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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Spiritual but not Religious

Recently there was a blog on CNN about the idea that being spiritual but not religious is a cop-out answer. And there's been some discussion on the topic from both sides of the belief aisle.

The cop-out side says that SBNR crew either ignores religion, doesn't understand religion or assumes they know better than all the religions.

The SBNR folks would say that they don't want to be associated with the hypocritical institutions of people, or that they don't have a better option to share (i.e. it's not appropriate to have the full, religious conversation).

By the way, the atheist crowd also thinks that SBNR is a cop-out, but from the other perspective. Atheists see the SBNR folks as equating spirituality with the good, ethical parts of being a human being rather than any extra-physical reality.

In some sense, the SBNR statement is as much of a cop-out as any other self-identification. Saying that you're Baptist, Catholic, Baha'i, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, American, or a fan of Harry Potter, just serves as shorthand so neither you nor I need to really process the information.

We have pre-set schemata (call them stereotypes if you want), that give us a way to move on with life instead of having to develop a full character profile for every person we meet. We don't have the mental energy to fully understand the complex ideas that are the core of each person's philosophy. We don't have the time to do much more than give cop-out answers when we first meet people.

The problem arises when we don't do the work to understand the people closest to us, or worse yet, when we don't do the work ourselves. It becomes a cop out when I let "Christian" define me rather than working hard to define myself within that label. It becomes a cop out when I let "Republican" or "Democrat" define my political ideals rather than finding the nuanced individuality that's unique to me.

So you can say that you're SBNR (or Buddhist or Pastafarian or Greek Orthodox), that's cool. I'll fit you into my stereotype of what that means. But if we're friends and I ask you why you wear that label, you'd better be able to give a more nuanced explanation. If you can't, SBNR is just a cop out.

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