The arrogance of Spiritual but not Religious

Yeah. I agree with Ken Wilber here (below). I have always thought we can be both spiritual AND religious. Why does religion get a bad rap — well, we all know why, because “sellers” and “enforcers” of organized religion have abused humanity.  But religion, RELIGION itself is way cool. It’s my field, so okay, I am biased. In our seminary application process we always require new minister candidates to write the story of religion AND spirituality in their life from childhood to present.

From philosopher Ken Wilber’s forum:

It’s become quite a trend in the integral community to describe oneself as “spiritual but not religious.” In light of our shared integral spiritual vision, It certainly makes sense that folks like us would define ourselves in a way that is opposed to folks like them. Who’s them? Well you know, those mythic literalists with their fundamentalist religion. But, from another perspective, don’t you think it’s a bit awkward for us so-called integral types to describe what we are by disaffirming an opposite? And, what’s with all this us and them talk? Is that not a hallmark of absolutistic thinking? Doesn’t this reek of the same conformist cognition that fuels the fundamentalist fervor we’re so sure we have nothing in common with? Instead of so strongly insisting that we’re oh-so-spiritual–but oh-no religion!–what would it mean to be both spiritual and religious?

In this talk, Ken outlines two required steps for bringing religion and spirituality into greater accord. He’s guided by a vision of a fully functional and healthy religion—one which institutionalizes a care and concern for spiritual intelligence that grows in two directions: waking-up and growing-up. On the waking-up side of the street, he envisions the return of state-stage cultivation, accomplished by resurrecting and re-engaging the contemplative practices of the early christian fathers. And on the growing-up side, he calls for a busting of the mythic ceiling—a move that loosens and lubricates development along the spiral of spiritual intelligence, and which results in 2000-year-old myths being reinterpreted at higher levels. If these steps are acted in consort, Ken foresees religion as regaining a functional capacity to address human development through states and structures. And if not, folks like us—folks who deeply yearn for a post-mythic approach—will likely retain our status as “spiritual but not religious.”

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Katia is a consecrated independent sacramental bishop. She directs the online Esoteric Mystery School and Interfaith Theological Seminary. Check it out at

4 thoughts on “The arrogance of Spiritual but not Religious”

  1. Here are my thoughts on the Spiritual vs Religious debate. We are all by nature Spiritual beings. We strive for what inner sanctity, and inner peace. What that inner peace looks like for each of us is difference. When studying to be a teacher, which I have been for some time now, you learn about Intrinsic Motivation, which is what drives you about a lesson to learn. Well Religion is an organized system by which a person achieves or meets their spiritual needs. Religion is just like education, it comes in all forms, different schools of thought, and different ways of doing things. To be spiritual is to be human. What that spirituality looks like and how we develop it is another post.

  2. It may also help to consider my postulate on “aggregate maturation” which I formulated to espouse the concept that for a person to be whole, they must achieve aggregate maturation, which is a new unorthodox term. I am trying very hard to get that out there. But there developmental theories in both religious and secular contexts that suggest how and why humans develop and respond they way that they do. I purport we must develop healthily along ALL developmental stages, hence once we do that, we will and only then truly understand our inner beings.

  3. One can always complicate matters. And I often tend to do so, but this is not one of those times. Or perhaps I am just missing the point?

    I have always thought of spirituality as an esoteric, inward-looking experience and quite personal, while the religious experience is exoteric, involving dogma and institutional structure, which is to a large degree impersonal.

    So in the past when I have said I am spiritual and not religious, I meant that to mean I am concerned about my personal spiritual development and growth, but I am not concerned nor interested in religious institutions nor, for that matter, in trying to make others think as I do.

    But now I often instead say something along the lines that my spiritual beliefs are far more esoteric in nature than exoteric and leave it at that.

    Few people really want to know what I think anyway 😉 hehehe, so they are saved the loss of time when I give this answer, and the few that really are interested will then begin what has often turned out to be quite interesting conversations!

  4. The argument seems akin to that of nascent feminism. The 60’s question: “Are you one of those wimmen’s libbers?” was supposed to elicit apologies.

    So then religion. And those denials, reenacting in a postmodern form the archetype of Peter. Spiritual, not religious.

    As if all of western history were a mistake. What if the early church had become exclusive, the province of the spiritually superior? What would have happened to the message of Christ– that every human has evolutionary potential as divine anthropos?

    To look back at a 2k old institution and excoriate it for its failures is unfair. No, I’m not defending some silly infallibility. Or prejudice, corruption, and cowardice. Rather arguing that historical setting is relevant.

    Look at contemporary politics in the US. Dismal. Do we then blame the founders for their failures? Or call for an end to democracy because the system is imperfect?

    Seems human evolution takes a long time. We who have struggled to realize spiritual awareness need compassion for those who are at other points in the journey. Although I, too, am for the most part unchurched, I value those both currently and throughout history whose prophetic and mystical gifts have found a home in the institutional Church.

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