Spiritual, But Not Religious – What Does That Mean, Anyway?

By Rachel Puryear

People are increasingly identifying themselves as not being religious. Often, those who do so categorize themselves as either atheist, agnostic, or spiritual-but-not-religious.

This post focuses on the latter self-designation – spiritual, but not religious. Of course, that means different things to different people, and no one can speak for all who identify as such.

However, I offer here a take on spiritual-but-not-religious, having reflected on it at length – during several decades of varying degrees of self-guided meditation, Paganism, Wicca, nature worship, spiritualism, and participating in progressive, diverse, non-denominational worship services.

Spirituality has been a theme I have wanted to incorporate into this blog for a while now, and have been thinking carefully about how to do so. This blog is largely about empathic people, and spirituality is important to most of us. I hope I can give readers some good food for thought:

Hands holding burning prayer candle in the darkness.

Asking Questions More Than Seeking Answers

It is best to be quite wary of anyone claiming to have all of the answers – not just in a religious or spiritual context, but perhaps especially in one.

Many traditional religions appeal to people who want answers. Leaders in these followings, especially the more strict and proselytizing ones, will be happy to provide answers – whether they are true, or make sense, or not.

Beautiful sunrise over snowy forest with an epic milky way on the sky.

People who are spiritual-but-not-religious, though tend to be more comfortable with uncertainty, and don’t need all the answers.

Instead, they prefer to ask questions, to discuss them with others as peers rather than necessarily in a leader-follower context, and they like to maintain an open mind. They value the journey over the conclusion. They are curious about their spirituality.

Values Based Upon Empathy and Logic, Rather Than Traditional Morality

People who are spiritual-but-not-religious don’t believe that it’s necessary to surrender reason and logic, or empathy, in order to have genuine faith.

If they believe in God(s), they know that those God(s) gave people brains equipped with the power to reason – and that therefore, we are supposed to use them.

We are also equipped with empathy which makes us capable of feeling for others, and desiring to make the world better for all of us, not just for ourselves.

Compass with the arrow pointing to “core values”.

Accordingly, spiritual-but-not-religious people tend to form their values based upon empathy and reason, and form their own principles guided by a conscience that comes from within.

May or May Not Include Beliefs in Deities, Afterlife, Miracles, and So Forth – Either Way, it’s Okay

Spiritual-but-not-religious people may or may not believe in any god(s) or deities. If they do believe in the existence of a deity, they may believe there is just one, or that there are many. They probably tend, though, to remain agnostic about the existence of a Supreme Being.

Either way, they may hold a variety of beliefs – though they usually acknowledge that we won’t know for sure in this life, and that that’s okay.

Sunlight in the clouds in the sky.

Unfortunately, there have been a lot of scams over many centuries with people exploiting desires to know more about life after death, and longing to communicate with departed loved one – such taking advantage of vulnerable people is quite distasteful. These cons have generated a lot of press, and brought much disgrace upon such spiritual practices as a whole.

However, that certainly does not mean that there are not sincere people out there interested in, and exploring such activities – however, people doing this ethically and in good faith are generally doing so quietly, and are also not claiming that they are specially endowed with unique gifts and direct lines to God.

I believe that if communication with worlds beyond this one is possible, that everyone is capable of doing it – though it may take practice and patience, and maybe some luck.

Science and Spiritual Practice Don’t Need to Be Enemies

People who are spiritual-but-not-religious tend to support science, and be interested in learning more about the world, and value using reason and facts to do so.

At the same time, they also value spiritual development, and the private-yet-profound benefits of exploring beyond the natural world.

They don’t see those two things as inconsistent.

DNA sequences.

Many fundamentalist-leaning religious people reject science, and find it a dangerous threat to their faith. At the same time, some non-spiritual people (including New Atheists, for example) assert that interest in spirituality reflects an inherent refusal to commit to reason and scientific principles.

Spiritual-but-not-religious people, however, tend to believe it not only possible to embrace both science and spirituality, but that doing so is essential to whole development.

Spiritual-but-not-religious people recognize that science and spirituality both serve important and meaningful purposes – just different ones.

Doing the Work, Rather Than Special Pleading With God

People who are spiritual-but-not-religious are usually unimpressed with people who do nothing to self-examine and better themselves, nothing to treat others with more compassion and respect (particularly those who rank lower socially, and have less good fortune), nothing to remedy ways they’ve hurt others, nothing to help others in need and work for a better society – and yet, claim they are redeemed by God, but without actually making any genuine efforts towards such.

Landscape with a highway and mountains.

Spiritual-but-not-religious people tend to value people working to become better people – to give more, to become more compassionate, to be more understanding, and so forth. We tend to believe that it’s our own efforts through which we grow spiritually, regardless of our beliefs.

Variety and Diversity are Good, and Different Beliefs are Not a Threat to Yours

In addition to those who claim to have all the answers, those who claim that their way is the one true way – to the exclusion of all others, those others being evil and damned, in fact – should also be viewed with a great deal of suspicion and skepticism.

Variety of religious symbols.

Spiritual-but-not-religious people tend to like to find their own path, and don’t feel the need to tell others what path they should follow. They realize that it’s perfectly okay for people to have a variety of opinions and beliefs regarding spiritual matters. They tend to believe that exploring spiritually is more important than finding any particular “right” beliefs.


Love this blog, find it helpful and intriguing, and want to help support it? Check out the following personally recommended readings, if you’re interested in more about this subject:

Randi’s Prize: What Skeptics Say About the Paranormal, Why They Are Wrong, and Why It Matters, by Robert McLuhan

Interested in a rebuttal to arguments made by non-spiritual, non-believers? Named for magician-turned-debunker James Randi’s famous million-dollar-prize to anyone who could prove existence of the supernatural, this book sets out to debunk the debunkers. You don’t have to agree with everything in here, that’s not the point – this does provide interesting food for thought, though.

Life After Death, by Deepak Chopra

For the Westerner, this book provides a digestible take on Eastern religions, and varying ideas of what happens after we die. A must-read if you have any interest in the spirit world or afterlife.

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Elaine Aron

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ve heard me recommend this book before, for empathic people in general. Even if you’ve read it before, go back and reread the chapter on HSP (empathic) people and spirituality – I’m sure we can all relate.


Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to spiritual development based in curiosity. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you have not done so already. xoxo

Check out my other blog, too – Free Range Life, at https://freerangelife.net. It’s about road trips, park and cool places to see, van and RV life, making money remotely, and improving financial independence so you can do more of what you want in life.

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6 responses to “Spiritual, But Not Religious – What Does That Mean, Anyway?”

  1. As an atheist, I really appreciate your post. All religions are rooted in traditional and often very dated human ideals. While I respect people’s beliefs, I think as you say, spirituality is more about asking questions, connecting with yourself and others, and having values that are rooted in empathy and logic. While I don’t consider myself spiritual now, I really admire people who question things – and people who are spiritual seem to be a lot more empathetic and less judgemental than your average religious person.
    Happy new year! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, and Happy New Year! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this article, especially the bit about science and spirituality not needing to be enemies!

    This quote also resonated with me: “It is best to be quite wary of anyone claiming to have all of the answers – not just in a religious or spiritual context, but perhaps especially in one.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you! 😊

    Like

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