in recent centuries, and this is increasingly pronounced. This is partly due to the crimes that have been carried out in the name of this or that faith, to the science that has spread a powerful narrative that seems to marginalize or invalidate metaphysical beliefs and surely also to the incapacity of the great religions, particularly the Christianity, to update its dogma and refresh its mysteries. All religions that have survived in time have done so, largely because they have been able to evolve and adapt to new cultures. On the other hand, the loss of prestige of the great religions and the implausibility of the old religious narratives do not mean that the human being has a spiritual thirst and that the religious is fundamental for the moral, aesthetic development and even for the health of the human being . As Carl Jung noted with his patients, spirituality - specifically, having numinous experiences - greatly helps to find meaning in life and this, in turn, translates into well-being, as we can see in the statistics of the aforementioned survey. 61% of spiritual but non-religious individuals say they are satisfied with their life; this goes up in the case of spiritual and religious to 70% and goes down to 53% in the case of those who are religious but not spiritual; people who are not religious or spiritual only reach 47% satisfaction.

The differences between spirituality and religion are not really clear. In the remainder of this article we will explore how these terms are understood and propose some functional definitions. The term spirituality, as the theologian Raimon Panikkar notes, is relatively new, since it began to be used in France at the beginning of the 20th century (" spirituality ": not to be confused with "spiritualism", popular in the 19th century). Words are not static things, but rather they are dynamic ways of apprehending reality and communicating it and this causes, as Panikkar also notes, sometimes some words wear out and erode. This is what happens with the word religion . In a sense, spirituality is a way of saying the same without evoking the negative that is associated with religion. In his text Hindu Spirituality, Panikkar, who was one of the most brilliant proponents of interfaith dialogue, notes: "A good part of the modern world is no longer considered 'religious' because of the connotations of dogmatism and institutionalization that this word has acquired over everything in the West. " Hence, spirituality acquires a meaning with which it is sought to evoke "the concrete path that man intends to bring to his last end" and not "the theoretical elucubration" on this path, that is, the theological discussion or the dogma proper to the religion. Spirituality wants to be a praxis and differentiate itself from a (ortho) doxia. This, at least, is what you ideally intend.

Panikkar rehearses a definition for spirituality. Respecting the etymology, spirituality is "that human expression that, surpassing dualistic anthropology (body / soul), is allowed to impregnate, or rather vivify, by the Spirit ...". It would be necessary to define "spirit", and if we stick to the literal (which is sometimes the deepest), "spirit" (as well as pneuma ) has to do with breath or breathing and with the religious idea that there is a spark or divine energy that is what vitalizes nature. The spiritual person is one who lets himself be impregnated or even guided and even dragged by this energetic principle (cosmic or divine) that involves all living beings in the same diffusion of life. This definition brings us closer to a naturalism, which is appropriate for the feeling of modern man, who seeks his spirituality in nature, and even more, feels his lack precisely in his predominant sense of separation from nature. Spirituality could be this (re) connection with the origin, with the primordial nature, with its energy and with its force not only life-giving but sense-giving.

Now let's see what religion or religiosity means . Panikkar tells us, again appealing to etymology, that "religiosity" is "that attitude of the human being who is aware of his 'relief' to the whole Reality, both of the divine and the cosmic and the human, and that crystallizes in forms dependent on the cultures in which one lives. " We see that there is a similarity in the sense that the religious is above all that relieves or reconnects with a deeper or more true reality, whether human, cosmic or divine. Somehow, the understanding that we wanted to give to spirituality, that she reconnects us with nature through the energetic sensations or the different manifestations of the spirit - among which we can add art -, has a similarity with this idea of ​​religiosity, which is not strange since, as we have said before, "spirituality" is a term that has been expressly raised as a replacement. On the other hand, Panikkar's definition of religiosity includes, interestingly, a dependence on the cultures in which one lives and therefore suggests a community sense, a collectivity. In this we can differentiate spirituality from religion - although not categorically and exclusively -: spirituality can and usually is done individually, as a personal experience; The religious can also (and should) be done individually, but it generally implies a practice in accordance with a specific tradition and possibly with a community organization. In this we can rely on the aforementioned survey, which shows that "spiritual but not religious" people tend to maintain a slight connection with some type of organized faith but do not regularly carry out their practices.

The impression that this leaves us is that the strength and virtue of spirituality are also its detriment and vice. Spirituality has the advantage of seemingly not promoting what has been called "the mind of the masses, " a herd consciousness, the opioid dream denounced by Marx. This is the healthy reaction to the totalitarian movements of the 20th century and to the fanatical indoctrination of the great monotheisms. Spirituality is the religious mode of individualism. But we must make a correction and a warning in this regard. And it is that secular modern spirituality faces a propaganda that disguises itself as an absence of ideology and dogma, promoting itself merely as the exercise of freedom. Modern spirituality, embedded in the market economy, is not free from hidden intentions, devious agendas, emotional manipulations and mind control innovations that have even adapted forms of magic into new formats, as Professor Ioan Petru Couliano noted., who showed that Giordano Bruno's magical thinking was resurrected by modern advertising and its libidinal manipulation (Adam Curtis, on the other hand, has shown how advertising has used Freud's theories of the unconscious to subliminally manipulate consumers). The religious does not easily leave the environment: the human being needs the positive aspects of religion, but on the other hand, he cannot free himself from the darkest aspects of religiosity and magical thinking, since they persecute him transformed into secular "spectra": in algorithms and bewitching electronic images. One of the consequences of this is that spirituality, rather than religion (which is usually linked to more rustic mechanisms), is largely presented as an object of consumption, as a "spiritual materialism, " as Chögyam Trungpa called it. . The main effect of this spirituality of consumption is that people consume ephemeral spiritual experiences - since the economic machinery needs things to be disposable, to have a "programmed obsolescence" - and fail to deepen the religious practices that ultimately They are the original sources of all spirituality. They are usually left with superficial, lite or diluted versions for comfort and easy consumption. This gives rise to new age spirituality. New age spirituality starts from the premise that in this "new eon" the human being exercises his spiritual practice individually and independently, without dogma and so on. He no longer needs to "prostrate himself at the lotus feet of a guru", the information is free and he can simply follow his path as one who carries out his own business project, this project being his self-realization. The effect of this is that this type of spirituality is usually not much more than an inflation of the ego. That or a confusing string of outlandish salvific knowledge without much foundation, a mental jungle of interdimensional galactic beings, vibrational crystals and telepathic dolphins - at least traditional religion relies on knowledge that for some reason, usually for its archetypal moral consistency, have achieved overcome the passage of time.

Many of the people who define themselves as spiritual but who do not really practice a religion (who do not do sadhana ) remain in an area of ​​common places: they feel that everything is one, that everyone is connected, that there is something beyond, that everything it is energy, that love is the universal force, etc. All these things are difficult to refute and they are certainly positive beliefs, but they seem to be vague approximations, clichés, borrowed knowledge or paroxysmal glimpses resulting from irreproducible psychedelic experiences (without the effects of the substance). One of the things that a religion or a long-standing spiritual tradition has is that it has a very precise specialized language and a series of specific stages and mechanisms to evaluate the achievements of the practitioners. A person may believe that he has achieved enlightenment after a weekend in a tantric sex workshop or smoking psychedelic toad venom, but his experience has no support. On the other hand, in a religion like Buddhism, different stages have to be traversed; for example, to reach the state of shamata, which is perfectly defined and can be evaluated by a teacher (it consists of the unipuncture concentration of the mind for times that require years of meditation). And then there are many other stages, since this is not the end of the road, far from it. Perhaps this is very outdated and times have really changed and now people do not need so much theoretical apparatus, or so much commitment and devotion, and can catch a divine spirit in a workshop or on the Internet and reach a shortcut. I'm not sure, but I think at least it is necessary to reflect on this more thoroughly. The human being needs an existential sense to be able to live fully, and there is probably nothing more effective than a luminous experience (religious or spiritual) to provide meaning or meaning. The question then arises as to whether to look for the numinous through a personal spirituality or a traditional religious practice. Obviously, there is no sharp division between these two alternatives; most of the time they overlap and intertwine and even complement each other. But doubt may arise, and many will have the need to define themselves, and may even feel restless and uncomfortable belonging to a "religion." They will want to practice the liberality of their thinking, not be controlled, and not submit to the revealed dogmas or the intuitions of a teacher they do not trust at all, because they themselves have not experienced what they are told. The path of personal spirituality seems to be the most refined for the modern Western mentality, but it remains to be seen if it is the most effective. Although the conditions are particular, perhaps the issue is universally and historically constant, and it is the delicate balance of reconciling a healthy skepticism (supported by the exercise of individual critical thinking) with the transfigurative power of faith in something higher.

Author's Twitter: @alepholo