Your thoughts on being spiritual but not religious
In a recent column, the Franciscan Fr. Daniel P. Horan suggests that it may not be such a bad thing to be spiritual but not religious. “What if our starting point in thinking about what it means to be a person in communion with God, self and the world were not reduced to institutional membership, but rather began with the inherent human capacity to God ?” he writes. Below are letters to the editor from NCR readers that have been edited for length and clarity.
Congratulations for this article. I would love to see more spirituality in the NCR, much more. For me, all that religious rhetoric is about is getting in touch with one’s own spirituality.
Now that’s hard work. It takes sitting quietly, listening, maybe changing assumptions and doing the hard work. There is no one or institution to blame. Often it is much easier to talk about the problems.
Spirituality is alive today. Let’s see more in NCR.
Every individual has a relationship with God, whether he recognizes God or not. The need to be a member, let alone participate, in an organization to affect this relationship is, for many people, superfluous. Belonging to an organized religion can give an individual a sense of belonging that fulfills a psychological need. Others find that the need is met through interactions with others in different environments and that religion does not provide this outlet.
Franciscan P. Daniel P. Horan’s essay is food for thought and compels us to recognize the intrinsic value of all others, whether they profess to belong to a religion or claim to be exclusively spiritual. Practicing a religion in the traditional sense for many is definitive of their relationship not only with God but with others who share the same beliefs. Spirituality, as Horan asserts, can create in many people the same attributes with which we associate religious people; compassion and charity, among others.
From Horan’s essay, it can also be inferred that the cultural clashes that we experience and which, unfortunately, seem to be reflected in some of our faithful companions, give pause to people who are not fully committed to belonging to the church as a means of expressing their need for a relationship with God. It seems that these people see the hypocrisy of clerics as well as many lay people and wonder if they themselves would be part of this scenario which is diametrically opposed to what their church teaches.
CHARLES A. LE GUERN
This piece is Pope Francis’ pontificate in spades. Leave out the “maybe” and put in “definitely”. The author is right to say that the Catholic Church as a religious institution is an obstacle to spirituality. This is nothing new or unique for young people. As a septuagenarian and now a “cultural Catholic”, I can say that this has been a problem in the church for at least my life.
People are “spiritual” first and “religious” second. The church never understood that even though that’s what they said they believed. The scriptures declare that mankind is made into the “icon” of God. God is Spirit therefore humans are embodied spirits = spiritual. Religious institutions must incorporate and reflect the spiritual life of humanity.
Has the Catholic Church lost its youth? “Perhaps.” Culture warrior clerics are still fighting in the trenches. With the abortion battle won, contraceptives are in their sights, then same-sex marriages, then – there’s no end to it. Resistance to Francis is strong among so-called neo-conservatives and neo-traditionalists who have no interest in enabling let alone perpetuating his agendas.
Those who choose a spiritual life over a religious life realize the truth that God created them, loves them, and cares for them now and in eternity. The dogma says that God is simplicity, just like the relationship with God. When the Catholic Church begins to realize this, it will become relevant in people’s lives. By doing so, he will have something genuine to offer and people will be attracted to him. Will the church change its ways before it’s too late? Perhaps.
MICHAEL J. McDERMOTT
“Maybe being ‘spiritual but not religious’ isn’t such a bad thing” confuses issues with careless vocabulary.
Franciscan Fr. Daniel P. Horan quotes Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, “Long before we do anything religious, we must do something about the fire that burns within us. What we do with that fire… it is our spirituality.” Spirituality is part of all human life and has nothing to do with faith or religion. These three elements must be separated in the discussion, even if they are often linked in practice.
When someone says they are spiritual, they are acknowledging the duality of human nature, rejecting pure materialism, affirming that human beings are made up of material and spiritual parts. Meditation, for example, can be spiritually, psychically, beneficial without any conscious reference to God or any faith. It is a spirituality without religion. Horan confuses the issue by injecting a relationship with God into this awareness.
Horan’s hope that “Catholicism in general and diverse spiritual traditions … can offer resources for meaning-making and religious belonging”, focuses on Christian cultures rather than the Gospel.
Christians are not called to any particular spirituality. Catholics are called to another renewal. We have failed to preach faith in our lives, in our differences from competitive civilian culture. We need to live in communities rather than institutions. We must practice the loving spirit of Jesus.
St. Louis, Missouri
Join the conversation
We can’t publish everything. We will do our best to represent the full range of letters received. Here are the rules:
- Letters to the editor should be submitted to [email protected]
- Letters to the editor should be limited to 250 words.
- Letters should include your name, address, city, state, and zip code. We will post your name and city, state, but not your full address.
- If the letter refers to a specific article published on ncronline.org, please send the article title or link.
- Please include a daytime phone number where we can reach you. We will not publish your phone number. It can be used for verification.
We cannot guarantee publication of all letters, but you can be assured that your submission will receive careful consideration.
Published letters may be edited for length and style.
Letters containing erroneous information or misleading content without a correct source will not be published.
Letters to the editor are published online every Friday.