Friday 21st October 2016

Home » Frontpage » Currently Reading:

Spiritual But Not Religious

January 13, 2014 Frontpage No Comments


I am not sure why I have been hearing the term “spiritual but not religious” more than I used to. It is not that I am moving in “bad circles” lately. But if that is not the explanation, what is? Let’s use Occam’s razor: The simplest explanation is the best. If I had to guess, I would say that there are more people these days who use the term to describe themselves.
It strikes me that there are different types of individuals who describe themselves as “SBNR.” One group seems motivated by an understandable, even commendable, reason; another seems drawn to the label for shallow and trendy reasons. And there are also those who use the self-designation as a way to excuse self-centered motives. Each of these groups should be approached differently, especially if they are Catholics or ex-Catholics looking for a way to participate in parish life.
The “understandable and commendable” advocates of a SBNR view of life are those who seek to distance themselves from doctrinaire naturalism and its exclusion of the spiritual and supernatural elements from life. These individuals are open to the existence of God, or gods, and an afterlife; they do not dismiss the possibility of miracles or “paranormal” occurrences. Granted, all too often this search leads them to questionable beliefs, everything from astrology to the occult.
Then what is commendable about them? I would argue that we must keep in mind the role of grace in our spiritual lives when dealing with this group. The people searching for “meaning” in Third World religions, modern versions of Druidism, native American shamanism, and one form or another of nature worship, if they are sincere in their search, may be just one spiritual awakening away from conversion. The possibility of such a change in heart should make a difference in the way we interact with them. Successful missionaries know how to nurture this non-Christian spiritual yearning; how to build upon a quest for the divine in life. Ordinary Catholics should seek to replicate that approach when we meet sincere people in our community who tell us they are SBNR. Cut them some slack; listen to them.
There are also what could be called the “trendy” proponents of a spiritual but not religious lifestyle. I have in mind those who define themselves as SBNR to indicate that they enjoy poetry readings and abstract art more than capitalist fat cats and their bourgeois neighbors who spend their time at their children’s hockey games and stock-car races. This form of SBNR is a form of elitism. There is no reason for Catholics to go out of their way to accommodate the complaints of those who find Catholic parish life unworthy of their refined sensibilities. Trying to do so is a fool’s errand. Elitists will always find some way to separate themselves from what they consider the “common folk.”
The third version of a SBNR individual? People in this group present a challenge to Catholics serious about their faith and the Magisterium. These SBNRs hold to views with which there is no room for compromise; an approach to life and moral responsibility that challenges the core of Catholicism. What they are looking for is a religious “experience” without dogma or doctrine, a form of moral relativism. A parish that seeks to make itself open and welcoming — and nonjudgmental — to those who are SBNR in this manner is playing with fire.
When I hear someone who upholds this version of “spiritual but not religious,” I am always reminded of Archbishop Sheen’s quip when confronted by an ex-Catholic who described himself as “raised Catholic, but a nonsectarian Christian now.” Sheen cut to the chase. He bluntly asked the man, “What’s your sin?”
Sheen had seen the phenomenon many times in priestly life. When people leave the Catholic Church, they may complain about money-grabbing pastors, boring sermons, or intolerant priests, but their real objection is to the Church’s refusal to give its blessing to their decision to violate one of the Church’s moral teachings — usually in regard to divorce and remarriage or extramarital sex. In their eyes, because the Church does not agree with their behavior, the Church must be wrong. They do not leave open the possibility that they may be in error or living in sin. They convince themselves that the conflict between themselves and the Church is rooted in a hierarchy that is hidebound, backward, rigid, inflexible, behind the times, and not worthy of their obedience.
It has been my experience that many Catholics and ex-Catholics who define themselves as SBNR fall into the same category. It is not the “lavish” spending by the Popes, the priest sex-abuse scandals, narrow-minded homilists, or the lack of a vibrant Christian community committed to social justice that is at the root of their disaffection.
It is what Archbishop Sheen called “their sin.” They are engaged in a behavior or living a lifestyle that the Church condemns. They find themselves uncomfortable at Mass when they hear divorce, homosexuality, or couples “living together” described as morally unacceptable, as a sin when engaged in with “sufficient reflection and full consent of the will,” in the words of the old Baltimore Catechism. Calling themselves SBNR is their way of making the point that, even if their pastor and the Pope think they are behaving immorally, God the Father and Jesus do not. Jesus would agree with them, they are convinced, if some way could be found to bring Him into a discussion between themselves and the backward leaders of the modern Church.
Their contention is that they are good people, moral people, people who value the supernatural elements of the Church’s mission. They do not want to be cut adrift from the spiritual comfort and consolation that comes from “being Catholic” merely because unimaginative clerics who have not read the writers they find spiritually uplifting, and who insist upon defending old-fashioned moral codes. Defending those “old-fashioned moral codes” is what they mean by being “religious.” The more laid back and nonjudgmental understanding of Christianity they favor is what they mean by being “spiritual.”

Share Button

2016 The Wanderer Printing Co.

Live From New York Should a Catholic Vote for Hillary or Trump?

Almighty God has been very good  in giving us as the day’s Gospel passage that of Our Lord’s famous admonition to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but to God what is God’s.” I say that in view of the…Continue Reading

Catholic university blasts ‘Unborn Lives Matter’ posters as ‘bigotry,’ bans them on campus

CHICAGO, Illinois, October 18, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – College Republicans at DePaul University were prohibited by the university president from displaying posters on campus advertising their group with the pro-life message, “Unborn Lives Matter.” Vincentian Father Dennis Holtschneider indicated to the…Continue Reading

For Archbishop Chaput, ‘Catholic Spring’ group did untold damage

Philadelphia, Pa., Oct 14, 2016 / 05:53 pm (CNA).- Archbishop Charles J. Chaput did not enjoy his first and only encounter with two leaders of Catholics United. “It was an interesting experience,” Archbishop Chaput recounted in his Oct. 13 column…Continue Reading

The anti-Catholic Catholics (and the bishops who support them)

Yesterday Ross Douthat of the New York Times embarked on a lengthy Tweetstorm —21 tweets in all—questioning whether it’s accurate to refer to the leaked emails from the Clinton campaign as evidence of “anti-Catholic” bigotry. Douthat—who is no friend of…Continue Reading

The next ‘deplorables’? Clinton campaign rips ‘backwards’ Catholic beliefs in leaked e-mails

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 11, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – “Conservative Catholics” are the latest Americans to be smeared by members of Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, leaked emails revealed on Tuesday show. Catholic beliefs are bashed as “backwards” and conservative Catholics…Continue Reading

German Bishop’s New Proposal: “There Exists More Than Man and Woman”

The Catholic Church in Germany seems to be becoming more and more unbounded in its proposals. In the recent past, for examples, the official website of the German Bishops’ Conference,, has reported about the idea to have women cardinals; about…Continue Reading

Cardinal Sarah presents counter-vision to Francis as he launches new book

After being reprimanded by Pope Francis over the summer for calling on priests to face east while saying Mass, Cardinal Robert Sarah is refusing to back down and is becoming a rallying point of opposition to this papacy.  The Vatican’s…Continue Reading

Massachusetts’ highest court grants full parental rights to unmarried gay woman

BOSTON – The Mass. court that paved the way for same-sex marriage in the United States ruled Tuesday that an unmarried gay woman whose former girlfriend gave birth to two children through artificial insemination has the same parental rights as…Continue Reading

Shunned for supporting natural marriage, former Mozilla CEO is back with new browser

SAN FRANCISCO, September 28, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The former CEO of Mozilla has released a new Internet browser called Brave. Brendan Eich, the creator of JavaScript, continues to lead the technological revolution with Brave, an innovative concept in Internet browsers.…Continue Reading

Lay Catholic Group: Tim Kaine’s Radical Views Stem From Embrace of Liberation Theology

An organization of committed lay Catholics is challenging Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, who’s invoking his Catholic faith and the words of Pope Francis as a basis for his radical positions on abortion and marriage, as well as his…Continue Reading

Quebec cardinal won’t refuse funerals for those choosing assisted suicide

Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec said he has no intention to follow in the steps of his fellow Canadian bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories in refusing funerals for those who asked to be euthanized. “I don’t plan specific…Continue Reading

Shocking Report Reveals Scientists Have Created the Word’s First Baby With Three-Parents

A shocking new report claims the world’s first three-parent baby (pictured above) has been born. Children born through ‘three-person IVF’ would contain some genetic material from each of three different people. There are about 50 known mitochondrial diseases (MCDs), which…Continue Reading


Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.

  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

Enter Comments Below

This Weeks Comments And Letters . . .

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “An Introduction To The Problem Of Euthanasia”

By BRIAN CLOWES Part 2 (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, a 150-page treatise on all of the aspects of euthanasia, e-mail him at + + + We have covered the definitions of the varieties of…Continue Reading

Today . . .

Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput welcomes ‘smaller church’ of holier Catholics

(RNS) In a stark prognosis for contemporary Catholicism, a leader of the conservative wing of the U.S. hierarchy has said that “a smaller, lighter church” of fewer but holier believers is preferable to one that promotes inclusion at the expense of traditional orthodoxy. In a speech delivered Wednesday (Oct. 19) at the University of Notre Dame, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput also suggested that many prominent Catholics are so weak in their faith that they ought…Continue Reading

Kansas archbishop blasts Kaine: He’s an ‘orthodox’ Democrat but a ‘cafeteria Catholic’


KANSAS CITY, Kansas, October 17, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — The archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, has lambasted Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine for supporting abortion on demand while simultaneously touting his Catholic faith. Kaine is an “orthodox” Democrat but only a “cafeteria Catholic” who picks and chooses “the teachings of the Catholic Church that are politically convenient,” Archbishop Joseph Naumann wrote in a devastating critique of the Virginia senator. “It was painful to listen…Continue Reading

U.S. Catholics Under Attack

WikiLeaks did it again with another e-mail release, 1,200 of them, and this time exposing the deliberate attempts by the Clinton campaign to disrupt, undermine and, yes, try to destroy the Catholic Church. Their intent was (is) to plant the “seeds of the revolution” within the institution. Among the e-mails are communications between Clinton operatives that are clearly filled with bigotry. If anyone had any doubt that Hillary Clinton and the people around her have…Continue Reading

Fake Catholic Groups and the “Catholic Spring” Emails


It is now impossible to deny that Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United have worked for years to undermine and manipulate Catholic leadership Beginning in 2007, orthodox Catholic writers including myself wrote dozens of articles in an attempt to expose the funding and duplicitousness of two fake Catholic groups: the George Soros-funded Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Catholics United. (For example, see here and here and here.) Now,…Continue Reading

Archbishop Chaput’s Weekly Column: About Those Unthinking, Backward Catholics

Back in 2008, in the weeks leading up to the Obama-McCain presidential election, two young men visited me in Denver.  They were from Catholics United, a group describing itself as committed to social justice issues.  They voiced great concern at the manipulative skill of Catholic agents for the Republican Party.  And they hoped my brother bishops and I would resist identifying the Church with single-issue and partisan (read: abortion) politics. It was an interesting experience.…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “Advance Medical Directives: The Living Will”

By BRIAN CLOWES (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For an electronic copy of chapter 23 of The Facts of Life, “Euthanasia,” e-mail him at + + + “Evil committed for a good cause remains evil.” “Even when it succeeds?” “Above all when…Continue Reading

The Joke’s On Us

By DONALD DeMARCO The definitive Jack Benny joke is well known. Originally aired in a March 28, 1948 episode, the legendary comedian is accosted by a mugger and given the option, “Your money or your life!” A long pause follows. The gunman reiterates, “Look, bud! I said your money or your life?” Benny replies, “I’m…Continue Reading

“Pope’s Day” . . … The Lost Tradition Of A November 5 Anti-Catholic Feast Day

By RAY CAVANAUGH In much of colonial America, November 5 was known as Pope’s Day. This was not a day of celebrating the Pontiff, however. In fact, violence would erupt over who got the privilege of burning the Pope’s effigy. Pope’s Day (also known as “Pope’s Night” or just “Pope Day”) was the colonial offshoot…Continue Reading

Restoring The Sacred . . . Words Of Timeless Faith And Truth From An Old Irish Hymnal

By JAMES MONTI Sacred music has been a fundamental component of the Church’s liturgy from Day One, as manifested by the hymn that the apostles sang when our Lord was about to leave the Cenacle for Gethsemane following the Last Supper (Matt. 26:30). Even earlier, music had been a key feature of Jewish worship for…Continue Reading

A Book Review . . . Channels Of Grace: Famous U.S. Converts

By MITCHELL KALPAKGIAN The Mississippi Flows Into the Tiber: A Guide to Notable American Converts to the Catholic Church, by John Beaumont (South Bend, Ind.: 2014), 1013 pages. Limited copies available through A collection of short biographies of American converts from colonial times to the 21st century, these accounts provide biographical information about each…Continue Reading


Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Catholic Replies

Editor’s Note: J.H.T. of North Carolina, a deacon who has been a witness to the “liturgical wars” of the past half-century, has recommended an “extraordinary book” — Peter Kwasniewski’s Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church — that he says should be read by all Catholics, clergy and lay, who…Continue Reading

The Lover Of Souls

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Thirty-First Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR C) Readings: Wisdom 11:22-12 2 Thess. 1:11-2:2 Luke 19:1-10 In the first reading today, we are given a good perspective on things: Before the Lord, the entire universe is less than a drop of morning dew on the Earth. When we consider one tiny drop of dew in comparison to…Continue Reading

The Clergy’s Silence, Ambiguity, And Dissent Are Destroying The Family

By FR. SHENAN BOQUET (Editor’s Note: Fr. Shenan Boquet is the president of Human Life International, and he travels around the world spreading the Gospel of Life in that role. He is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese in Louisiana where he served before joining HLI in August 2011. (Fr. Boquet’s commentary below on the silence of the shepherds first…Continue Reading

A Leaven In The World… We Are All Lepers, Marred By Sin

By FR. KEVIN M. CUSICK In the Rossellini film The Flowers of St. Francis, a series of black and white vignettes drawn from the saint’s life are strung together. In one of these St. Francis encounters a leper. He is repulsed by the man’s wounds, because he is human like the rest of us. Having come to love the Lord…Continue Reading

What Is Faith?… God’s Knowledge And Love

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA Part 7 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). It is impressive to realize that God’s knowledge is infinite, and His love is eternal. Before Jeremias was even conceived in his mother’s womb, God…Continue Reading

Blessed Giuseppe Puglisi

By CAROLE BRESLIN When a society is riddled with evil and corruption, the worst thing we can do is to remain quiet. If we truly believe in God, then it is our obligation to do all we can to save the souls in danger of being lost in such a society. The threats and dangers of this world are not…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Gerard Majella

By CAROLE BRESLIN God works many miracles through the weakest persons so that their lives read like a fairy tale. Old or young, sick or poor, powerful or destitute, all are touched deeply by their encounters with such men of God. Such was the life of St. Gerard Majella, the patron saint of expectant mothers and young children. Domenica, a…Continue Reading