It is only reasonable to conclude that spirituality fulfills a basic human need. In the hierarchy of needs that he developed, Abraham Maslow called such needs higher needs. Religion has fulfilled the spiritual needs of billions of people, but sometimes at great cost. Religion is a powerful force, and it has not always been a force for good. We can be spiritual, however, without the excess baggage that often may accompany organized religion. Spirituality does not have to be unreasonable.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with religion, but organized religion simply does not work for some people. For many of us, beliefs based on unquestioning faith simply will not stand up to critical analysis. We cannot “go along to get along”. We do not intend to be impertinent. We love our friends and family and respect their choices, but what is right for them is simply not right for us. And while we respect their choices, sometimes this respect is not returned, because the formerly shared belief system does not permit different ways of thinking. This is unfortunate for those of us who are spiritual but not religious, because what we believe has to be rational, and what we were taught no longer makes sense to us. Leaving your religion presents an awkward situation, and there is no easy way to tell loved ones about this decision. To avoid conflict, some people “fake it” when they visit with parents, other relatives, or friends and do not reveal their decision. After all, as it is said, the nail that sticks out gets pounded flat. But if we are to be true to ourselves we must assert our independence, and this takes courage.
And when we do assert ourselves, we must take care. There is a natural tendency to be critical
when we get up the nerve to break away from our childhood religion. We are so excited we
want to shout it from the mountaintops! We want to point out every flaw, every absurdity,
every false conclusion our old belief system is promoting. Ultimately, though, criticism does not
build anything — it only tears down. Remember that when Socrates asked critical questions in a
debate to deconstruct a person’s beliefs, he did so to get that person’s false notions out of the
way to be replaced by new knowledge. Socrates would lead his debate participant away from
false knowledge and towards some better hypothesis. Not many of us can claim to be as able as
Socrates in a debate.
Many of us place high value on reason and critical thinking, but we must maintain our
perspective. We are humans, not robots, and a healthy view of human reason recognizes our
other human characteristics. We can be overly rational. We cannot ignore the visceral elements
of our being. Without art, music, dance, fantasy, and fiction, our lives would be much poorer.
A life without the fruit of the muses would not be worth living for most of us, and for so very
many of us the same can be said of spirituality.
Thus I am spiritual but not religious, which means I do not subscribe to any mainstream
religion. I have concluded that spirituality is normal and natural. As for organized religion, I just
don’t need all the drama.