Whaddaya Say?

“I’m Spiritual, but Not Religious”

Thanks to everyone who submitted responses to the question of “What do we believe about reincarnation?” in last month’s newsletter. Click here to see how people answered the question.

This month’s “Whaddaya Say” is about the statement, “I’m Spiritual, but Not Religious.” Our evangelists often hear this statement when evangelizing college-age people. Often, people in college believe in doing good and avoiding evil, and they think maybe there’s a God (or maybe not), but they don’t go to church or think anything having to do with religion is really important.

So, imagine you’re evangelizing at a college and you have the following conversation:

Evangelist: Hi, would you like a free rosary?

Other person: Sure, thank you!

E: No problem, did you know the rosary is a prayer?

O: It is?

E: Yeah, it’s a powerful meditation on the life of Jesus. Are you Christian?

O: Well, I was raised Christian, and I’m still spiritual, but I’m not religious.


So, what would you say next? Here are the best answers we’ve received.

4 + 4 =

I’d say, “Tell me about that. What do you mean when you say, ‘spiritual but not religious’?”
After they give their answer, I’d ask them “How did you come to those conclusions?”
Depending upon how they answer all this, I might do something different — but I think in some cases I would follow up with something like the following:
“This is the way I think about it: Everybody, or most people, are spiritual in one way or another — but spirituality can be good, bad, or very often, it can be mediocre. Religion is organized spirituality. It helps us to be more consistent between belief and action, and accountable to others, in our spirituality. It gives us the insights of others — not just of some small group of individuals, but the collective wisdom of people over centuries. And then there’s the question of true religion and false religion: if spirituality can be good, bad, or mediocre, then religion also can be be good, bad, or mediocre. It’s not enough to say that we’re spiritual. If we want to benefit from our spirituality, we want to have the benefits of religion, and more than that — we want the benefits of true religion.”

– Mark Hornbacher

I like the way Karlo Broussard from Cathoilc Answers handles this question. Like him, I would ask some clarifying questions… “what do you mean by that?”, and “how does your ‘not spiritual, but religious’ view play out in your day to day life?” If they are willing to talk about their personal spirituality, they’ll likely share that they don’t think it’s important to belong an organized religion, but it’s OK to pursue “God” and spiritual truths (however they view truth.)
At this point, I would get into the issue of objective truth, and begin to explain why we believe Jesus is divine, a historical account of the establishment of his Church, and then show that the Catholic Church is that historical church. If Jesus, who is divine, founded the Catholic Church, then we are obligated to be a part of it.

– Michael Miller

Depending on who you are talking to, you can reply that the demons are also spiritual. It depends on what kind of spiritual you are – hence, religion.

– Kelly L

Suggestions I’ve heard from others to that:
(1) We are all spiritual creatures. It’s not an either/ or situation.
(2) That’s a cop out for being spiritually lazy.
(3) John Paul II and Mother Teresa were very “religious”, read, contemplated, and prayed every day. Would you say they are “spiritual”?…and would you say you are as devoted to “spirituality” as they are?

– Michael O

I would say great, so you know Jesus in a personal way? How did this happen? Talk about the encounter share your testimony. God wants relationship not rule followers. I think it speaks to many people today. They think we are a faith of rules which it can look like that when there is no relationship. When we know him personally we see it’s not rules but out of love he provides the Church.

– Nancy D

What do you mean by spiritual? Usually it’s something about the inner self or whatever… but God is real and distinct from our inner selves

– Mary T

I generally ask about their ‘spiritual’ exercises. That generally entails prayer, meditation, feel good memes, and the like. I then tell them I love all those things, and then share with them the gifts of community, charity, and fellowship.

– Patrick S

A Jewish man did say this very thing in Maryland as we talked… I said think of a beautiful stallion running free…. but there is a pack of wolves waiting for an opportunity to attack… if you brought the horse to a field where he could still run free, yet safely, as encircling the perimeter was a fence, the fence being like ‘religion’ which serves to protect us from error or danger… the guy said it made sense what I was trying to convey.

– Cindy M

I think I would first ask them to define their term. What does it mean to be spiritual? What does it mean to be religious? How are they opposed?

– Allison A

Explain to them about the Rosary and try and get them to pray it. It is good spiritual practice.

– Jason Y

I would praise them for their spiritual journey and would say I am spiritual BECAUSE of my religion and then give him the reasons why.

– Chip A

Being spiritual doesn’t entail anything at all because you can do whatever you want for as long as it is spiritual. Religion comes from two words: re and legion. Re = again, legion = binding or allegiance. So religion is realigning oneself to God. Why is that important? Well because God revealed how he wants to be worshipped; he revealed how we are to realign with him. Religion is important because it tells us how to do that based on God’s revelations. So a spiritual person can do things spiritual but not necessarily the thing God wants, or not necessarily getting closer to God because he (the person) determines what he wants to do. A religious person, on the other hand, does what God wants him/her to do.

– Joby P

“Oh. What do you mean?” And pray like mad for Holy Spirit to inspire next question. Get them talking about themselves. Sometimes jumping to prayer is next step. Your love in the listening is crucial.

– Anne H

The idea that being spiritual is always superior to being religious is a false one. Every demon that exists is more spiritual than you can ever be in this life because they are pure spirit. Thus, everything they do is completely spiritual.

– Chuck G

So you are spiritual? So tell me what spirit you worship? Is it Gods spirit or the devils spirit? How do you know? If God, then are you worshiping Him correctly? Refer to bible for correct way…..John chapter 6 or some other directive of Christ.

– John T

I watched Trent Horn’s short video about how Catholics would refute reincarnation, which was helpful. I would craft my argument with one of his very logical points in mind:

“Figuring out life and who we are and where we fit in can be very challenging. I’ve found that my Catholic faith really helps give me some very reasonable answers to big questions like, is there reincarnation, or do we just have one soul and live once? An early Catholic thinker, Tertullian, came up with a very logical argument which makes a lot of sense to me. He says that if the living come from the dead, just as the dead proceed from the living, then there must always remain an unchanged amount of souls. We know that there has been a gradual growth of population over the years. So if our population is always growing, there needs to be new souls coming into existence. There aren’t enough “dead souls” to fill the new babies being born! I know you feel like you’re C.S. Lewis, but feelings often change and can be deceiving. I feel many different ways from one day to the next. But if we rely on truth and logic to answer this question, I think we’ll see that reincarnation just doesn’t make sense.”

– Michael Miller

Reincarnated, huh? I’ve never met someone who believes in reincarnation. Can you tell me more? [After she speaks for a while I would continue:] I once looked up reincarnation in the Bible to see what it has to say, because I believe the Bible always tells the truth. Here’s what the Bible says, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Heb. 9:27 And the Book of Job says, “For when a few years have come I shall go the way from which I shall not return.” Job 16:22 What do you think about that?

Then I would wait for her answer. Depending on what she says, I might try to give her reasons to think the Bible is reliable, or I might discuss how to know which interpretation is true, or anything really. It’s hard to tell in advance, but I usually try to bring these discussions back to the Bible and then go from there depending on whether or not the person believes the Bible is true.

– Daniel Marcum


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