Spiritual, But Not Religious (SBNR) ~

I’ve been curious for a while about the difference between spirituality and religion.

I’ve come to my own conclusions about the distinction between the two – but I needed a distraction from my work on my intuition film, and so I googled: Spirituality vs Religion.

And what I discovered was quite surprising.

I discovered that there is a demographic category called SBNR – Spiritual But Not Religious.

There’s even a website called sbns.org. Their tagline is:

Love is the answer
You are the question

I don’t actually know what that means. But it sounds good.

The website has posts that link to their Facebook page. Their most recent post was three and a half years ago.

According to my favourite research tool, Wikipedia, SBNR has become a movement. Yes, a movement. Since the 60’s, the percentage of people in America who do not affiliate with a religion but profess to hold some spiritual belief is 25% – and growing each year.

Interestingly, the majority are men, and they’re young. That surprised me.

The reasons for rejecting religion were cited as:

  • it’s too rigid and pushy
  • it’s too institutionalised
  • it’s hypocritical
  • it’s restrictive
  • it’s irrelevant
  • it’s too dogmatic and inflexible

Criticisms of the SBNR movement are:

  • it’s superficial
  • it lacks rigor
  • there’s no sustained dedication or devotion
  • it’s shallow and inauthentic
  • it’s too casual and there’s no formal structure

What’s my definition of the two?

Spiritualism is personal, religion is institutional.

Some people like Starbucks. All the decisions are made for them. A Starbucks coffee is the same every day, everywhere. You walk into a Starbucks anywhere in the world, you know what you’re getting. Coffee from Starbucks is a no-brainer.

Others like to make their own. They like to use their own machine, grind their beans to the consistency they prefer, they adjust the compression of the grind in the head so they get their crema just right. They will go to great lengths to get their coffee just the way they like it. For them, it’s worth the effort, and they would never think of going to Starbucks.

Similarly, the Starbucks aficionados would never dream of making their own coffee. Why go to all that trouble, and expense? Starbucks coffee is great.

Of course this is a very flip and superficial comparison between the two – and I could shift into a more esoteric gear – but not now. That would necessitate me discussing my particular beliefs, and now’s not the time.

Have I ever said to someone: I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious… 

I really hope not. I’d hate to think I was part of a movement…

best of India Bhutan-1-2





6 thoughts on “Spiritual, But Not Religious (SBNR) ~

  1. There you go again, Bill, hitting nails right into the centre of an issue!! All of the above is why I always try to keep my beliefs (spiritual, religious or otherwise) entirely private 🙂


    • Good question George. I don’t think they are necessarily mutually exclusive – although ultimately it depends on your definition of what you regard as being religious, and spiritual. I know a lot of spiritual people who rail against the thought of embracing an organised religion – equally I know religious people who think that spiritual people are misguided hippies. But then there are some within Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity too who hold to mystic traditions, and would regard themselves as being both religious and spiritual. The Sufis are definitely such a group. So there is no simple answer. But a good question!


  2. What’s my definition of the two?

    Spiritualism is personal, religion is institutional.

    I very much disagree — perhaps a better parallel for you to work with, in relation to your work here, would be : Spirituality is intuitive, religion is intellective.

    Religion is meaningless if it isn’t also spiritual though ; so that the complementary point, that spirituality is meaningless if it isn’t also religious, is worthy of some very serious consideration.


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