Religion is a collection of beliefs, practices, and organizations that provide guidance for life. It’s a system that includes both rituals and doctrines, as well as texts and worldviews.
The purpose of religion is to unite people and to help them find their way to a higher power. Some of the more traditional religious beliefs can justify exclusion of certain groups, or even an exclusive set of truths.
There are two major classes of religious groups: “practicing Christians” and “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR). The latter is a group that holds ambivalent or non-traditional viewpoints on the subject. These groups are more commonly found on the West Coast and in the South. They make up about 8 percent of the population, and are most likely to be Gen-Xers and Boomers.
As far as being “spiritual” is concerned, a good number of them are just as unlikely to believe in God as those who are actively practicing their faith. This may be due to the fact that “spiritual” is a relative term. Those with an intrinsic religious orientation dedicate their lives to a higher power, while those with an extrinsic religious orientation are more likely to use their religious practices for external ends.
Religious behavior involves rituals such as prayer and fasting. Many religions also have rules and regulations that pertain to morality and justice. For example, a church member might fear judgment if they think of divorce, or if they do not tell others about an abusive husband.
In addition, there are many forms of spirituality. Aside from being a religious belief, a spirituality also relates to the search for meaning in life, and a sense of awe. People with this orientation tend to exhibit less physiological reactivity to stress.
A survey of U.S. adults conducted by Barna Research revealed that the “spiritual” was not the only thing they knew about the world of religion. Among the most notable is the existence of secret terrorism. Examples include spousal abuse, threats against non-compliant children, and bombings.
Despite the number of different religions in the world, there are a small number of noteworthy “spiritual but not religious” groups. These groups are just as likely to hold traditional or non-traditional views on religion as those who are actively practicing their faith. Almost all SBNR participants believed in the following: God, meditation, prayer, and fasting.
Despite the number of participants who were in the “spiritual but not religious” camp, only a tiny fraction of them discussed any of these topics with their friends or colleagues. One-third of them still identify as “spiritual,” despite their lack of faith.
Regardless of their specific stances on religion, these people are making a case for a broader definition of the term. While they might not be able to explain why they believe what they do, they do believe in the concept of a higher power, and they may be just as likely to think that it is a state of mind or a state of being rather than a specific deity.