What comes to mind when someone says, "I'm not religious but I'm spiritual"?

Would anyone care to comment on what you think, as an atheist, that a person is trying to say when they state that they are spiritual but not religious?  My own reaction is very negative; I'm usually expecting them to go on to talk about ESP or auras.  But maybe they are just saying they are interested in human values and emotions.

I think that being an atheist means recognizing that although we experience consciousness and emotions while our brains function, everything that we are comes from physical matter and will end when the brain fails and decays.  We have no "spirit" separate from our brains.

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I think they're looking for wiggle room with the supernatural.  They may be put off by mainstream religion, but they still want to believe there is "something more" out there.  The problem, of course, is that they can't quantify it or offer any evidence.  They "just have a feeling" about it.  Perhaps they are referring to numinous experiences of one stripe or another which have been tied to religion in the past but are more and more being revealed as something independent of religion.  This is something Sam Harris has spoken about at length, yet without having to resort to any reference to the supernatural.

Still, the foundation of the word, "spiritual," as you observe, is "spirit."  There has yet to be any substantial basis demonstrated for the concept of spirit, and until there is, I regard it as I regard religion - as WOO.

Yes he did!  And now I remember Sam Harris talking about something like Loren mentions.  Must try to find that.    And I like the word "WOO" as shortcut for, well, woo stuff.

This may not be exactly what you had in mind, BK, but give it a try.  Harris is excellent here:

Sam Harris - Death and the Present Moment

I also recommend Sam's 

Sam Harris on "Free Will"

I think these two basic concepts help to understand how religion creates more confusion and conflict than is necessary. Throw off the cloak of religion, look at life, death and free will with a fresh perception and see if they make sense to you. I found these ideas liberating, even though I do think a person is accountable for his or her behaviors. Just because a person was abused as a child, for example, does not free him or her from facing the consequences of immoral or unethical action. 

Yes, I agree with Loren, the "nailer-on-the-header".

Fuzzy thinking.  These people are usually more comfortable with feelings than with ideas.  They likely fear scientific medicine and easily fall for scares like "vaccinations cause autism."  But regimented church doesn't work for them (any more than it does for most of us); they might rather sit on a hillside and meditate than evaluate approaches to actual problems.  (Or am I being biased?)

Jerry, I don't think you are biased. To me, the word "spiritual" is connected to beliefs that are not based on evidence. I use the word spiritual to mean filled with wonder that the universe exists, and I am a part of it, even if for a very short relative period of time. I need to find a word other than spiritual to express my thinking. Perhaps full-of-wonder, or wonderment.

When I look at biology, I experience a sense of awe that all that is alive comes from evolution, beginning with green slime in a pond. When I look at geology, I feel amazement at the processes that began with Pangea that broke apart and moved to form continents, mountains and oceans. The geologic evidence is there to be seen and understood. Looking at each of the sciences offers other opportunities to observe how little we know, how much we need to learn, and the institution of religion resists such scrutiny. 

People have the right to their opinion, all opinions are not equal. I have no obligation to respect nonsense. I do have the obligation to speak up when I hear or see superstition and delusion. 

I don't think there's much I can add to this discussion.  In my opinion, the largest group of people who use the "spiritual but not religious" label are overwhelmingly turned off by organized religion, but still do believe in the traditional elements such as prayer, miracles, god-the-father figure, an afterlife, etc.  This is why church attendance continues to decline but belief in god is still very prevalent, even among "the nones."  

The next sizable group are those who believe in fuzzy notions such as a ruling cosmic spiritual force, karma, reincarnation, good and evil forces, etc. 

I have no facts to back up these statements, I'm just making an educated guess based on my observations. 

The dislike of "spirituality" by atheists can be self-limiting, and I fear the potential for that social pressure to limit me.  To me what "spirituality" means is the source of religious experience, disencumbered from the concepts which accumulate around the experience.  Feelings of presence, of being not separate, extraordinary experiences in meditation. 

It isn't necessary to come to metaphysical conclusions because of a spiritual experience.  That would be hugely jumping to conclusions.  You can't know revolutionary things about the nature of the universe from an "oceanic" or spiritual personal experience.

There are people who naturally think this way, naturally have those "dreamy" experiences.  Including me to some extent.  If you have that kind of experience, but you are rational enough not to come to huge conclusions about the nature of reality as a result, you could be described as "spiritual but not religious".

Probably a lot of people who think of themselves as liberal Christians or rational religious people, don't make supernatural assumptions.  They might consider God to be ineffable or to be a common shared human experience.  Essentially they are atheists, they are just using a different language.

If you strip away the delusions from religion - the idea that a Being out there is magically engineering your life, etc. - then you are left with "spiritual but not religious".  I find people's delusions annoying and something of a red flag - but I don't consider delusions to be "spiritual".  Rather the opposite - delusion gives revelation a bad name. 

I disagree.  Years ago, I had a considerable stint with the Transcendental Meditation organization.  I learned the technique in 1971 and between July of 1975 and December of 1977, worked full time for the organization.  During the time I was regular with the technique, I had my own rasher of experiences, some mild, some enough to knock your socks off, but in retrospect, not one sourcing from anyone other than first-person, singular, nor did any teaching of the TM movement suggest otherwise.  Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of the TM movement, would occasionally talk about god in his videotaped lectures, but as to the technique itself, it was completely independent of any form of belief and taught as such.

Some of my fellow meditators might call the experiences resulting from the technique, "spiritual," to which I respond again, "Where's the spirit?"  I've heard Hitchens, Harris and others refer to such experiences as "numinous," but its definition also relates either to spirituality or gods.  Thus is the problem of such experiences: they have been claimed in large portion by religion or spirituality when they truly belong to neither.  They are part of the intrinsic capacity of the human animal, generated by him or her, yet habitually ascribed to something OUTSIDE the human, as though it were somehow superimposed.

Harris has spoken about the need to recognize the universality of such experiences, that no one religion or discipline can lay exclusive claim to them, and the need for independent study of this class of experiences.  If we are truly to understand them, they must be understood and studied without the extraneous paraphernalia of religion, mysticism or woo, and indeed, we may need a new vocabulary to give fresh expression to them.

The term 'spiritual but not religious' applies to wankers as do the terms 'spiritual', 'spiritual and religious', and 'religious'.

I say rope them, brand them, don't try to understand them. They're just loathsome, despicable wankers.

Wankers should be forbidden from holding public office, attend seperate churches, denied natural justice and made to sit at the back of the bus, without exception.

I would say it all depends on what you make of the word 'spiritual' and what they make of it. While most people and their experiences would be covered by Loren's answer, but some are different. I was seeing a shrink sometime ago. I told her that I am an atheist and she seemed okay with that. Later on, when talking about alleviating stress, she advised me to meditate. She must have seen the consternation on my face, as she informed me that she too was a non-believer, but that she was recommending meditation as she felt that it puts the mind at ease and that it was "almost spiritual". Well, it wasn't as plain as that, as she brought in Hindu mysticism in it a bit, but I could faintly understand what she implied by 'spiritual'. As far as I could tell, her usage did not have any religious undertones. Whatever she meant by it, it was certainly odd for a shrink.

And then again, the word is thrown about quite a bit. Many blokes, recounting their experiences with psychedelic drugs, term them spiritual. Being one with the universe, death of the ego, unity between self and the outside world - all of these experiences in a 'trip' have been reported as spiritual by users. So yeah, it can mean a lot of things. All of them to be received with skepticism. 




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