IN DEFENSE OF GOING "SPIRITUAL BUT NOT RELIGIOUS"
Why Going Spiritually Rogue is Here to Stay
In Defense of Going “Spiritual But Not Religious”
Why Going Spiritually Rogue is Here to Stay
Is going “Spiritual But Not Religious” a respectable move?
Some would say, “No. It isn’t.”
Plenty are against it. Few openly defend it. The ones who (often bashfully) admit doing it are often – how should we say it? “sneered at”? “looked down upon”? seen as “lesser-than”? – by those who operate within institutions (also sometimes known as the “religious-but-not-spiritual.”)
These types go by many names: the “Nones.” The “irreligious.” “Spiritual cowboys/cowgirls.”
But it’s no mystery why so many people are going spiritually rogue.
There are plenty of good reasons for it.
A basic rule of thumb could be this: if the religious institutions within driving distance just aren’t that good, maybe go rogue.
If the religious institutions within range are basically glorified social clubs – and you don’t really need a social club – maybe go rogue.
If the religious institutions within range do little more than remind you of stale platitudes that you don’t especially need to be reminded of, maybe go rogue.
If nearby religious institutions can’t answer straight questions with no-nonsense answers – even if those answers are “you don’t know jack about squat, but stick around for a while, and you might learn something” – maybe go rogue.
If all the religious institutions within range seem to be selling ideas nobody actually seems to believe, selling The Way to Heaven By Way of Boredom, entertaining and flattering with emotional roller-coaster rides, or preaching political activism dressed up in spiritual clothes, maybe go rogue.
If all religious institutions nearby offer little more than a small core of good ideas surrounded by a big, possibly corrupt bureaucracy that feeds off those ideas, maybe go rogue.
If all of the religious institutions seem like a history museum full of old, once-living spiritual experiences, artificially preserved in formaldehyde and propped up for display, maybe go rogue.
After all, life is short.
We all face existential riddles. We all need to get more existentially fit. We’re all working to stay sane and strong. We’re all philosophers, and we’re all religious, and the trick is to get better at it.
There are plenty of good answers out there.
In our few years on the planet, there’s just not enough time to horse around with the low-caliber, Grade B, “God is my hobby” fluff. The Eternal Footman is holding our coat for us, and snickering, as Eliot might say.
We don’t settle for “good enough” from our cell phones, cars, and cable providers. We ask for – even demand (usually to hapless, encubicled customer service agents) – excellence.
But when it comes to The Big Questions that form the foundation for well, everything we think and experience in life, we’re often satisfied with – well, winging it, or trusting it to whoever hangs a shingle within a three-mile radius. Or we ask, so fervently and reverently, “What Would Oprah Do?”
But there are better approaches out there.
They’re no-nonsense, intelligent, seriously insightful.
The trick is finding them, and avoiding the avalanches of spiritual junk food. (And the cults.)
It is true that there are plenty of hazards – and even dangers – in traveling this route. (Agent Mary has spelled several of those out here.) This entire game can be easy to underestimate. But if you engage, it means you’re tromping through the Existential No-Man’s Zone. This path can be lonely. Bouts of confusion and disorientation are guaranteed. There’s a big difference between looking at a watch and building a watch.
Same with a “spiritual path.”
It can be easy to let yourself go, for example. (See The Simpsons episode, “Homer the Heretic,” season 4, episode 3). If you’re doing it because you’ve just ripped your one-size-fits-all pants and you’d rather sleep in and eat sticks of butter, a full-body motivation exam might be in order. If you decide that you’re fully enlightened or that your “religion” consists of volleyball and beer, it’s probably time for some kind of systems check. It’s easy to pull a Rip Van Wrinkle and fall asleep for twenty or fifty years. It’s not for the faint-of-heart.
Going spiritual-but-not-religious is like leaving the safer, tamer, 9-to-5 “company man” corporate gig in favor of becoming an entrepreneur. It’s possible to go broke. Soft Nihilism is all the rage for a reason.
But it’s also possible to hit it big. This route is higher risk, higher reward.
It’s not for everyone. But some of the most dedicated and talented people in the world occasionally fit in this category. Their sacrifices and achievements – often unheralded, invisible, ignored and forgotten – sometimes dwarf those of casual pew-warmers. In some cases, they’ve spent decades questioning, meditating, thinking, praying, traveling the globe, studying with teachers, testing, and experimenting – often entirely alone, at their own expense, and with no promise of any tangible reward other than the possibility that they might, one day, discover something useful.
They shouldn’t be left out of the conversation.
Because sometimes, they’ve actually made some pretty good discoveries.
Despite all the insanity and absurdity in the air these days, it’s a great time to be alive. Those who say otherwise usually know little about history. Many of the greatest people in the world alive today, and many of the greatest thoughts that have ever been thunk, are now practically at our fingertips. This would have been utterly impossible until about three minutes ago, historically speaking. Many of us, like the guys in the library Morgan Freeman lectures in Se7en, horse around and diddle games while ignoring all the vast worlds of possibilities all around them.
But we don’t have to. We’re here, now. We can dive in. And go.
So, be cautious. Be humble. Stay frosty.
But take full advantage of it, and milk it for all it’s worth. The payoff might be surprising.