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In Theory: 'Spiritual but not religious'

June 12, 2010


I understand religion and spirituality as being largely synonymous, since both refer to humanity's efforts to understand and follow the will of its Creator. Spirituality is a means by which one becomes closer to the divine source of the soul — and becomes a better person in the process.

Religion is a specific (often predetermined) path one takes to reach that goal; it usually lays out a system of faith and worship as part of an organized structure. In my view, religious institutions should be configured in a manner that helps people reach their spiritual goals and achieve their full potential.

A central component of religion is being part of an organized, supportive community that engenders both benevolence and accountability.

Establishing spiritual goals together with others creates a sense of responsibility through a system of accountability that is essential to proper spiritual growth. A religious organization also provides an opportunity to receive help from other people and assist those who may need support. And finally, a religious congregation offers opportunities for fellowship with others who share similar values.

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The way I understand it, the "spiritual but not religious" movement seems to interpret spirituality as more of a "do it alone" project. I recognize that some very ethical people may not feel totally comfortable with organized religion — perhaps they disagree with certain rules and restrictions established in traditional teachings, or maybe they have been disappointed by the shortcomings of some authority figures.

However, while I applaud any interest in spirituality, I feel that this movement lacks some of the positive elements that are essential for true spiritual accomplishment. My hope is that their spiritual quest will lead them toward the true fulfillment that can only be found when one interacts with others and is part of a greater community that shares a common purpose.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills


It is probably better to be spiritual than non-spiritual, because to be spiritual probably means at least letting in the possibility that there is more to life than what can be seen and heard and felt and tasted and touched and smelled.

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