Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Religious but not spiritual

In just the last couple of days in the blogosphere I've seen a number of contemptuous references to those who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious". There may be drawbacks to the spiritual but not religious stance, but I think even more worthy of criticism is the opposite - religious but not spiritual. I saw a short facetious piece at the Onion (h/t Andrew Sullivan) which makes its subject a priest, but I believe there are a large number of lay Catholics who could be defined this way as well :) ......


Priest Religious, But Not Really Spiritual
May 5, 2010 | ISSUE 46•18

BOSTON—Father Clancy Donahue of St. Michael Catholic Church told reporters Wednesday that while he believed in blindly adhering to the dogma and ceremonies of his faith, he tried not to get too bogged down by actual spirituality. "I'm not so much into having a relationship with God as I am into mechanically conducting various rituals," Donahue said. "To me, it just feels empty to contemplate a higher power without blindly obeying canon law and protecting the church as an institution." Donahue emphasized that although he did not personally agree with those who pondered the eternal, he had nothing against them.



Anonymous Henry said...


Funny article - the Onion is great!

Soooo... the best thing is to be both "spiritual" and "religious" - it WORKS for me and I encourage all my friends to try it.

After all, the holistic approach is always best!



1:32 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Yes, both seems to work best :)

1:42 PM  
Blogger Fran said...

Hello! I have not been around much, very crazy in these parts.

Tonight was the first night of my moral theology class. We got into a whole conversation about SBNR. Jim Martin SJ does write about this in his book, perhaps that is what you refer to in regard to the blogosphere. I have not been on many blogs lately.

In any case, as you and as Henry say, holistic is the way; it is about integrity. To be too much of one and not the other is to lose something.

That Onion piece - it sounds a little scarily true of some places that I have seen!

7:00 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I love the Onion! It's always good for a nice, roaring belly-laugh!

The question of spiritual/religious is a really good one, though. Sometimes those who espouse "spiritual" over "religious" are more private and individualistic -- and that's just not what Jesus went about pulling together. While he had the utmost care for individuals, he also pulled together communities, and sent his disciples out to do the same. Communities... well, they're problematic! We have to deal with other people's fragility and sinfulness, not just our own!

And when you're dealing with how communities live out a spirituality... that's where "religious" begins to come in, unavoidably. Whether it's governanace, agreed-upon standards/morals, liturgy, tradition, or structure...

Being an ordained person (even though I'm on a pretty low rung), I have occasion to think about this often. Not just when I'm active in our parish, but also at the hospital, when I get called in by a family, who may or may not be "religious" but who are reaching out to that community in some way.

It's a good kind of a challenge to where we are and how we see ourselves.

11:38 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Fran,

I did see an excerpt from Fr. Martin's book on that. He's not the person I meant, though - he's always respectful of others and tries to see all sides of issues :)

2:23 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


I know community is important but I tend to lean towards the spiritual but not religious camp, being more of a social hermit. I'm looking forward to heaven where there will be no more religion :)

2:25 AM  
Blogger Fran said...

Oh dear, I did not think you meant Jim's own words, just words about his words!! He is great at expressing things that are not hurtful or divisive in general!

I love what Deacon Denny says in his comment.

And for what it is worth, I myself came straight out of left-the-church-long-time-ago-became-SBNR myself. My experience and yours may not be alike, but I am so deep into the heart of community now, 20 years on in my re-entry to Church.

It is a place that I never dreamed I would be and if it were to go away, I would be without air to breath.

And - not to co-opt the name of your blog, is simply said for perspective!

You do good work out here Crystal, you truly do. The topics and discussion are great.

4:16 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:09 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks :)

I do see your point of view. Sometimes I really do miss church. I didn't leave because I was angry but for many reasons, some having to do with not seeing very well, not being able to drive, and with me being so shy. I really appreciate the online community I seem to belong to, though.

1:44 AM  

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