Rev. Lillian Daniel is calling a disenchanted generation of Christians back to church. Though she is a liberal Protestant, her message is resonating with evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics too.

Rev. Lillian Daniel is calling a disenchanted generation of Christians back to church. Though she is a liberal Protestant, her message is resonating with evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics.

Young people are disillusioned, disenchanted, and in some cases, downright disgusted with organized religion. So while they still want to follow Jesus, they are leaving the church and all its judgmental, hypocritical, anti-gay, partisan baggage behind. 

In the middle of this storyline, which is quite frankly growing staler by the headline, comes Rev. Lillian Daniel and her hit book When Spiritual But Not Religious is Not Enough. It’s incredibly well-written, and though she is a liberal Protestant minister, I think her message resonates with where many conservative evangelicals are.

Daniel shares how she has seen the good and bad sides of the local church–a BB gun-toting grandma, a rock-and-roller sexton, a worship service attended by animals and a group of theologians at Sing-Sing prison. Despite their flaws, she argues that local Christian communities play an important role in the life of faith, even though her spiritual journey extends well beyond the pews. Here we discuss why so many people want to follow Jesus without attending church and why she thinks this approach isn’t enough.

JM: In your opinion, why has this spiritual-but-not-religious (SBNR) trend become so popular today?

LD: People mean a lot of different things by SBNR, so let me clarify what I mean: Somebody who feels connected to the divine in some way but does not practice or worship with any community.

There are some people who might actually worship in our pews who might say, “Well, I think I’m spiritual but not religious.” I’m not talking about them. In that case, I think what they mean is, “Do not associate me with the type of obnoxious Christian who is judgmental and narrow-minded. Do not associate me with the nutty pastor who is burning the Quran.”

But in general, when other people say they’re SBNR, I think what they mean is, “I don’t worship anywhere, and I’m kind of proud of that because it implies that I’m a freethinker. I’m not spoon-fed dogma, and I don’t look down on other people who are different from me. Except, of course, people of faith who actually try to practice it in community.”

JM: But why is this approach “not enough?”

LD: When I say it’s not enough, I mean it’s not enough for me. And for other people who’ve been there and then hit a bump in the road and realized they didn’t have the spiritual depth to contend. For me, the SBNR path is too easy. It’s self-indulgent. There’s nothing unique in it, it merely reflects our culture of narcissism and individualism.

JM: But many people who consider themselves SBNR would respond to you by saying they are finding meaningful existence in the way they are choosing to follow God. What do you say to that? 

Book cover image courtesy of Jericho Books

Book cover image courtesy of Jericho Books

LD: Often I find that SBNRs perceive themselves as being in this brave and bold minority. They seem unaware that they’re in the mainstream of American culture. They want to tell you this shocking news, that they’ve left the church and don’t need it anymore and they’ve put together this interesting spiritual life of their own. The point I make in the book is, it’s actually not very interesting. These people have a sense of terminal uniqueness.

Here’s what I want to tell them: Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating.

JM: Ok, so then what’s your answer? What do you think community is so important to an individual’s faith?

LD: Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon. Community is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach.

I think a lot of those who can’t tolerate organized religion are really just frustrated by other people. They think, “if they could just kick all of the flawed human beings out of the church, we could really do this Jesus thing. Better to do my spiritual life solo, where I don’t have to be disturbed by the amateurs.” But that’s arrogant. Churches are just groups of people, schools for sinners, not a club of saints. We must acknowledge that we need each other.

We weren’t meant to read these sacred texts alone. From the beginning people read them out loud in groups, early on in the first centuries of the church, in people’s living rooms, where presumably they talked about them afterwards, debated them, argued about what difference they made, probably over a glass of wine and a good meal.

But people can be so individualistic. We want a straight shot to the “God thing” unencumbered by other people, as though that is somehow purer. I just think it’s easier, and what we end up with is a God we have created in our own image, who tells us to do everything we are already doing, or want to do. Left to our own devices, we are left to all our own vices.

And I’m as guilty of that as the next person. If I could make up my own individualized religion, God would let me make my weekly offering at the shoe department at Nordstrom. And the closest thing to an admonition would be a gentle nudge to lose the five pounds after Thanksgiving I already wanted to lose anyway. I like that religion but it’s not going to do much to change me or the world.

JM: All this talk about arrogance and individualism and narcissism. Some people might say you sound like the judgmental jerks they are trying to get away from in the church? Are you?

LD: I may be, but I’m just trying to advance an argument. And to be frank, people don’t expect that from a liberal Protestant. Our church growth project for the last 50 years has been to listen to people complain about conservative Christians and nod sympathetically, hoping that if we are really, really nice, they will come to our churches. It hasn’t worked.

I am tired of apologizing for a church I am not a member of. It’s time to make a positive argument for the value and depth of religious community, not because it guarantees you a soft lounge chair in heaven, but because it makes life here on earth more meaningful.

JM: Fair enough. But then what sort of religious community the SBNRs should be looking for?

In my own leadership, I strive for a religious life that is reasonable, rigorous, and real. Reasonable in that you are not expected to leave your brain out on the sidewalk when you come into church. Rigorous in that it actually requires something of you, like contributing time, talent and even treasure to the mission, and even harder, involved worshipping something other than yourself. And real, in that it acknowledges that we are human beings, with sexualities, mental illnesses, financial worries, family problems, and all that should be acknowledged in the life of faith.

If you’ve been burned by a religious community–and I know so many people have been–don’t be afraid to dip your toe back in the water. Really search for a community of faith with the same seriousness you’d put into looking for a college or a new job or a house. You won’t find it in one visit or by surfing the web. You have to show up and worship with these people.

And lastly, if the only question you are asking yourself is what you are getting out of it, you are stuck in the culture of narcissism. When seeking a community of faith you should also be asking what you have to offer. The SBNRs are not just depriving themselves of a faith community, they are depriving a faith community of their God-given gifts.

Maybe you’re not being called into community for what you will get, but for what you will bring. And that, by the way, is a very religious take on things.

71 Comments

  1. I believe that Lillian Daniel is wrong for at least three reasons.
    (1) Spirituality is part of the broad range of human experience and is not exclusive to religion.
    (2) While it’s true that religious communities can be a good place to grow, interact with others, and make a contribution to the lager community, many of us believe that all of the religions we’ve inherited are way past their expiration dates and in need of major revision. Many of us Nones or SBNR types would welcome an opportunity to be part of a religious community with a theological narrative that makes sense in the 21st century.
    (3) Several months ago, during a segment on the PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Lillian Daniel implied that everyone needs to be under church authority when she said “You can’t just make it up.” The truth is it’s all made up. All religions and all theologies are human inventions. None of them fell out of the sky. Those human inventions need reinventing.

    • Mike, the Washington Post uses the tagline, “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.” I think the statement also applies to anyone’s faith. Submission (to a higher power – God) and repentance are essential to spiritual growth regardless of the religion. If you know of another better, or more compelling foundation for living a meaningful and fruitful life than Christianity, then please share. This is Ms. Daniel’s point, you can’t have it both ways. If you “believe” in something, then don’t you have to demonstrate that belief to at least some degree? For example, I can’t honestly claim to be a sports fan without supporting my team or watching a few games. Otherwise, you’re kidding yourself. It would be like trying to pass a test without studying. Please understand that I understand your position. I’ve been there. I misunderstood, but I finally got it… I saw the light! Eventually, I had enough faith to put myself out there, let go of any doubt, and let my light shine. It is truly an awesome and powerfully liberating feeling that nothing else can compare! I hope and pray you’ll reconsider and someday put your faith in the Lord. God speed

      • JWalman, I’m sure you mean well, but as I’ve heard a lot of ex-Christians like me say, “once you leave the church and carefully examine the Christian religion from the outside, there’s no way you can go back. You’re certainly entitled to as much of it as you want, but our view is that traditional Christianity doesn’t make a bit of sense.

        • I left the Christian church for almost ten years…and it was precisely because of my thoughtful examination of the church and myself that I did, in fact, go back. No one’s experience is universal.

    • Right on, Mike. Perhaps if there were actually some gutsy post-theist pastors like Gretta Vosper (Google her), building a hybrid community of believers and non-believers, I (a post-theist humanist) might participate.

    • I’m not sure if you realize how much you’ve affirmed her with this post…
      (1) She never claimed exclusivity. I believe she would join with many religious leaders of our day in affirming spirituality in other realms of life, but it is a *depth* issue. Exploring spiritual issues alone will leave you wanting.

      (2). Billions of 21st century minds are actively engaged in religious communities. Billions of people are helped physically, mentally, financially, and spiritually by such communities.

      (3) Even if you firmly believe what you assert, that all matters of religion are human-made, that doesn’t discredit the bottom line. You are arrogant for believing that you are the judge and jury of all such institutions. If you believe that you are better off alone in any enterprise than you would be with other people, you’ve fooled yourself. She’s just trying to wake up people who have deluded themselves into such a mindset.

      The arguments for SBNR are surprisingly lacking, considering how many people profess such a stance. Most of them boil down to “duh, nuh uh!”

    • Mike, I fundamentally agree with your three points, but have still another perspective. I don’t think Ms. Daniel understands non-affiliated Christians at all. Her characterizations certainly don’t describe me, nor do they describe many of my friends.

      Thinking about this issue, I realized that Ms. Daniel greatly undervalues the harm that a poorly functioning Congregation can do to individual members. Ms. Daniel doesn’t admit that many Christian Congregations are dysfunctional today; that their dysfunctional behavior has harmed many members who subsequently needed to leave their communities. This is where many (if not most) non-affiliated Christians come from. We should respect their personal experiences more than I see here.

      It is arrogant, to claim that joining a Church is the only way to be a Christian. When you minister to someone else, you meet them where they are in their life. You do NOT require them to meet YOU. Ms. Daniel is requiring me to somehow locate her before this healing process can start. Frankly, I’m a little put off by her approach to this question, however courteous and well-intended she is.

      • Milt, I can definitely empathize with Christians who have been a part of ‘poorly functioning congregations’. But if a person has recognized that the congregation they have been a part of has been functioning poorly, doesn’t it then follow that they have an idea of what a well functioning congregation looks like? Shouldn’t the next step for that person to find themselves a well functioning congregation? I just can’t understand the leap from being a part of a poorly functioning congregation to refusing to be a part of any congregation.

  2. It’s funny how Christ is at best an afterthought in this interview. The word Jesus is only used once by Daniel:

    “They think, “if they could just kick all of the flawed human beings out of the church, we could really do this Jesus thing.'”

    It seems like the first place to start would be with Christ.

  3. Petro, please do not misunderstand my response as ridiculing your right to believe as you wish. The Christ story and an excessive commitment to the past are key reasons many of us Nones/SBNRs are unable to join your congregations. While we recognize Jesus as an important historical figure, many of us understand Christ as a mythic invention on the early church who has never existed outside of the Christian theological narrative. You certainly have a right to believe and worship as you please, but we are unable to join you.

    • Mike, I think the article is more about those who do see Jesus Christ as more than an interesting historical figure, those who once went to church, who still would say they “believe” but have left “organized religion” (particularly church) behind. That is a different group than where you find yourself. I am a minister, and I can, without thinking long, list at least 20 people who say they are Christians, perhaps even identify with some denomination, but have exited church and don’t intend to return.

      • I really like what Dorcas said. I do believe in God and Jesus and am saved but I feel that church has lost focus on what the bible is really about. It’s not about judging other people, or looking down on others, its supposed to be about celebrating and worship. Jesus taught giving and loving. I have witnessed too many pastors and churches putting their own opinions in to the surmon. If all you do is preach about one political party being bad or homosexuals all go to hell, then how are you going to get these people to come to church or hear the word? I think a lot of church is about trying to show the other members you are a better christian than them. Its a popularity contest.

      • Dorcas, I think you’re right up to a point, but that’s not the whole story. I know many liberal Christians (some still practicing, some not) who no longer believe in a literal Trinity or that Jesus was divine. Some are non-theistic Christians. Many of them go to my wife’s church, a UCC congregation like the one where Lilian Daniel is minister. UCC minister Robin Meyers wrote a book titled “Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus.” YouTube has several videos with a similar message posted by retired UCC minister Fred Plumer from The Center for Progressive Christianity. The Westar Institute, Bishop Spong and others argue the church’s theology is way out of date and as Bishop Spong put it “the church must change or die”. My thoroughly post-Christian view represents many, but certainly not all, Nones and SBNRs. Many, including me, would happily return to an updated, 21st century church. (I recognize that I may not have adequately addressed your point, but such is the problem of trying to say a lot in too little space.)

        • Mike, I think you missed the point where she says that being in church community is where the faith rubber meets the road. So you have a post-Christian view of the world. Fantastic for you. Now, how are you serving? How are you living in community? Or do you sit home alone with your post-Christian thoughts? Being in community would mean taking your views and sharing them face to face, debating them, probably over wine and a good meal. And if you are really serious about wanting a post-Christian church than what are you doing about it from the inside?

          • lowell nelson

            So.. Kari. “How are you serving? Yahn, yahn, yahn, yahn, yahn ,yahn!, Raspberry? A lot of SBNRs and athiests are doing a lot of work that pew-pressers would not dare undertake. How are you serving? How are you living in “community”? Or do you sit home alone with your “Christian” thoughts and let somebody else “do it”? Do you take communion and then “Let go, let God”? I think you might be partaking of too many good meals, wine ,and too much mental masturbation. If you believe in “post-Christian”, then you are lazy in my mind’s eye.

      • I agree. Rev. Daniels is not aiming her call to return at the people who have dismissed Christianity as being based on a “mythic invention.” They have really made what for them is a final decision. I believe her call is to those many, many people, of whom I count most of my non-church friends and acquaintances, who would say they are Christians but who do not go to church.

  4. Lillian, as a conversation starter, this is good. But one thing missing is (asPetro said above) the focus on Jesus. Someone who follows Jesus will be spending significant time in the company of others who follow Jesus. The Bible says this not only in the prescriptive sense but also in the descriptive sense. Someone who thinks they’re following Christ without spending time with others in the Family of God are deceiving themselves.

    And on this whole idea that young people are fed up with church – ho hum. Same when I was young, same when my grandparents were young, same when my grandchildren come along. As you said, Jonathan, this headline is getting stale fast.

    Cheers,
    Tim

  5. “If you’ve been burned by a religious community–and I know so many people have been–don’t be afraid to dip your toe back in the water.”

    I think this is an under-examined component of what’s going on in modern protestantism. Lots of people have burn stories not very far under the surface. Add in those who are worried they’d sound like obnoxious, judgmental, narrow-minded religious stereotype.

    It’s interesting that “liberal protestants” of my generation might be connecting with evangelical interests of the millennial generation. Authentic community that remains reasonable, rigorous, and real might just lead us to some positive outcomes.

  6. Good stuff that we need to consider, chew on, wrestle with, own, integrate, and act upon! Here’s similar blog I’d like to recommend: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2013/03/spiritual-but-not-giving-a-damn/

  7. I’ve never understood the appeal of SBNR–it just seems like broccoli without dessert. Religion is spirituality + buildings and rituals, art, music–the whole aesthetic package and historical romance. This never seems to get mentioned. Isn’t this the primary appeal of religion for many people–the ceremonies and costume drama? And music? Low church Protestantism is really anomalous: if you look at what religion has been for most people at most times its been ceremonial, invested in material things. The problem with individualistic spirituality is individuals don’t have the resources to put on big elaborate ceremonies or to maintain fancy buildings.

  8. I know quite a few people that claim the “SBNR” label — and they “worship” God in a variety of ways. Most of them help alcoholics shake of the DTs in the middle of the night (or at noon) and are adept at cleaning vomit off of their floorboards and will sit up with people all night long so they don’t relapse and will buy them groceries and pay their rent and help them find jobs and will have deep, meaningful, transformative conversations that bring people closer to God. And they find God in sunsets, too. They look only to be an example of God’s grace. Dismissing them as “idiots” and assuming that SBNRs are only self-centered, narcissistic navel gazers is not appropriate. I know plenty of people that call themselves “religious” that are only in it for themselves. The music’s not right, they didn’t “get anything” from the sermon, the leadership of the church does things wrong, and they show up when they feel like it. Given a choice between the two, I’d opt for spiritual over religious any time.

    • The two should not be mutually exclusive. Sadly, sometimes they are. And if I was forced to choose between “merely” religious dogma with no grace or compassion, I’d choose SBNL too. But ideally our religious faith could and should lead to lives of compassion and mercy. If that doesn’t happen, something is deeply amiss.

      • I completely agree. The conversation definitely lends itself to these “either, or” comparisons.

        The truth is that both sides are absolutely right about the things they are right about…I know, sorry.

        It is true that the church is a mission field. It is true that there are churches that are not Christlike. Show them Christ.

        It is true that there are good churches. It is true that it is important for a Christian to be part of a Christian community. It is true that “the eye can not say to the hand, ‘I have no need of thee.'” Be the Body of Christ.

        The obvious issue (to me at least) is that when two groups focus on the truth that they hold most dear (to the neglect of the other equally valid truth) there is friction and animosity that can lead to separation. The only solution is to become more like Christ.

        Philipians 2:1-11: Imitating Christ’s Humility

        “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

        5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

        6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
        did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
        7 rather, he made himself nothing
        by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
        being made in human likeness.
        8 And being found in appearance as a man,
        he humbled himself
        by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
        9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
        and gave him the name that is above every name,
        10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
        in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
        11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
        to the glory of God the Father.”

    • Thank you, ML! You took the words right out of my mouth. In my case, my experience is in serving people who are homeless. I found the original post to be judgmental and thoroughly off-putting. The people I serve with are in no way self-centered, narcissistic navel-gazers. Any pastor who paints all SBNRs with that same brush provides an example of the look-down-the-nose judgment that is the reason I left the church — and the reason I’m not going back. I can find community and growth by serving humanity, which is far more meaningful to me than sitting through a boring sermon among the petty grumps I met in too many churches. :(

  9. ML, I agree with you and so do a number of religious scholars. Some scholars suggest that the Nones and SBNRs–along with the emergent church movement, the new monastics, those drawn to eastern philosophy, and others–are signs that a New Axial Age is underway that will radically change the way that religion/spirituality is understood and practiced in the developed world. This is not a “stale headline” as some suggest, but the primary headline as religion is reinvented for the future. I believe that it’s good news and long overdue.

    • What you just said completely resonates with me!! I just came back from living in India for two years when my husband’s job took us there. I unexpectedly experienced spiritual awakening (?) there and came back with a need to live my life based on love, compassion and service to others. I am having a hard time explaining to people here what I plugged into, but to hear that it is a broader movement makes me very happy and hopeful.

  10. Another way to take the SBNR comes from the group of women I used to meditate with on Monday mornings at my Evangelical Episcopal church — Religion is for people who are afraid of hell, Spirituality is for people who’ve been there.

    For me, SBNR takes this form: I want community. I want the sewing group, the gardening group, the opportunity to take young people on walks around the neighborhood. I even want the experience of singing with others. But I do not want to be talked at. I do not want the obligation to show up to one more weekly appointment where I sit and listen passively to one more pitch.

    • I am sorry you have experienced the discipline of church community as “being talked at” and “one more pitch.” It isn’t like that in my church and I know we are not alone.

      • lowell nelson

        Connie, I don’t think that’s exactly what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Upon this Peter (rock) I build my Church”. He came back (more or less) six years after the crucifixion and appointed Saul (Paul) to fix things up. Paul did a pretty good job, but the Church still likes Peter. Your church is probably as prejudiced as any other. Churches need to shut up and let me believe in and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. “Whenever two or three gather together in my name, I will be in the midst of them”. I do that. Who needs YOUR church?

        • Your church is probably as prejudiced as any other. Churches need to shut up and let me believe in and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. “Whenever two or three gather together in my name, I will be in the midst of them”. I do that. Who needs YOUR church?”

          My friend, Connie in no way said anything that warranted the response you gave. I’m a religious church goer and I won’t shut up because you need to hear this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

          “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

    • Mike, I fundamentally agree with your three points, but have still another perspective. I don’t think Ms. Daniel understands non-affiliated Christians at all. Her characterizations certainly don’t describe me, nor do they describe many of my friends.

      Thinking about this issue, I realized that Ms. Daniel greatly undervalues the harm that a poorly functioning Congregation can do to individual members. Ms. Daniel doesn’t admit that many Christian Congregations are dysfunctional today; that their dysfunctional behavior has harmed many members who subsequently needed to leave their communities. This is where many (if not most) non-affiliated Christians come from. We should respect their personal experiences more than I see here.

      It is arrogant, to claim that joining a Church is the only way to be a Christian. When you minister to someone else, you meet them where they are in their life. You do NOT require them to meet YOU. Ms. Daniel is requiring me to somehow locate her before this healing process can start. Frankly, I’m a little put off by her approach to this question, however courteous and well-intended she is.

      • I am not sure if you just posted the same comments twice, but this is the second time I have read that you think Lillian is asking you to join something, become a member. That’s not at all what I hear her saying. She is simply challenging you to commit to some group to which you promise some accountability and through which you can serve and improve your world. She has no prescription of what that community has to look like.

  11. I read blog posts on this, here and elsewhere, trying to figure out how the religious-spiritual landscape is being divided, and I’m still never sure. It seems to me that the essence of religion is metaphysics and ceremony. This is what interests me, and why I got into religion. To the extent that I’m interested in doing good–which isn’t much–that’s a completely separate thing. Isn’t there anyone else who sees things this way–who’s into religion because of the buildings, ceremonies, music, poetry and historical romance? And the interest in mysticism, in getting a particular kind of thrill? The thrill of the spooky, the woo-woo? Why is this so odd? It seems so obvious: if you like Tolkien, and fantasy, and vampire stories, etc.–this is what religion offers: the thrill of the supernatural. Isn’t anyone else interested in this? And yes, I realize you can get it in a variety of places, but for me Christianity provide does it. Which isn’t to say I have anything against other things–I’m all for getting it in every possible way, promiscuously so to speak. Isn’t anyone else into religion for the pure pleasure of it?

  12. I believe Lillian is working hard to find ways mainline Protestants can respond to the trends many sociologists Christopher Lasch, Robert Bellah, and Robert Putnam have been saying religion and culture in America. All these authors have been spotting trends towards individualism, lack of participation in all kinds of civic institutions, and a do-it-yourself value systems that is more influenced by consumerism than any kind of philosophical tradition.

    Some churches have responded with entrenched traditionalism that rejects the world, others take on the consumerist characteristics and water down church to getting your needs met. Lillian is supporting a third way, renewing the church based on a dialog within our long-term tradition, finding the balance between being open and welcoming; while still being clearly focused on Jesus and Christianity, and emphasizing the communal nature of the church. Her call for churches to be reasonable, rigorous and real seem to be on target for meeting the challenge for pastors in mainline Protestantism who are progressive in values, Christ-centered, and want to create authentic communities rather than trendy consumer marketed niche churches.

  13. Humans are social creatures. I too believe it’s very important for people of faith to gather with others. Not just for the purpose of maintaining their beliefs about God or celebrate what they know about God, but to build each other up in the uniqueness of their individual faith in Christ. In order to do this effectively it’s important to have relationship with others and that needs to happen naturally. I believe the younger generations today experience a social atmosphere that other generations did not. They understand the social environment much differently. Socialization is at their finger tips. They can easily and quickly connect with others. God too wants us to build intimate relationships with others and in many instances this is not being accomplished when people are merely going to a religious social event where they watch others perform, preach or teach. The world is desperately hungry for God and it’s time that as followers of Christ we come to the understanding of the simplicity to which He expected our gatherings with others to be. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” Matthew 18:20

    I believe we’re seeing a generation of people who are not necessarily foregoing church attendance, but want more from their walk of faith and I personally want to encourage them to continue contending for the faith. It’s important not to assume that people are forsaking the assembly simply because they don’t want to keep doing the same ole thing. They may just want to have experiences that are more relevant to their faith. Jesus built relationships, not religious institutions. Being like Him in a world that has required people to fit into the box of religion has been difficult for many. So, lets consider how we encourage each other to walk by faith and discern possible error in their doctrine that may infringe on their walk of faith. Social environments are certainly not a crime, but it takes more effort to build someone up in the faith than to sing a song with them, preach the same message over and over or go through religious tradition. If some people choose that, they may, but some have decided that they need more than a religious church system to spur on their faith – they need relevant relationships with others of faith. That may not be met when they gather in a organized way with others.

  14. So I shouldn’t “go it alone” but its okay to shop around to find the community that suits my requirements? Is it only me that sees the dichotomy in that? And are church communities the only communities? What about seeing God in my next door neighbour of no religion at all? in the checkout girls whose faith or lack of I have no inkling about?
    I wish i had made up my own religion, it would be a good deal less inconvenient and demanding than the path that I feel called (and struggle) to follow.

  15. This is actually a pretty good example of why I won’t go back to church. Guilt trips and insults aren’t just control tactics used by “conservative” church leaders.

  16. I became an SBNR when I was sexually abused by my priest and found myself fighting the Church in order to find justice and compassion. It changed everything. God and I are just fine, but I have a visceral reaction to being in a service, even now that I’m three states and 20 years from the abuse. Do not judge me for not sitting in your pew and being part of your community.

    • I know this is one year late, but I just wanted to say I’m glad you chose to continue to believe in God even after leaving the church. I’m sorry for you what you had to go through, I hope you found peace with yourself and with God. I have decided to take the spiritual route as well, I just feel that the Protestant and Catholic church has lost it’s way. I think we are what God considers the “lost generation”. It seems it gets harder and harder to find the truth these days.
      -God Bless : )

  17. Much wisdom in these comments!

    Healthy functioning communities of whatever practice–faith, quilting, juggling, chamber music–help the individual develop his/her potential.

    The church has often failed at this, acting more like a dysfunctional family in seeking to perpetuate its systemic self. There are exceptions to this.

    On the other hand our society has so elevated the individual that many find more emotional ease(?) in being left to their own devices, unfortunately believing that no one has anything to say to them or –perhaps more importantly–to ask of them.

    But the bottom line is almost all runners go further when running with others. Ex-drunks have a better quality of sobriety with a sponsor and going to meetings. Knitters learn more from other knitters than books on knitting.

    Of course there are exceptions. But my experience re. myself and others is that being left alone usually has more to do with being self-centered than really being the smartest, fastest, most able person in the room and in no need of a supportive and encouraging community. It’s not always welcomed truth.

  18. WOW! In my experience, she hit the nail on the head regarding this subject! I found myself saying “yes” to basically every sentence. She described every trait that I see in everyone I know who considers themselves SBNR. THey always seem to think they are more enlightened than everyone else, thus they tend to look down on others. THey do tend to make “spirituality” something on their terms, thus creating a spirituality that they can live within and not be accountable to others; not a spirituality that God Himself ordained. I have a feeling I probably don’t agree with her on other subjects (now I am curious), but she took the thoughts right out of my head regarding SBNR. THanks for sharing this article.

    • I agree–it’s a good post. But what I find missing in the comments from both sides is that religious people are called to DO something–not just sit at home with a good bottle of wine and “be spiritual.” Yes, we find in community the strength we need to determine what we believe, but more than that, we find the strength to see the needs of others and realize that we are the ones called to help with them. Not just with money, though Congress seems to think it can sluff off all social responsibility on the churches. We’re called to be there for others. That, not SBNR, is the hard thing to accept.

  19. Wendy Dackson

    You may wish to look at what we’ve been saying on the Lay Anglicana page on Facebook, and the two blog posts (so far, there will be more) about the book:

    http://www.layanglicana.org/blog/2013/08/22/when-spiritual-but-not-religious-is-not-enough-by-lillian-daniel-wendy-dackson-reviews/

    http://www.layanglicana.org/blog/2013/08/23/responding-to-lilliane-daniel-part-two-wendy-dackson/

  20. Arrogant, self righteous, and self important people like this are why the church is shrinking so much today. They will never get it, and I don’t expect them to.

  21. Wendy Dackson

    The book really is a long, self-indulgent hissy fit. More than 90% of it doesn’t really touch at all on the SBNR pheonomenon, and I find myself completely puzzled as to why it has gotten such arse-kissingly critical accalim. There is no research, there is no scholarship, there is blasted little theology, and the editing job could have been done by drunken monkeys. It is no serious contribution to the small body of literature on the SBNR phenomenon.

  22. I used to go to church. I went by myself and sat in the middle of a third row pew at a small Episcopalian Church in my hometown. I remember enjoying the sense of community. I enjoyed that the reverend was a lesbian – with a partner – and a family. I liked the Gospels and how they made me feel a little less small.

    I don’t remember when I decided to leave the church. But I remember that the more and more I learned about the history of the spread of Christianity. Protestantism’s birth from Catholicism, the historical writing of the Bible, the Westernization (Europe) of Middle Eastern peoples and thought (eg: the blue-eyed white Jesus nailed to the cross), the corruption – bloodshed – and sadness that drips from the pages of the “Good Book” that I stepped further and further away.

    I delved into the sciences and realized that the concept of Christianity was/is illogical. When the ancient Greeks had to explain the changing seasons, the story of Persephone was their explanation. Today, we know that the Earth rotates on a tilt hence the changing seasons (in a nutshell). In 2000 years, what will the story be?

    I see religion as brainwashing. People kill in its name. People pick and choose their own rules for what is right and what is wrong. If someone doesn’t like the way the Catholic church is running things, they’ll branch off and make up new rules. They’ll write a new Bible (The Queen James Bible), they’ll pray to the air and hope in vain that a lightning bolt (Zeus) will come down from the sky and solve their problems.

    Rather that rely on each other, the human experience, we rely on a made up deity used to control the mind, control the people. Rather than focus on the spiritual energy of our mother Earth, and her animals, and our fellow man, we use religion and justify cutting down her trees to print more blood soaked Bibles created by old men thousands of years ago.

    If that makes me a narcissistic a–hole, then so be it. Christians need the church because they are sheep. Religion is the bane of human existence. It spills more blood, rapes more women, burns more bridges, and generates more hate than anything. It is the number one reason that we all can’t just get along.

    Keep your church.

    • So how do you feel about Spiritual people who have left the church?

      I agree with you to an extent. I still chose to believe in God and Christ, but I see the hypocrisy within these institutions. I believe they have brainwashed people from the truth of Christ and God and that’s why many people today either have completely left the church and belief or just the institutions. I blame them the most for it.

  1. […] Any idiot can find God alone in the sunset. It takes a certain maturity to find God in the person sitting next to you who not only voted for the wrong political party but has a baby who is crying while you’re trying to listen to the sermon. Community is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach. – See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/08/13/answering-the-spiritual-but-religious-an-intervie… […]

  2. […] are many times when I hear this phrase that a part of me just shuts down and gets frustrated.  This article from the Religion News Service interviews Lillian Daniel, the author of When Spiritual but not Religious is not Enough. […]

  3. Comment marked as low quality by the editors. Show comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments with many links may be automatically held for moderation.