Thursday, October 25, 2012

"I'm Spiritual, Not Religious."

I've heard this assertion many times among circles of friends who—like myself—have become disgusted with the hierarchical, traditional power structure of the Christian Church (the paradigm, not the denomination). I've heard many say "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual." Unfortunately, that's bull-hockey. Take this beautiful little quote from F. Schleiermacher:

Religion is the outcome neither of the fear of death, nor of the fear of God. It answers a deep need in man. It is neither a metaphysic, nor a morality, but above all and essentially an intuition and a feeling...Dogmas are not, properly speaking, part of religion: rather they are derived from it. Religion is the miracle of direct relationship with the infinite; and dogmas are the reflection of this miracle. Similarly belief in God, and in personal immortality, are not necessarily a part of religion; one can conceive of a religion without God, and it would be pure contemplation of the universe; the desire for personal immortality seems rather to show a lack of religion, since religion assumes a desire to lose oneself in the infinite, rather than to preserve one's own finite self.

It is important not to confuse religion with dogma. The latter proceeds from the former, not the other way around. Spirituality without religion is like a writer with no pen or paper. Good ideas, but no way to work those ideas into a meaningful practice.


  1. Another way to look at this quote is to associate spiritual with what Schleiermacher calls religion and religion with what Schleiermacher calls dogma. In this sense, people who claim spiritual but not religious are echoing Scheliermacher. It would be more like writing free of the rules, structures, and precedents set by the vast history of literature.

  2. Interesting quote!

    For me, this post highlights a problem of language.

    The quote says that religion is different from dogma, but it does not go on to say what religion is apart from dogma, except to say that it might be something like "pure contemplation of the universe"---which is what people think they mean when they use the word spirituality.

    Questions: What, then, is spirituality according to this argument? Why specifically it is preferable to call [the phenomenon in question] "religion" rather than "spirituality"? And what is the relation between the two?

    Again, for me this highlights a problem of language. As Aristotle wrote, "How many a dispute could have been deflated into a single paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms!"