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28 April 2016

“Spiritual… but not religious.”

Meaning they don’t really wanna go to your church, thank you very much.

SPIRITUAL /'spɪr.ɪtʃ(.əw).əl/ adj. Dealing with immaterial things in the human spirit or soul.
2. Dealing with religion.
[Spirituality /'spɪr.ɪtʃ.əw.æl.ə.di/ n.]

Many pagans like to describe themselves as spiritual. ’Cause they are. They believe in immaterial things, like the soul. Might even believe in other spirits; or God, whom they correctly recognize is a spirit; Jn 4.24 or a spiritual afterlife. Or not: They only believe in spiritual forces, like good vibes or positivity, bad vibes or negativity, which can affect not just ourselves, but everyone around us.

Christians will call ourselves spiritual too, ’cause we are. We have the Holy Spirit, who’s hopefully working on us, if we let him. We’re taught to pursue spirit, not flesh. Ro 8.5-6 We believe in God and angels and unclean spirits (like the devil) and that we’re part spirit. For the most part, we believe in the supernatural too.

Now, you can tell a pagan all this: “You’re spiritual? So’m I.” But they’ll insist there’s still a dividing line which they don’t care to cross: They’re spiritual, but not religious. We, on the other hand, are religious… and they don’t wanna go there.

Evangelicals get confused by this. “Religious? I’m not religious. Christians don’t do religion. We do relationship.” It’s because Evangelicals have their own definition of religion. And this out-of-the-mainstream definition means they don’t understand what pagans mean… and pagans don’t understand Evangelicals either.

Okay: To a pagan, if you go to church—as we should—that’s an organized religion. It means you don’t define what it is you believe. Your church does. Your bishop and pastors and elders do. They tell you what to think and believe and do. Loads of rules, and no grace. And if you don’t do as they say, they keep you in line by threatening you with hell. Whenever you claim, “Oh, but I’m not religious”—either you’re lying, and trying to trick people into joining your religion; or you’ve been brainwashed, and don’t realize just how far your religious leaders have their tentacles in you.

Yeah, you might insist, “That’s nothing like how my church works.” I know; it’s nothing like my church either. But pagans won’t believe this. Some of them grew up in church… and unfortunately, this was their church experience. (I’d call those churches cults, but pagans just assume all churches work like that.) Other pagans have never been to church, or have only visited for holidays, weddings, funerals, and christenings; but they heard the horror stories, or watched ’em in movies, and they “know better.”

The religion they prefer is one which permits them perfect freedom. Nobody tells them what to think, how to do things, how to be, where to go. Maybe God gets to; maybe their angels. Maybe they listen to their favorite gurus with fervent devotion, and do everything they’re told, same as any cult member. But to their minds, they can walk away whenever they like; they’re in control. They’re not sure they can maintain this level of control if they set foot in your church building. So no thank you. Organized religion isn’t for them.

Not all disorganized religion is the same.

I’ve heard Christians describe the “spiritual but not religious” as if they’re all the same—as if they only dabble in religion, but believe nothing strongly. Or as if they totally do have an organized religion, but they’re the ones who’ve been brainwashed into thinking their temples aren’t really religion.

As I explained when I wrote on eclecticism, pagans don’t monolithically all believe the same things. We can lump ’em into categories, and even then they won’t all believe likewise. You gotta ask ’em on a case-by-case basis. But generally I find the “spiritual but not religious” fall into six groups.

FAKE CHRISTIANS. By all outside appearances, these seem to be Christians who just won’t affiliate themselves with any church. They’re going it alone. They call themselves Christian; they know Christian terms, and have Christian trappings. But in fact they’re incognito pagans, pagans only who think they’re Christian. They have no Holy Spirit within them, and produce none of his fruit. They’re Christianists.

Nope; they’re not hypocrites, pretending to be what they know they’re not. ’Cause they don’t know they’re not. They honestly think they’re Christian. They like Jesus; they just don’t follow him. They like the bible; they just never read it, don’t know it, and are easily tripped up by fake bible quotes. They don’t pray, or they assume their positive attitudes count as a form of prayer. And they certainly don’t go to church, ’cause they don’t wanna be told they’re wrong, ’cause they are.

There’s more than one type of fake Christian. I just mentioned the positive sort, whose idea of Christianity is happy and uplifting and heavenly and friendly. Then there’s the negative sort. They adopt a lot of the fears and paranoia of dark Christianity. They don’t go to church ’cause they fear every church, yours included, has been corrupted by Satan. They might read the bible, but only to find proof-texts for their conspiracy theories. They might pray, but largely they’re imprecatory prayers—“God, smite my foes” and all that. They’re more obviously fruitless than the positive Christianist: No grace, no love, lots of anger.

DEVOTEES. These folks have a religion. But they’re like Evangelicals who’re in denial about how their consistent practices are so a religion. They figure since they’re in no organized religion, they’re not religious.

But they totally are religious. Whatever beliefs they have, they believe in ’em devoutly. They’ll even try to convert you.

’Cause many pagans, though they refuse to join any particular church or religion, really wanna know the truth about the universe, the afterlife, God, and so forth. So they explore, study, learn… and believe. They find what they’re entirely sure is truth. They’ll bet their lives (and afterlife) on it.

In any event, their minds are made up, and you’re not gonna convert them till they shake their beloved beliefs.

SEEKERS. And here’s the polar opposite of the devotees: These folks are totally open-minded. They don’t currently adhere to any religion. But if we present ’em with a good one, they’ll join.

These are just the sort of pagans we Christians love to work with. ’Cause their minds are open. They’ll visit our churches. They’ll listen to what we have to say. They may not agree with everything, but that’s okay: If they hang out with us long enough, they’ll meet Jesus, and he’ll cinch the deal and make ’em Christian.

DIVORCÉS. They’re a form of seeker: They just left another religion. Might be their own; they used to be devotees, but they realized it was all bogus, so they quit it. Might be an existing religion, like people who just quit their church or temple or mosque, either ’cause it stopped working for them, or because their leaders drove them out. Regardless, they’re still open to God and spirituality. They just haven’t found a new religion yet.

Like seekers, these are also the sort of pagans we Christians love to work with. Although if they just left one branch of Christianity, they’re gonna come with a lot of baggage—a lot of hurts we’ll have to minister to. And they’re gonna still have a lot of misconceptions about God, held over from their previous religion—some of which they might be really fond of. Gotta be patient.

ANTICHRISTS. When it comes to Christianity, their minds are made up: They don’t wanna have anything to do with it. They had a terrible experience with it, or encountered really awful representatives of it. Frankly, they’d like to see it done away with.

Since I’m writing about the “spiritual but not religious,” I don’t mean nontheists and agnostics, who are neither spiritual nor religious, who also tend to be antichrists—and kinda want to see all religion done away with. But when a pagan is spiritual, yet an antichrist, it means they do believe in God or gods or spirits; they just reject everything Jesus or Christians have to say on the subject. They don’t consider us valid. Antichrists will claim Jesus’s followers made everything up, and even that Jesus himself never existed. They’ll be open to everything but Christianity. Their minds are made up about us. Not so much everything else. They’ll try anything else—just so long that it’s not Christian.

APATHETIC. They sorta believe in God, gods, or spirits. But really, they figure there are way more important things in their life than religious beliefs. They don’t wanna explore these ideas any deeper. They figure they’re just fine as-is.

True, sometimes an apathetic pagan might evolve into a seeker. When life gets rough or unmanageable, people might point ’em to religion, so they’ll dabble, and see whether it can help ’em out any. And maybe nothing more than that: They’ll use meditation to relieve stress, but they won’t examine meditation to see whether it reveals anything more about God. They’ll believe in a higher power ’cause it helps them through their 12-step program, but they won’t try to get to know their higher power, ’cause the important thing is breaking their addiction. The goal is their own well-being. Nothing more.

Helping them find their way.

As you can tell, some of the “spiritual but not religious” folks are gonna be open to what we have to say… and some not so much. Seekers and divorcés might listen. Devotees and fake Christians will try to instruct us. Antichrists will fight us. And apathetic folks won’t care. So if you wanna share Jesus with pagans, first figure out what they are.

No, I’m not saying don’t waste your time on resistant pagans, like antichrists. God wants to save them too. But like I said, they’re gonna fight us. It’s way harder to share Jesus with someone who hates Jesus. In many ways it’s even harder to share Jesus with apathetic people, who don’t care whether he loves them. Ordinarily Jesus tells us we shouldn’t waste any more of our time and theirs: You tried, so now shake the dust off your feet against ’em. Mk 6.11

But sometimes pagans change camps. Fake Christians repent and become real Christians. Antichrists like Saul of Tarsus run into the living Christ and switch teams in a blink. Devotees realize they’re totally wrong and become divorcés. I don’t care what the Calvinists tell you: Don’t ever write someone off. You never know what the Holy Spirit is doing to ’em.

So as you’re waiting for the Spirit’s next instructions, be available. They may have no questions for you right now, and not even care to hear a thing you have to say—but make sure they know you’re the non-judgmental Christian they can come to if they ever get curious. When the Spirit’s about to crack that walnut, he often turns to the people who made themselves available like that.

By non-judgmental I really do mean non-judgmental. Don’t debate ’em. Don’t rebuke ’em. Don’t correct ’em. They’re not Christians; you have no business holding non-Christians to God’s standards. Not even God does that. Ro 2.14-16 You’re there to be Jesus to them, and Jesus didn’t come to condemn but save. Jn 3.17 When they wanna turn to Jesus, you’re there to point the way. Till then… well, point the way.