Spiritual but not religious? No thanks, I’ve got something far better

Last week I came across an article on the BBC website entitled ‘Spiritual but not Religious’.  It was written in response to a report that suggested ‘spiritual’ people may suffer worse mental health than conventionally religious, agnostic or atheist people.  I don’t want to discuss the ins and outs of why this may be the case here, but if you’d like to look into it then I recommend heading over to eChurch where there’s an excellent summary of the study.  The Spectator and Opinionated Vicar also have good opinion pieces on it too.

Instead, rather than focus on the findings, the article  attempted to define the term ‘spiritual’.  What caught my eye was the comment that according to Professor Michael King from University College London, about a fifth of people in the UK fit into the ‘spiritual but not religious’ category.  In the last census 25 percent of respondents described themselves as ‘not religious’ and it would be fascinating to see what proportion of this group would say that they are spiritual.  With the number of people associating their beliefs with an organised religion dropping I would expect ‘spiritual but not religious’ types to be on the increase.  If you go into a bookshop and browse the Spirituality section you’ll be able to purchase enough reading on a whole range of ‘spirituality’ topics to keep you going for the rest of your life.  Despite what the atheist lobby would like us to believe, most people realise there is something more to life than just our physical everyday existence.  What is important is where we go looking for the answers.

I live in a part of the country where Mind, Body, Spirit fairs are very popular and we have a number of New Age alternative therapy and wellbeing centres close by.  It’s easy to find out what they have to offer, but the more I learn about these practices, the more I find them shallow and self-centred.  The BBC article quotes a number of people with the typical range of beliefs that I’ve come across:

Gaetan Louis de Canonville practises mindfulness meditation in Richmond, south London. “We’re not worshipping a God or paying homage to something in the sky. It’s about learning to accept things like impermanence and living in the moment. If you get a glimpse of how happy you can be by embracing the moment, all the chattering of your thoughts stops.”

Mike Stygal, is a secondary school teacher who practises paganism in his private life. He believes in a divine force in nature. “I believe everything is connected, I feel very in touch with nature and the changing seasons. Awe is a very good word for how I feel. It’s a sense of deep respect for nature. I can communicate with the deity.”

Bridget McKenzie, a cultural learning consultant, does daily walking meditations. “It’s about making time to contemplate the awesomeness of life on earth, the extraordinary luck this planet has in sustaining life.”

She is not a pagan but for the summer solstice organises a Garlic Man Parade in south east London to reconnect with ancient traditions. “We all sense changes in the light as the seasons change. It’s important to mark the occasion.”

Colin Beckley, director of the Meditation Trust, says the only true spiritual experience is silence. “Transcendence is often triggered by nature like being on a mountainside. But by learning to meditate you can bring that mountain experience to your flat in London.”

Apologies for being rude, but it’s all so nebulous and terribly fluffy.  The problem is that if you reject faith in God and submission to Him whilst at the same time picking and choosing various beliefs to fill the inner spiritual void, the focus becomes your own happiness and self-interest with any fad or whim potentially worth exploring.  The problem with too much Pick and Mix as children often find out is that it will make you feel sick.  It won’t fill you up and has very little nutritional value.

Over Christmas I’ve been re-reading The Vision by Pete Greig, Director of Prayer at Holy Trinity Brompton Church and one of the founders of the 24-7 Prayer movement.  He wrote this poem on the wall of a prayer room back in 1999.  Since then it’s been published all round the world and translated into many different languages.  It’s draws a picture of just how incredible and life changing the Christian faith is.  It reminds me that I’m part of a world-changing movement with Jesus at the heart of it that stretches back through history and will continue for the centuries to come.  It blows all this ‘spirituality’ stuff right out of the water.

Why would I opt for a smorgasbord of spiritual vagueness  that has no guaranteed value when I can choose something far, far greater?

The Vision

So this guy comes up to me and says “what’s the vision? What’s the big idea?” I open my mouth and words come out like this… The vision?

The vision is JESUS – obsessively, dangerously, undeniably Jesus.

The vision is an army of young people.

You see bones? I see an army. And they are FREE from materialism.

They laugh at 9-5 little prisons. They could eat caviar on Monday and crusts on Tuesday. They wouldn’t even notice. They know the meaning of the Matrix, the way the west was won. They are mobile like the wind, they belong to the nations. They need no passport.. People write their addresses in pencil and wonder at their strange existence. They are free yet they are slaves of the hurting and dirty and dying. What is the vision ? The vision is holiness that hurts the eyes. It makes children laugh and adults angry. It gave up the game of minimum integrity long ago to reach for the stars. It scorns the good and strains for the best. It is dangerously pure.

Light flickers from every secret motive, every private conversation. It loves people away from their suicide leaps, their Satan games. This is an army that will lay down its life for the cause. A million times a day its soldiers

choose to lose that they might one day win the great ‘Well done’ of faithful sons and daughters.

Such heroes are as radical on Monday morning as Sunday night. They don’t need fame from names. Instead they grin quietly upwards and hear the crowds chanting again and again: “COME ON!”

And this is the sound of the underground The whisper of history in the making Foundations shaking Revolutionaries dreaming once again Mystery is scheming in whispers Conspiracy is breathing… This is the sound of the underground

And the army is discipl(in)ed.

Young people who beat their bodies into submission.

Every soldier would take a bullet for his comrade at arms. The tattoo on their back boasts “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain”.

Sacrifice fuels the fire of victory in their upward eyes. Winners. Martyrs. Who can stop them ? Can hormones hold them back? Can failure succeed? Can fear scare them or death kill them ?

And the generation prays

like a dying man with groans beyond talking, with warrior cries, sulphuric tears and with great barrow loads of laughter! Waiting. Watching: 24 – 7 – 365.

Whatever it takes they will give: Breaking the rules. Shaking mediocrity from its cosy little hide. Laying down their rights and their precious little wrongs, laughing at labels, fasting essentials. The advertisers cannot mould them. Hollywood cannot hold them. Peer-pressure is powerless to shake their resolve at late night parties before the cockerel cries.

They are incredibly cool, dangerously attractive


On the outside? They hardly care. They wear clothes like costumes to communicate and celebrate but never to hide. Would they surrender their image or their popularity? They would lay down their very lives – swap seats with the man on death row – guilty as hell. A throne for an electric chair.

With blood and sweat and many tears, with sleepless nights and fruitless days,

they pray as if it all depends on God and live as if it all depends on them.

Their DNA chooses JESUS. (He breathes out, they breathe in.) Their subconscious sings. They had a blood transfusion with Jesus. Their words make demons scream in shopping centres. Don’t you hear them coming? Herald the weirdo’s! Summon the losers and the freaks. Here come the frightened and forgotten with fire in their eyes. They walk tall and trees applaud, skyscrapers bow, mountains are dwarfed by these children of another dimension. Their prayers summon the hounds of heaven and invoke the ancient dream of Eden.

And this vision will be. It will come to pass; it will come easily; it will come soon. How do I know? Because this is the longing of creation itself, the groaning of the Spirit, the very dream of God. My tomorrow is his today. My distant hope is his 3D. And my feeble, whispered, faithless prayer invokes a thunderous, resounding, bone-shaking great ‘Amen!’ from countless angels, from hero’s of the faith, from Christ himself. And he is the original dreamer, the ultimate winner.


Categories: Faith in society, Morals & ethics, Theology

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3 replies

  1. Preach it brother!

    I’d agree with the pick n mix being a feel good focus, however it’s also something that inhabits our churches although I think to a lesser degree. How often do people move from church to church because of obscure reasons – they don’t like the preaching, it’s too cliquey, I’m not getting fed etc. We sometimes need to remember that it’s not about us,but about Jesus. We try to do it in our own strength yet we have a helper that we so often fail to receive.

    • Yes I agree that there are plenty of Christians languishing in a malaise of consumerist faith where what I can get out of church is more important than what I can give. To be honest, I think we’re all guilty of this at times. I know I am. The Christian faith is all about sacrificing ourselves through our worship of God, which is actually a privilege. When we turn the focus of our faith on ourselves, rather than God, we become second rate Christians and a poor reflection of the life Jesus sets out for us where we end up losing out on God’s blessings because we’re living our faith on our own terms. Jesus’ anger against the Pharisees in the Gospels is a stark reminder of what happens when we take our eyes off God.

  2. I read a book a while back by the French philosopher Andre’ Comte Sponville entitled The book of Atheist spirituality. He asks this question ”Can there be spirituality for humans without God” I was encouraged because many Atheists deny Spirituality,at least he recognised it but for him our thoughts and feelings our truth seeking were just immanent to the reality we observe, a consequence of our own psychological needs. In the end his view was similar to Buddhism or a kind of mysticism. It sounds lovely, may even be lovely but for me it does not represent any kind of challenge. When i read the teachings of Jesus i feel crushingly inadequate to the point of humility. I am reading Shane Clairbourne ”The irresistable Revolution” at the moment which echoes many of the sentiments in The Vision poem. Risky Radical, sacrificial . Its hard almost impossible to be that way in our culture but at least we should be inspired and desire even in our imperfect way to draw closer to God and do his will..

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