A more spiritual — not religious — generation

Can someone be spiritual without being religious?

Alan Miller wrote a guest column for CNN.com and said that being “spiritual, (but) not religious, is a cop-out.” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life suggests that it’s “not so much that people have stopped believing in God, but rather have drifted from formal institutions.”

Merriam-Webster defines “religious” as, “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.”

Spirituality is a philosophically complex yet an eloquent straightforward social phenomenon. It attempts to justify the state of nature by positing various interlinking ideas, teaching individuals about themselves and their community.

One can, of course, be personally interested with the affairs of his or her spirituality without outwardly accepting any major religious institution. He or she can endeavor to discover the truth of ultimate reality on his or her own, a complicated endeavor deserving immeasurable accolades.

Our generation rejects the idea that something as complex as the state of nature can simply be explained by a little black book that can fit in most backpacks and drawers, but this illuminates how our generation has been taught to think: We've been taught to be critical of ideas and we've been taught to think for ourselves.

When an individual thinks historically about the aspects of a particular religion — and there are many ways to understand religion, like anthropological, philosophical and scientific  means — they may not find that they align so tightly with that religion’s history of violence or oppression.

Every major religion becomes fragmented into different denominations, traditions and even beliefs. Look at any major religion throughout history and you'll find a plethora of unique differences that originate from friendly debate points only to evolve to heated, ideological confrontations.

The myriad of religious groups is important because it represents the epitome of every individual's spiritual journey; everyone interprets philosophical facts differently, whether minutely or starkly. The differences in every traditional religion represent differences in each individual’s interpretation.

So, in a way, when an individual pledges allegiance to a formal, religious institution, they are, by definition, agreeing to all of that religion's truth claims – following the truth claims contain no inherent, ideological contradictions.

Being spiritual, but not religious, isn’t a “cop-out” — it’s an “opt-in.”

By being interested in the matters of the spiritual, individuals are expressing their desire to discover the truths of this reality on their own. They're choosing to “opt-in” on an extraordinary philosophical journey of their own. They are not being limited by religions’ claims of truth with which they disagree.

Whether this decision is philosophically wise or unwise is not the issue. How religious one chooses to be isn't limited to traditional religious institutions, but opening up to each individual’s journey — something our generation is beginning to discover for itself.


Reach the columnist at spmccaul@asu.edu or follow him at sean_mccauley.


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