Spiritual but not religious (“Nons”)

“Nons” may be a term you’ve heard to refer to people considering themselves “Spiritual but not Religious”. More than one fifth of Americans describe themselves with this phrase.
“According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2012, the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion has increased from 15% in 2007 to 20% in 2012, and this number continues to grow. One fifth of the US public and a third of adults under the age of 30 are reportedly unaffiliated with any religion, however they identify as being spiritual in some way. Of these religiously unaffiliated Americans, 37% classify themselves as spiritual but not religious, while 68% say they do believe in God, and 58% feel a deep connection to the earth” [1]
In fact, a more recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows a remarkable 27% of U.S. adults identify as spiritual but not religious. The trend follows for Europe, where 18.2% of the entire continent is Irreligious, as of 2012. Estonia, The Netherlands, and the Czech Republic all have irreligious majorities, and if we imagine a similar one-third identifying as spiritual but not religious, the numbers are huge.
SBNR, as is the popular initialism of the popular phrase, is simply used to identify a life stance of spirituality that takes issue with organized religion.
Spirituality is often associated with the interior life of the individual. Since it is self-identifying and non-institutional, it is virtually impossible to put a finger on any common tenets or belief systems held by people considering themselves SBNR, so here we will seek to explore some common, but not exclusive, trends.

From Outside Online’s article “We’ve Reached Peak Wellness. Most of it is Nonsense“:

Organized religion is on the decline in America, especially for younger people. The 2018 American Family Survey, conducted by Deseret News in Utah, found that “for millennials and GenXers, the most common religion is no religion at all.” This may not be problematic in itself, but for centuries, religion served as a driving purpose for many people. When nothing fills this vacuum, the effect can be a negative one. A study published earlier this year in JAMA Network Openfound that people without a strong life purpose—defined as a sense of feeling rooted in your life and taking actions toward meaningful goals—were more than twice as likely to die between the years of the study (2006 to 2010) compared with people who had one, even after controlling for things like gender, race, wealth, and education level. Speaking to NPR, Celeste Leigh Pearce, one of the authors of the study, said, “I approached this [study] with a very skeptical eye, [but] I just find it so convincing that I’m developing a whole research program around it.” Alan Rozanski, a cardiology professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City, says that purpose is “the deepest driver of well-being there is.”

Sub-Pages

From New-Age to the principle-driven, the pages below will share details and resources for each of these related spheres.

William James definition of religious experience well-captures the openness and sentiment of Nons: “Feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.” [2]
For Nons, there is usually emphasis placed on a holistic mind-body-spirit connection and health. It commonly sees crossover with eastern influences and New Age Spirituality, with some Nons practicing Tai Chi, reiki, yoga (though modern yoga practice often differs from Yoga Philosophy), and other related practices.

Learn about Stoicism HERE.

What both religion and spirituality have in common is a sense of the supernatural. A spiritual person who does not affiliate with a religious institution has the freedom to design and foster an individualized set of views on the supernatural. Commonly, especially in modern America, where SBNR is prevalent and growing, these views pull from Eastern religious concepts. Fascination with ZenBuddhism, meditation, especially Mindfulness and Transcendental meditation, and other eastern fixations are common within within SNBR, especially with New Age thinkers. One might also find influence from classical philosophy such as Stoicism.

Many adherents of major religious institutions criticize SNBR, calling it self-centered, lazy, or self-glorifying. Some religious practitioners find it inappropriate to pick pieces of a religion that one agrees with, while denying other parts. It is true that it is an entirely different approach, as Nons look inward for spiritual belief rather than toward a community or tradition. SBNR widens the spectrum of religious practice itself, by ignoring exclusivity and breaking many customs and traditions.
It it a common belief among SBNR’s that spirituality is a highly personal process, and the choice to draw from the experiences of of other people, cultures, and religions freely is up to the individual.
  • Wikipedia
  • NPR on SBNR: an interesting article by NPR.
  • New York Times on SBNR: an interesting article trying to pinpoint the title and examining its growth.
  • Huffington Post on SBNR: another article trying to pinpoint SBNR. This one reads like a self-help article.
  • SBNR facebook: an official SBNR facebook group.
  • Top 10 reasons for SBNR: an interesting article of self-realizations and a good video at the end.
  • Beliefnet.com: a lifestyle site dedicated to faith and inspiration. Doesn’t subscribe to any particular religion, but pull from all of them equally for inspiration.
  • Dailyom.com: offers daily inspirational articles. More New Age, the site shows a fascination with eastern religions.
  • SedonaNewAgeStore: Here is a fun case study of a New Age hub in Arizona. You can find shops for crystals, horoscopes, articles, and other learning resources for New Age Spiritualism here.
  • Nine Gates Mystery School: “Initiations and rites of passage open gateways out of normal states of awareness, revealing new views of yourself and all you once labeled as “real.” You will touch a Universal Truth not as something out there, but rather as near as your own heart.”

Books

A Call to Religious Revolution in America: pretty much an encapsulating book of this movement, both in its context and presentation, as well as in its content.

A book by J. Krishnamurti, this is a must read for anyone interested in thinking about their life in a spiritual context. It was also a landmark book for early SNBR’s.

A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment: The title says it all about this #1 New York Times Bestseller. Live in the now, man.

A Hugely popular book by Echhart Tolle, #1 New York Times Bestseller. It proclaims how the removal from an ego-based state of conscious is the key to happiness and peace on earth.

A bestselling book proclaiming to gather the comprehensive secrets to happiness and well-being from the wisdom of traditions, literature, and the world’s religions.

“Describes one man’s transformation upon his acceptance of the principles of Yoga and gives a modern restatement of the importance of the spiritual side of man’s nature”

An ancient manuscript is discovered in Peru containing key insights into life.

This leader of modern spirituality approaches money-making with subtle, unseen forces of the spirit.

by Alan Watts, this book shows that a root of our human conflict is not knowing who we are, and how to approach it.

Videos

Religion vs Spirituality: A New Age youtuber compares spirituality and religion. ~10 minutes
Oprah Winfrey interviews a preacher who accepts SBNR
TEDx talk on SBNR: a lecture about an Iranian immigrant’s experience as an SNBR
The Church for the Spiritual But Not Religious: a silly parody/satire of this way of thinking.
What is Spirituality? an answer from a Guru called Sadhguru. He is an example of a non-denominational Indian guru that many SBNR westerners look to for guidance in their spiritual wanderings.
Osho: Oracles, Tarot, and Other Divination Tools: Osho, a well-known eastern guru, who many consider to be a New Age cult leader, has many videos on youtube. Here is one where he addresses Divination Tools and things to understand oneself.
Alan Watts – Spirituality: Why we Need it: an audio lecture on why we need spirituality. ~53 min
The Science and Spirituality of Meditation: A short documentary. ~16
Crystals: What they are and How they Help Us: A new age subject approached by a New Age hippie. Healing and vibrations!
Criticism:
Tim Minchin’s Storm the Animated Movie: A musical comedian collaborates with an animator to create a video criticizing New Age beliefs. A hypothetical scenario of Minchin at a dinner party reckoning with a SBNR person, in which he offers that ignorance and unknown is ok, even enlightening, and faith/spirituality need not be a means of reckoning with the un-explainable.

Kumare

An Indian-American man pretends to be a guru and attracts following in Arizona, laying bare our western fascination with Eastern mysticism.

Snippets

On inter-connectedness:

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder and marvel, is as good as dead. It was the experience of mystery, even if mixed with fear, which engendered religion. Our knowledge of the existence of something impenetrable to us, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds – this very knowledge, this emotion, constitute true spirituality and religiosity. In this sense and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to to conceive of an individual that survives physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.

–Albert Einstein

References:
  1. Funk, Cary; Smith, Greg. “”Nones” on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation” (PDF).pewforum.org. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
  2. Kenneson, Philip D. (July 2015). “What’s in a Name? A Brief Introduction to the “Spiritual But Not Religious””.Liturgy30