What does that even mean, anyway?
When asked about my religious beliefs, I clam up. Last year, some friends of mine who have a band did a prayer circle before hitting the stage for a show. They’re not a Christian band but they’re a group of guys whose faith is important to them. I respect it.
They invited me in because I’m the person in the back of the room selling their t-shirts, records, and beer koozies. The sixth unofficial member.
I froze. I had no idea what to do. Did I belong there? Do I pray? Do I close my eyes? Fake it? Look down? What. Do. I. Do? I grabbed our friend Robert and made him join me. I don’t know if he’s forgiven me yet. Probably not. Absolution is a gray area.
When I was asked my religious affiliation on dating apps, I put “spiritual but not religious.” Here’s the problem: I have no idea what this means any more than telling someone I belong to any one religion.
If that sounds misguided and confusing to you, it’s because it’s the same way to me.
There are a few issues at play here that are driving me to leave the concept behind. Namely, it seems like a weird kind of religious cherry-picking.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of us who have struggled with faith at any point are just too afraid to commit to any one concept or religion. So, spiritual it is.
People that say they’re spiritual but not religious have a tendency to believe in a mishmash of religions, taking out of them the good stuff and leaving behind the bad.
I'm guilty of this. I have a meditation space in the corner of my living room and a Bible on my bedside table.
Everyone loves the concept of Zen meditation. It feels good. Mindfulness is a fantastic thing. We want to meditate but we can’t remember the Eightfold Path in order to follow it. Five moral precepts of what? So Buddhism is out. We’re spiritual, but not religious.
Maybe, we believe in God but the stand-up, sit down practice of Sunday church is more cardio than we need. It’s formal. We don't like the collection plate. We don't understand the Bible. It would really help if someone created a flow chart. Don’t look at me to do it. I’m busy trying to figure out how I feel about Moses. So Christianity is out. We’re spiritual, but not religious.
Judaism is straight-up old school. There’s just God. We can wrap our brains around that but learning a whole set of formal holidays is overwhelming. And what do we do with the guilt and the not eating of bacon? I don’t know how I feel about a religion that makes me give up bacon. So, we can’t be Jewish. We’re spiritual, but not religious.
I am on a path of exploring my faith and trying to figure out what I believe. One main concept that I have embraced is the fact that being religious does not mean you have to go to a church or any other house of worship. Ever. Period. That frees me to move beyond spiritual and into religious.
Church makes me feel uncomfortable. So, I play Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples gospel albums on my record player on Sunday mornings. It counts. My house is my chosen house of worship.
At some point in our lives, we need to figure out what we believe. I think we owe ourselves that much. We can’t run around saying we’re spiritual and not take a minute to understand what we mean by spiritual.
Declaring myself as merely spiritual means I haven't given enough thought to what I hold as truth. How can I declare that I believe in a spiritual self without understanding what that spirit self means?
It’s the same reason I have a real hard time dating men with goatees. It’s too wishy-washy. I feel like by the time a man reaches his 40’s he should be able to decide whether or not he wants to have a beard. Partial beards do nothing for me. Do or do not. There is no try.
Here’s what I’m learning on this journey: There will be many different ways in which people interpret any one religion. We do not need to commit to a certain sect, denomination, or church in order to be religious.
It’s like reading Shakespeare. We can interpret it to the best of our ability but ten different people can come away with ten different readings and interpretations. None are wrong.
We can be religious without throwing ourselves into the catch-all of “spiritual.” A little religious compartmentalization can be helpful. It gives us parameters.
For me, part of this, admittedly, is steeped in being concerned with whether or not I’m wrong, something I have arrogantly never questioned in my reading of Hamlet. But, the Bible I question. What if I spent my whole life believing in something that is not true? It could happen.
My solace is that this holds true for every single facet of my material life. I can spend 20 years in a career and wonder what another path looked like. I can love someone and ruin the whole thing by overthinking whether they’re the right person.
We can find what works for us without Frankensteining our own religion together. Being a Jewish-Christian-Buddhist is not going to help us figure out our spiritual truth. Defining ourselves as religious only means defining our own concept of religion. We have that freedom.
The beautiful thing about it is that no one, no matter what they say, is an authority on it. It’s for us to decide. For me, I think I need to give it more thought instead of half-assing yet another part of my life.