“Spiritual… but not religious.”

SPIRITUAL 'spɪ.rɪtʃ(.əw).əl adjective. Dealing with immaterial things in the human spirit or soul.
2. Dealing with religion.
[Spirituality 'spɪr.ɪt.ʃəw.æl.ə.di noun.]

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 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 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 there’s still a dividing line which they insist they won’t cross: They’re spiritual. But not religious. We Christians are religious, and they don’t wanna go there.

This’ll confuse many an Evangelical. ’Cause over the past six decades, many have got it into our heads we’re not religious. (And we might not be, but that’s another article.) When Evangelicals say “religion,” most of us mean dead religion, and we’re not that; we have a living relationship with Jesus, right?

I used to believe this rubbish too, so I’d tell pagans, same as most Evangelicals, “Oh, I don’t have a religion. I have a relationship.”

Which confused ’em. To a pagan, if you go to church—and we should!—you’re in an organized religion. You don’t get to determine, on your own, by yourself, what you do and don’t believe: Your church does. Your bishop, pastors, and elders do. They tell you what to think and believe and do. There are rules. There are mandatory rituals. You’re threatened with hell if you don’t do them.

Obviously they’ve never been to church (or if they have, it was kind of a cult), ’cause it doesn’t work that way at all. Yeah, the church has official doctrines, and if you wanna get into church leadership you gotta agree with the doctrines. But the regular members believe what they want, do as they want, and answer to nobody but the Holy Spirit; and they won’t even follow him half the time. Or most of the time. And there’s grace, or at least there had better be; we do have a proper understanding that good works don’t save us; nobody should be using hellfire to threaten one another.

Even so: Whenever we Evangelicals claim, “Oh I’m not religious,” pagans believe either we’re lying, and trying to trick ’em into joining our religion; or we’ve been brainwashed, and don’t realize just how far our religious leaders have their tentacles in us.

Likewise, “No, my church doesn’t work like that.” Pagans won’t believe this either: They’ve heard the horror stories… or, sadly, might’ve lived them. 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 these pagans only dabble in religion, but have no strong beliefs. Or if they totally do have an organized religion, but like Evangelicals they’re in denial, because they redefined their vocabulary words.

As I explained in my article on eclecticism, humans don’t monolithically all believe the same things. We can lump people into categories, and even then they don’t all believe likewise. You gotta ask ’em on an individual basis.

But generally I find the “spiritual but not religious” fall into six groups.

FAKE CHRISTIANS. By all outside appearances, these appear to be Christians… but they 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—they only think they’re Christian. They have no Holy Spirit within them, and produce none of his fruit.

Nope; they’re not hypocrites; they’re not faking anything. They honestly do think they’re Christian. They have no idea they’re not, or have some idea but suppress those doubts as much as they can. 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 with 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 never wanna be told they’re wrong.

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. All the fears and paranoia of dark Christianity—and the reason they won’t go to church is they don’t trust any church, and think they’ve all been corrupted by Satan. Yours included. 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 because they’re in no organized religion, they’re not religious. But of course they’re 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 things to believe in, and are entirely sure they’re true. 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. They used to be devotees—sometimes of their own ideas—but they realized it was all bogus, or it stopped working for them. so they quit. In some cases their gurus and leaders drove ’em away. 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 have to minister to. And they’ll 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 with them.

ANTICHRISTS. Regardless of their beliefs, when it comes to Christianity, they want nothing to do with it, and that’s firm. 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 the non-spiritual: I don’t mean nontheists and agnostics. They tend to be antichrists too; they often want to see all religion eliminated. But when a pagan is spiritual yet antichrist, it means they do believe in God or gods or spirits… just not Jesus of Nazareth, nor his followers. 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 open to everything else, but not us. They’ll try anything else, so long as 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 evolves 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 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.

Help them find their way.

As you can tell, some of the “spiritual but not religious” folks are 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 stripe of pagan they are.

No, I’m not saying to skip resistant pagans, like the antichrists. God wants to save them too. I’m just warning you: 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 the apathetic: They don’t care whether he loves them. And Jesus tells us we ordinarily shouldn’t waste our time and theirs: Once you tried, 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 determinists tell you: Don’t ever write someone off. You never know what the Holy Spirit is doing to ’em.

So as you wait 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. So make sure they know you’re a non-judgmental Christian, whom they can come to once 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.

And by non-judgmental I really do mean non-judgmental. Don’t judge them! 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.