Spiritual, but not religious

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Research has suggested “spiritual” people may suffer worse mental health than conventionally religious, agnostic or atheist people. But what exactly do people mean when they describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”?


Spirituality is a common term these days, used by Prince Charles, and by the Archbishop of York as a way of stepping beyond religious divides.

But many now call themselves “spiritual” but not religious. About a fifth of people in the UK fit into this category, according to Prof Michael King from University College London.

In the US, a Newsweek survey in 2005 put the figure at a quarter. A survey in October by the Pew Research Center suggested a lower figure with a fifth of people religiously unaffiliated and 37% of those regarding themselves as spiritual but not religious.

King’s research suggested that in the UK the “spiritual” group are more likely to have mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.

There will be people who will dispute the research, but it’s certainly clear that the “spiritual, but not religious” represents a major strand of belief across the West.

It’s a broad church, so to speak. The spiritually aligned range from pagans to devotees of healing crystals, among many other sub-groups.

But for millions of others it is nothing so esoteric. Instead, it’s simply a “feeling” that there must be something else.

Written By: Tom de Castella
continue to source article at bbc.co.uk

29 COMMENTS

  1. “Instead, it’s simply a “feeling” that there must be something else.”

    Unless that “something else” is a natural entity, then sorry… there’s no substantive difference.

    But, seriously, I enjoy spirits as much as anyone. I just try not to enjoy them when I have to do some driving. ;-)

    Steve

  2. One of my pet peeves.

    I have met a thousand people who call themselves “spiritual” and not one of them can define it. When you meet them ask them if there is an invisible force called spirituality? Does it have an objective reality? Does it want something of you or is it available to you for some purpose, like a religion? None of these questions can be answered. “Spirituality” is a cop out for people who really have no faith but cannot face that fact.

  3. I enjoy them too. In fact, I make my own for myself and all my friends. This year it was quince vodka, last year cranberry one – delicious. I feel very spirit-ual under its influence. :)

    In reply to #2 by Agrajag:

    “Instead, it’s simply a “feeling” that there must be something else.”

    Unless that “something else” is a natural entity, then sorry… there’s no substantive difference.

    But, seriously, I enjoy spirits as much as anyone. I just try not to enjoy them when I have to do some driving. ;-)

    Steve

  4. He believes in a divine force of nature “I believe(…).
    I can communicate with the deity”

    I agree and relate to the logical part of Mr. Pagan’s statement of connectedness with nature.
    Why did he feel the need to attach superfluous woo? does.not.compute.

  5. I was thinking about this distinction last night, believe it or not… Religion – Finding god/moral authority outside yourself. Spiritual – Finding god/moral authority inside yourself. This may be to simple a distinction, but it works for me.

  6. King’s research suggested that in the UK the “spiritual” group are more likely to have mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.

    and from the associated link:

    We conclude that there is increasing evidence that people who profess spiritual beliefs in the absence of a religious framework are more vulnerable to mental disorder.

    I believe they are putting the cart before the horse.

    A person with mental health issues has an increased the chance of being exposed to the grand daddy of ‘spiritual, not religous’ pseudo-science. Of course, I’m talking about Alcoholics Anonymous and similar 12-step programs.

  7. In reply to #3 by JHJEFFERY:

    One of my pet peeves.

    I have met a thousand people who call themselves “spiritual” and not one of them can define it. When you meet them ask them if there is an invisible force called spirituality? Does it have an objective reality? Does it want something of you or is it available to you for some purpose, like a religion? None of these questions can be answered. “Spirituality” is a cop out for people who really have no faith but cannot face that fact.

    I agree!
    It is another variation on -
    “My vague deist god is too ill-defined to challenge, but exists because I want to believe”!

  8. I wouldn’t be surprised that those “spiritual” people are more likely to have mental health problem. Obviously, if they’re not an atheist or a theist, they’d be, unsure, full of doubt, or are still in a journey of discovery until they could define what they are. It is not easy to be comfortable with uncertainty, it is human nature to feel the need to reduce, or even eliminate uncertainty. In this case, those good folks just want to fill the gap with whatever they would define as “spirituality”.

    Or, they are just people still suffering from the hangover of religion, feeling that they are lacking something, inadequate, because of years of religious medicine peddling that convinced them that they need to be saved or they are just utterly inadequate until they are revealed some illusive holy truth that they need to go out & find from somewhere.

  9. My brother once said to me that he was not religious but ‘more spiritual’.
    After a short informative talk with him about reality, I suggested that he ‘took his brain for a shit’.
    He feels much better now.

  10. “Spirituality” …. a word used by those who want to appear theologically sophisticated but in reality are exposing a pretentiousness and ignorance every bit as flaky as the most rabid creationist.

    I understand there are atheists and agnostics who also use the term to describe a feeling of awe and wonder at the complexity of the universe ….. I used to be one ….. but now I prefer to use the words awe and wonder.

  11. What I find annoying is that one always has to stop the conversation and have the other person define the term “spiritual”, where its explanation turns into a series of layered, varnished, vague statements they seem to take as fact(s).

    Me: How do you define “spiritual”?

    Other: It’s being at one with the truth/universe/life/higher self etc.

    Me: How exactly do you know this?

    Other: I can simply feel it.

    Me: Do you mean it’s an experience you have inside of you?

    Other: No, not exactly. “It” is not some thing that’s over there apart from you, but always with you.

    Me: I’m not sure what you’re saying.

    Other: It’s not in you. You’re in “it”.

    Me: Sorry, I don’t get you. Again, exactly, how do you know all this?

    Other: Well, you just have to have “the experience”.

    Me: How then, is this different from the the Christian Fundamentalist who says that you just have to believe?

    I’m still waiting for an answer.

  12. In reply to #14 by aquilacane:

    It means—”I want to feel extra special with my own form of delusion and not with one off the shelf that anyone can own.”

    Yep, it seems good old ego plays a major role, abetted by inability to think

  13. I agree with JHJEFFERY. My personal take on “spiritual” is that this is a term used by many who are really atheists, but what prevents them from saying so is the opprobrium the religious have wrapped around that term. Remember that comparison to rapists. We need to stand up and be counted, to ‘come out’, if the conversation should arise. I don’t run around telling everyone, any more than I reveal my political leaning to every Tom, Dick and Harry.

    That would be an interesting area of study….why it is that many/most religions attack atheism so strongly ? I don’t get anything like that from stamp-collectors, over my lack of interest. I am hard pressed to think of another topic where violence is used against “the other”. OK, politics in some countries. Sexual mores of your children, in some societies. A belief system, again. Perhaps that is the clue. You don’t normally think of a hobby like stamp collecting as a belief system.

  14. In reply to #18 by rod-the-farmer:

    I agree with JHJEFFERY. My personal take on “spiritual” is that this is a term used by many who are really atheists, but what prevents them from saying so is the opprobrium the religious have wrapped around that term.

    Very well put. I would go further. You have highlighted what might be described as the negative reason. There is also a positive one. People think by saying they are an atheist, that will make them sound cold and uncaring, so they think by saying they are “spiritual” they will sound like caring and better people. It’s all about image.

  15. Spirituality is a feeling from the primitive subconscious.
    Religions and “spiritualism” are the primitive explanation, and a psychological need to deny and externalise this.
    It should be no surprise that vague deist gods claim to be hidden in the far reaches of time and the universe: – as far away from their real testable, material properties, as possible: – so as to hide the ludicrous deluded claims of egotistical omnipotence etc. from scrutiny. (the attention-distraction gap-ology of the conjurer)

    sciencedaily - Selective Brain Damage Modulates Human Spirituality

    Although it is well established that all behaviors and experiences, spiritual or otherwise, must originate in the brain, true empirical exploration of the neural underpinnings of spirituality has been challenging. However, recent advances in neuroscience have started to make the complex mental processes associated with religion and spirituality more accessible.

    “Neuroimaging studies have linked activity within a large network in the brain that connects the frontal, parietal, and temporal cortexes with spiritual experiences,

    tgdaily.com/parietal
    Brain damage makes people more spiritual

    It would be a lot easier than converting the Godless: a quick bash at the right bit of the brain, and they could be as religious and righteous as you.

    New research into brain-damaged patients has shown that damage to the left and right posterior parietal regions brings on spiritual feelings.

    sciencedailyspiritual transcendence is associated with decreased right parietal lobe functioning,

    Based on a previously published study that indicated spiritual transcendence is associated with decreased right parietal lobe functioning, MU researchers replicated their findings. In addition, the researchers determined that other aspects of spiritual functioning are related to increased activity in the frontal lobe.

    “We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions. “Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.”

  16. Research has suggested “spiritual” people may suffer worse mental health than conventionally religious, agnostic or atheist people.

    Just going out on a limb here, could it be because they are even more nuts than the rest of us?

  17. Spirituality is a construct of the medicine man who wants a goat for free. It is a false need, a nuisance. Just forget about it. Religion doesn’t leave a void. It is more like loosing a hunchback.

  18. In reply to #23 by phil rimmer:

    Atheists and religionists have clear mental models of the world. The “spiritual” do not.

    In my later teens I was very “spiritual”. For two reasons I think. First it seemed the only way to gather up all the nameless, in between states, those seemingly orphaned and exciting senses of significance that bubbled up all the time. Second, it greatly improved my paltry attractiveness to girls. (This was the Late Hippy Era.)

    Then I discovered Richard Gregory (Eye and Brain, The Intelligent Eye) and began the fabulous journey into understanding our (deeply important) illusions and the klugey nature of brains. Art and its effect important as it already was became hugely the richer for me as I realised it could elicit a lot of these nameless states and allowed me to introspect on the effects it had on me. The evo roots of aesthetics, the rewards and emotional washes of brain chemistries were not an unweaving of the rainbow but hinted at unimaginably deep roots to my experience of it. Beauty that ceases to be beautiful in close up is no beauty at all.

  19. In reply to #29 by ItSgAuRaVmEhTa:

    Being spiritual doesn’t mean having the feelings that there must be something, being spiritual means that you respect all religions, you’re vegan or vegetarian, you believe in love and peace and you meditate and chant mantras.
    I think there could be quite a number of differing views on that!

    So spiritual peoples must have the best mental health not the worst and people of UK who are calling themselves spiritual may have chosen diest path not the true spirituality because true spirituals can’t have worst mental in fact, as I said before they must have the best.

    “… not the true spirituality because true spirituals can’t have worst mental in fact, as I said before they must have the best.

    Ah! The fallacy of TRRrrooooo spirtuality and Trrrooo spirituals! – rationalwiki.org/wiki/No_True_Scotsman

    “Spirituality” is a variety of feelings and emotions, which have different interpretations for different people – as explained in comment 20.

  20. In reply to #30 by Alan4discussion:
    The first part of my previous post 30 should have read:-

    In reply to #29 by ItSgAuRaVmEhTa:

    Being spiritual doesn’t mean having the feelings that there must be something, being spiritual means that you respect all religions, you’re vegan or vegetarian, you believe in love and peace and you meditate and chant mantras.

    I think there could be quite a number of differing views on that!

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