There’s been an awful lot of conversation about the Spiritual Not Religious phenomenon in the last few years, which seems mostly to revolve around how to get them to show up for religious services somewhere. I just received yet another invitation to a seminar on the topic of Spiritual Not Religious to be led by a panel of religious experts. It feels to me an awful lot like a panel of men gathering to discuss women’s issues with no women in the room - and THAT would surely never happen. Oh wait . . .
Not that I’m saying religious experts shouldn’t discuss the category of persons who identify as Spiritual Not Religious any more than I think men shouldn’t discuss women’s issues. What I am saying is that someone who actually identifies as Spiritual Not Religious should be part of those panel discussions and seminars.
For the past 24 years I have been a member of an organization that specifically identifies itself in its literature as a “spiritual - not religious - program.” When I joined I hated God, I hated church, I really hated church people. I knew I was going to hell because I was a woman, because I couldn’t believe what I was taught in the church I grew up in, because I did bad things from the time I was a very little girl . . . That program, that spiritual not religious program, taught me about a God who loves and forgives and cares about me. That program, that spiritual not religious program, taught me how to form a relationship with a God of my understanding - not the one I learned about in church. That program, that spiritual not religious program taught me how to be non-judgmental, how to forgive, how to love others, how to love myself, and how to trust. None of those things were on the educational agenda in the church where I grew up.
I eventually found my way back to church, although I returned to a very different Christian tradition than the one I left. Since then I’ve met a large number of clergy and other devout persons in many different faith traditions who have a story similar to mine.
But a lot of people never return. Their ability to trust has been so severely damaged that they may never heal. Those people, those Spiritual Not Religious people, are not going to be convinced by arguments or panel discussions or carefully crafted advertising campaigns specifically aimed toward them. Those people will only be convinced by seeing a difference in those persons and institutions that hurt them. I am often rejected as soon as they learn what I do for a living but eventually I am able to show that I am not trying to drag them kicking and screaming into my church - that I really do respect their belief system.
Mind you, not everyone who identifies as Spiritual Not Religious comes from that program or others like it. That is just where my personal experience as part of the SNR phenomenon comes from.
And . . there is a very good chance that some of the religious experts on some of those panels have personal knowledge and/or experience with what it means to be Spiritual Not Religious. But if you are not one of them, those Spiritual Not Religious folks, please, don’t judge. Don’t make assumptions. Instead, listen. Ask questions. Be willing and open to learning a new thing.
And trust that God knows what She is doing better than we do.