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What Are the Spiritual But Not Religious Really Saying?

By Conscious Owl | Inner Peace

Mar 03
spiritual versus religious

Are you a spiritual tourist? Do you have a keen interest in the latest gurus, practices and paths, but shun hanging out in a church, temple, synagogue or mosque? Are you afraid of “getting married and settling down,” given the long string of abuse that stigmatizes so many religious institutions?

If you could spend an hour with His Holiness, Pope Francis I, and you could really speak your mind, what would you tell Him about the Church?

If you could spend an hour with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, what advice would you seek from Him on how to find a truly enlightened spiritual community?​

Who Are The “Spiritual, But Not Religious”?

In the U.S., nearly a quarter of the adult population is religiously unhoused. Less than 10% have grown up without any kind of religion, and less than 10% are either agnostic or atheist. The majority believes in some kind of “God,” but they have difficulty in relating to the established traditions, or confining themselves to a single path.

The spiritually independents average 36 years of age, compared to an overall average of 46. They skew more towards men than women and more towards whites than other ethnic groups. Only half consider religion unimportant, and even atheists are beginning to have an interest in spiritual practices, with an increasing respect for consciousness, itself.

With increasing ethnic and religious diversity in the U.S., an ever-larger segment of the population has shown interest in such thought leaders as Dr. Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle.

A full 20% of the population might be characterized as Cultural Creatives, or Greens, who are much more apt to be religiously homeless than the Fundamentalists, or even the Modernists.

Why Are the Spiritual Independents Growing So Fast?

In the last decade or two, the Millennials have increasingly become unaffiliated, currently around 35%. Even older generations are becoming increasingly unaffiliated, Baby Boomers currently at 17%, with Gen Xers at 23%. For many of them, religion has become totally irrelevant. Those who are spiritual seek fulfillment in unconventional ways, including psychoactive drugs.

Globalization has proceeded at a relentless pace since the end for the Cold War in the late 1980’s. The Clinton Administration commercialized the Internet in the wake of the World Wide Web, and cyberculture emerged as a real force. This was accentuated by broadband Internet, followed by mobile media, via the smart phone, and social media, establishing meaningful community among people throughout the world, regardless of location.​

The militarization of the George W. Bush Administration, closely identified with Christian Fundamentalism, further served to alienate the youth, much as the Johnson Administration did to their parents through escalating the War in Vietnam. While President Obama was initially promising in his commitment to global citizenship, he got hopelessly embroiled in various wars in his second term in office.​

Religion or Spirituality or Mysticism?

When we look closely at the whole notion of religion, we increasingly identify its institutional aspects, the outer housing of an inner core of truth. You can spend an entire lifetime in a religious environment without being deeply spiritual. One can only look at people who have gone through Parochial schools.

Spirituality refers to the inner aspect of religion. Spiritual people are concerned with experiencing what it is all about and following a practice that might make them more loving and realized human beings. Typically, the spiritual are unclear about where the path leads. They just want to get there somehow.

Mysticism is the experiential, transcendent aspect of spirituality where you “get it” in all its implications. Rather than becoming a Christian, you experience BEING CHRIST, BUDDHA OR KRISHNA. Your identity expands to include the entire planet, and beyond that to fill the universe. Ultimately you realize the very galaxies, themselves, spin within the context of your Absolute Being.​

religion vs spirituality vs mysticism

**Above image was used from the book Awaken Perfection.

Awaken Perfection

All the great traditions started with profound mystics. One need only think of Moses on Mount Sinai, or Jesus giving the Sermon on the Mount or Muhammad with his Night Flight atop Jerusalem. Spirituality emerged from following the paths they pioneered, and eventually got hardened into doctrine and dogma, for better or worse.

East + West = Planetary Transformation

In recent decades, planetary consciousness has emerged, where among intelligent, well-informed people, only a global context is sufficient to deal with the challenges of contemporary life, such as climate change or religiously sanctioned terrorism.

We are now a planetary society, but most of us are still anchored in ancient traditions that were initially tribal in orientation.

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Since well before the Beatles’ Maharishi, gurus, rishis and saints from South Asia and the Far East have flooded America. In addition, increasing numbers of Asians have immigrated to the U.S. shores, following World War II and the War in Vietnam. Asians now comprise over five percent of the general population. More and more people relate to terms like Karma, Dharma and Reincarnation.

India and China, however, could greatly benefit from the focus on divine love from the Abrahamic religions. These religions have, indeed, already made considerable impact all over Asia. The problem is that the Western religions are only beginning to see the Light of the East and listen deeply to its unmatched wisdom and insight.​

eastern vs western spirituality

**Above image was used from the book Awaken Perfection.

Awaken Perfection

Western religions have a deep appreciation for the historical dimension of humanity, while the Eastern religions are very clear that we are God’s dream. If you put them both together, you will begin to realize the Great Story and the Great Dream.

Every one of our stories intersects every other story, and every one of our dreams intersects every other dream. Ultimately, there is only the dance of INTERBEING. The faster we realize this, the faster we can begin to save the world.

What the Spiritual Independents Want the Churches to Hear

Spiritual independents deeply care about matters of ultimate concern, but they don’t feel that their contemporary religious options are sufficient for them to find spiritual community in any institutionalized faith. They would ask us:

  • Why don’t you build a church where all faiths and traditions are equally respected and appreciated?
  • Why don’t you actually LIVE YOUR FAITH, turn the other cheek, and stop inadvertently destroying the planet with your carbon footprint and your unreflective reliance on missiles?
  • Why don’t you show me a way that I can directly experience God for myself, rather than relying on an elaborate belief system?
  • Why don’t you give me a philosophy or theology thoroughly grounded in contemporary science, showing appreciation for both the relativity of Einstein, and the quantum mechanics of Heisenberg?
  • Why don’t you become thought leaders, rather than thought laggards, showing us how all final meaning and fulfillment are impossible without coming to terms with our Ultimate Source?

How the Religious Establishment Can Best Respond

Established traditions have hardly been asleep. Both the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis I have broken all boundaries and become ultimate spokesmen for humanity. They are joined by any number of luminaries, such as Bishop Tutu of South Africa. Their Buddhism and Christianity defy boundaries, and they are unfettered from religious prejudices, such as suppressing Gays and Lesbians.

As Pope Francis I put it, “Who am I to judge?”

Religious traditions have rich lineages going back literally thousand of years, and all of them have significant mystical traditions, although India unquestionably takes first place. They are beginning to take comparative religion seriously. It is noteworthy that the Catholic Church picked up Centering Prayer by improvising on the Maharishi’s TM Technique.

Most importantly, the churches, mosques, synagogues and temples have a global community that is becoming more and more interesting with the Internet, mobile, social and digital technology. We will see significant offers in virtual reality within the next year or two.

If the Establishment begins to realize the value of the spiritually independent, they will recruit them like there is no tomorrow, and actively seek their advice and perspective.

How You Can Enter the Great Conversation

You, yourself, can contribute to the new global dialogue opening up among all faiths. You can follow the Parliament of Religions, or back the United Religions Initiative, that actively matches people of diverse faiths seeking a common perspective, and works on pressing initiatives, such as rebuilding inner cities, and reconciling people caught up in racial, ethnic and religious tension.

Who knows? As a “spiritual tourist,” you might even end up getting “married!”

... Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments area below.​


About the Author

One conscious owl to another... sharing what we learned over the years, and from many wise owls before us.