I was reflecting on the now ubiquitous contemporary phrase: “I’m spiritual but not religious.” I asked a friend about this phrase and he replied: “Many associate the word ‘religious’ with fanaticism, irrationality, intolerance, and closed-mindedness, while ‘spirituality’ suggests something more detached, thoughtful, tolerant, and open.” The “binding” (re-ligare) of religion is seen as overly constrictive.
No doubt this is an accurate assessment of a widespread feeling. And yet — call me contrary or misguided if you will — the Reverend Harding makes me think that I’m religious but not spiritual.
Communities, like families, can be healthy or toxic, but western individualism provides no true alternative. Ironically, the spiritual-but-not-religious embrace a consumerist mentality that in other contexts they harshly criticize. The irony is compounded when one realizes that these spiritual individualists — inheritors of an “I” culture — most often pluck items off the shelf of “we” cultures. Spiritual tourism offers the benefits of wisdom derived from those who submit to authority and discipline and tradition without having to do so oneself.
But spiritual tourists have no home to return to; they are always restlessly consuming new experiences. They can’t eat, pray, and love enough.
(Gregory Wolfe, “Religious but Not Spiritual,” Image Journal, No. 68, 2017).