Have you heard a friend or peer explain, “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious”? Or have you used the same phrase to explain your spiritual life? You’re not alone. A growing number of millennials and Gen Z’ers claim this as their approach to faith. But the question remains as to what this approach means for our spiritual well-being, our choices, and ultimately our path in life.
The “spiritual, but not religious” claim, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, means to observe a variety of ‘spiritual’ practices, such as prayer, contemplation, or following certain moral standards, without doing so according to a religious practice. For example, some people may examine their conscience before bed to reflect on their actions, but not observe other Catholic teachings like going to Mass.
Ultimately, the “spiritual but not religious” practice emphasizes total focus on the self first for perceiving the world, other humans, and themselves. It’s changeable at any time, according to the person’s mood or preferences. It does not require any outside influence or guidance to continue on. While this idea may sound appealing on a surface level, it poses a real danger to us and each other. By placing oneself at the center of the spiritual universe, people who observe ‘spirituality’ debase God, other people, and ultimately themselves.
A self-driven faith places the person at the pinnacle of creation, above all else. We are the determiners of morality, reason, and justice. While not fully intended by the person, this tries to detract from God’s role as the source of love and wisdom. It rejects his place as the Supreme Being, the Creator, the King.
It also ignores the inherent value of all other humans with us. If we place our own interests ahead of everything else, we lose sight of our duty to care for each other. Even with all the focus on ourselves through this “spirituality”, we lose touch with who we are: children of God, brothers and sisters to each other, people created out of and for love.
The purpose of faith is to realize who we are, who God is, and why we exist. Love is the ability to carry out our lives with that full understanding faith gives us. In other words, faith is the reasoning, love is the action. To be able to live out both authentically, we need to reject the idea that we live only for ourselves, for our own interests and preferences. We live for God, who is love, and out of love for our brothers and sisters.