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prisonchaplain

"I'm not religious."

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I’m not religious.

 

What does that mean?  I don’t do meditation, hang crystals, around, or fear the number 13?  Perhaps.  More to the point, though, is the message:  I’m not sure if there is a god, and the question does not consume me.

Often, this comment is made when the speaker realizes they are engaging a person who is religious.  I’m such a person.  I go to church more than once a week.  I pray.  I read the Bible.  I seek God, even as I say I am already filled with his Spirit.  Okay—I’m a minister.  So, I often hear people say, “I’m not religious.”

Sometimes—especially if I attempt even the most minor inquiry or pro-God statement, I’ll see a hand go up, and a quick, “To each his own.”  That’s a wall—a boundary.  It means, do not engage me in this topic.

 

I’m not a judge.  When it comes to spiritual matters my faith says that only God can judge.  And, indeed, many “I’m not religious people” are bright, kind, honest, and diligent.

To such people I have a question though.  What if there really is a god?  What if he does care?  The Torah, the New Testament, the Qur’an, and even the Book of Mormon all teach that if one sincerely seeks after God she will find him.

 

The corollary is obvious.  If one does not seek after God He will not be found.  At least not until the Final Day—that one where God makes himself known to all.

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I'll explain my thought process the best I can over a keyboard. I was adopted into and raised LDS. My parents are faithful followers, as are half of the siblings out of ten. I fell away as a young teen and didn't return to the gospel until my mid twenties. For a period, I felt at peace and life was good. It's still good now but I am no longer a member of the Church and at times will say, "I'm not religious." When I use that term, I'm letting the other person know that I subscribe to no faith, though, I am feeling pretty strongly as an atheist. I don't pray, I don't go to church, I don't do any kind of worship to any god. That's basically what I'm getting at when I use that phrase.

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You'll find "I'm not religious" used by atheists, agnostics, and even theists or spiritualists who mean it to indicate they don't adhere to a defined or organized religion. Heck, I've heard those words uttered by self-professed Christians. What people mean by the phrase is varied.

Edited by Dravin

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Many people who I have heard use this phrase, seem to me to be the kind of people who are overly worried about others' opinions. They want to avoid what I think we could call the new stigma that has been attached to people who do profess to be religious - even more so, the people who regularly attend church. They do not want to be pre-judged based on the lie that religious people are bigoted, willfully ignorant, or both. Identifying oneself as "spiritual" rather than "religious" allows you to talk about prayer or meditation and basic faith precepts without being subject (necessarily) to as much scorn. I don't approve of this side-stepping, it is the opposite of being valiant in your testimony. But I do understand it, to a certain degree. 

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You'll find "I'm not religious" used by atheists, agnostics, and even theists or spiritualists who mean it to indicate they don't adhere to a defined or organized religion. Heck, I've heard those words uttered by self-professed Christians. What people mean by the phrase is varied.

 

Christians, and "spiritual" folk will usually say, "I'm not religious, BUT...I'm spiritual...I follow Jesus, etc."  That's a different conversation.  More often then not, those who say they are spiritual are trying to practice their faith solo.  Most faith traditions teach that faith is lived out in community.

 

Some atheists and agnostics may say, "I'm not religious."  However, they usually just say, "I don't believe in God.  I'm an atheist."  Or, "I'm not sure if we can know God.  I'm agnostic." 

 

My OP is meant more to address the "nones," who use the "I'm not religious" phrase to dismiss the topic.  Again, they certainly have the right.  Still, I hope to at least lead the horse to water.

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The corollary is obvious.  If one does not seek after God He will not be found.  At least not until the Final Day—that one where God makes himself known to all.

 

I'm curious, so are you saying that God will not sometimes reveal his existence to an individual who is not actively seeking him?   I suppose Paul is not a perfect example of this, since in a way he did believe he was serving God by persecuting the followers of Jesus, but God did definitely reach out to him in a dramatic way to bring about his change of heart when he was least expecting it.  In the Book of Mormon, Alma the younger had a similar experience where an angel appeared to him and asked him why he was persecuting the church of God. 

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Well I guess I didn't grasp what you wanted answered PC.

I like how Dravin put it - it's varied. And if someone doesn't want to talk about religion and dismiss it, saying, "I'm not religious," makes great sense.

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My OP is meant more to address the "nones," who use the "I'm not religious" phrase to dismiss the topic.  Again, they certainly have the right.  Still, I hope to at least lead the horse to water.

 

If you really want to delve into an atheist or agnostic mindset I suggest that this board isn't a very good place for it. This board isn't really awash in atheists or agnostics and those who are here are mindful of the faith based nature of the board and thus are unlikely to engage with any boldness. This is a faith promoting board and an atheist or agnostic response to your questions aren't faith promoting. The Straight Dope Message Board, the Great Debates sub-forum, would be a wonderful place to get honest responses that aren't concerned with the nature of the board they are responding on and there are many atheists and agnostics there. There is also a fair number of religious individuals but the board does lean towards the atheist/agnostic as far as the membership numbers are concerned. If you wanted more neutral territory (as even I would classify the SDMB as being on the antagonistic side as far as religion is concerned) I bet with sufficient effort you could probably find a board with a more even split/neutral attitude to ask your question on.

Edited by Dravin

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I'm curious, so are you saying that God will not sometimes reveal his existence to an individual who is not actively seeking him?   I suppose Paul is not a perfect example of this, since in a way he did believe he was serving God by persecuting the followers of Jesus, but God did definitely reach out to him in a dramatic way to bring about his change of heart when he was least expecting it.  In the Book of Mormon, Alma the younger had a similar experience where an angel appeared to him and asked him why he was persecuting the church of God. 

 

Saul actually fits in well.  Perhaps he's the exception that proves the rule.  He did not seek God because he thought he had it all figured out.  Quite frankly, he was one who was so busy trying to be like God that I don't believe he knew him.  Otherwise, he would have known his Son.  Jesus' revelation to Saul (who became Paul) was a mercy.  He does not guarantee such to those who refuse to even see and hear what is before them.  Romans 1 says that we are without excuse.

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If you really want to delve into an atheist or agnostic mindset I suggest that this board isn't a very good place for it. This board isn't really awash in atheists or agnostics and those who are here are mindful of the faith based nature of the board and thus are unlikely to engage with any boldness. This is a faith promoting board and an atheist or agnostic response to your questions aren't faith promoting. The Straight Dope Message Board, the Great Debates sub-forum, would be a wonderful place to get honest responses that aren't concerned with the nature of the board they are responding on and there are many atheists and agnostics there. There is also a fair number of religious individuals but the board does lean towards the atheist/agnostic as far as the membership numbers are concerned. If you wanted more neutral territory (as even I would classify the SDMB as being on the antagonistic side as far as religion is concerned) I bet with sufficient effort you could probably find a board with a more even split/neutral attitude to ask your question on.

 

I've posted this elsewhere.  My purpose here, amongst friends who also believe in the importance of seeking to convert people to faith, is to discuss experiences, or reactions we've had.

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Saul actually fits in well.  Perhaps he's the exception that proves the rule.  He did not seek God because he thought he had it all figured out.  Quite frankly, he was one who was so busy trying to be like God that I don't believe he knew him.  Otherwise, he would have known his Son.  Jesus' revelation to Saul (who became Paul) was a mercy.  He does not guarantee such to those who refuse to even see and hear what is before them.  Romans 1 says that we are without excuse.

It took me awhile to understand what you were trying to communicate since it's not something i've heard before. It's an interesting thought

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Christians, and "spiritual" folk will usually say, "I'm not religious, BUT...I'm spiritual...I follow Jesus, etc."

 

Saying "I'm spiritual but not religious" is akin to proclaiming "I like to talk but I don't use any established languages." Indeed, when we free ourselves from the tyranny of meaning, we also divorce ourselves from the ability to express anything -- a perfect situation for a cynically nihilistic generation. As Shakespeare put into the mouth of Macbeth:

 

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

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I've had friends tell me they are spiritual but not religious, and the impression I get from my discussions with them is that they've lost faith in formal religion for whatever reason but still recognize that there is a part of themselves that hungers for light and truth and peace. I've seen them find spiritual fulfillment in nature, or through yoga or meditation or serving others. I believe those who leave their formal religion, whatever it might be, to pursue their own paths may at times do so because they find themselves engaged in the forms of religious observance without the substance. This is an empty and tiring experience that can only end with a re-commitment (to the same religion or a different one) or a falling away of some kind.

 

I think others may say "I'm not religious" simply because they have no desire to discuss something so personal with anyone, least of all a chaplain or pastor or bishop who in their view will only attempt to "push" them in the direction of a particular religion or belief system.

 

The answer in either case is the same: show them kindness, treat them with honor and acknowledge their freedom to choose.

Edited by gebaird

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gebaird brings up two excellent points.  The "spiritual NOT religious" response, to me, is different.  There is a yearning--but, when folk they say they are not in to "organized religion" I sense something that may be quite dark.  Consider my typical response, "Hey, if you don't like organized religion come to my church--we're about as disorganized as it gets!"  They look at me perplexed.  They totally miss the joke, because it's not organization they askew--it's faith lived out in community.  They are good with God, probably with Jesus--it's people they don't like.  Perhaps someone offended them in a church.  Maybe it was more.  Abuse?  Being cheated in business?  Being excluded?  And so, they'll do it alone with God, through individual worship, meditation, reading, praying--maybe even yoga.  The problem is that Jesus said if we cannot love (not like) one another, we cannot say we love God.

 

The other point is people do not want faith pushed on them.  More to the point, they don't even want faith nudged on them.  Or toward them--or hinted at.  Frankly, most people of faith aren't that pushy.  It's sad to me that culture has deemed religion a truly off-limits topic--even amongst close friends.  

 

gebaird is right.  Love people, show kindness.  But...I'm gonna nudge now and then.  I don't want people to miss out on God's glory because I was afraid to drop a few hints. 

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I sometimes use the "not religious" response because it generally goes over better than flat-out calling myself an atheist. I'm not opposed to an open discussion of religion with theists and do my best not to put up walls. And when it's clear that open discussion is on the table, I'm not at all shy about my stance on religion and god (hence my screen name).

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gebaird brings up two excellent points.  The "spiritual NOT religious" response, to me, is different.  There is a yearning--but, when folk they say they are not in to "organized religion" I sense something that may be quite dark.  Consider my typical response, "Hey, if you don't like organized religion come to my church--we're about as disorganized as it gets!"  They look at me perplexed.  They totally miss the joke, because it's not organization they askew--it's faith lived out in community.  They are good with God, probably with Jesus--it's people they don't like.  Perhaps someone offended them in a church.  Maybe it was more.  Abuse?  Being cheated in business?  Being excluded?  And so, they'll do it alone with God, through individual worship, meditation, reading, praying--maybe even yoga.  The problem is that Jesus said if we cannot love (not like) one another, we cannot say we love God.

 

My wife falls into this category. She was raised Catholic, but now considers herself "spiritual but not religious". I think the difficulty for people who fall into this category is that there sometimes isn't one church or school of thought that fits their worldview. In my wife's case, she believes that a deity exists in some form or another, but rejects the attempts of religions to try to define him (or her). I guess you could say that she's a theist who is agnostic about the nature of god as opposed to his very existence.

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Godless, do you perceive that you are in the minority amongst atheists/agnostics?  That is, are most open to discussing faith (as you are), or do they prefer privacy, figuring most of us theists would be antagonistic--or just pushy?

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Godless, do you perceive that you are in the minority amongst atheists/agnostics?  That is, are most open to discussing faith (as you are), or do they prefer privacy, figuring most of us theists would be antagonistic--or just pushy?

 

It's hard to say. Like Christians, atheists come in many forms and personalities. And like Christians, our most vocal factions (the "militant atheists") aren't always an accurate representative of our majority. I would guess that a majority of atheists are more of the quiet type. They either avoid the topic of religion entirely or address it carefully and infrequently at their own leisure. The reason for that doesn't necessarily have to be fear of antagonism, though that may be the case for some people. I think you'd find that, like many Christians, we (maybe not me specifically) simply don't want to step on anyone's toes and expect the same courtesy in return. "Live and let live" and such.

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PC - I work in a field that is dominated by atheists and agnostics.  On very rare occasion I find that the LDS concepts of G-d are what is opposed by these individuals.  For the most part the opposition is towards what is perceived in the traditional concepts of G-d - especially the openly rhetorically opposed concepts.  Most atheists I know say they are not religious as a means to avoid pointless discussions trying to point out rhetorical failures in what is termed, religious logic or the religious individual that claims things to be rhetorically sound that simply are not so at all.

 

Let me provide a few examples:

 

1. G-d is all powerful but is not responsible in any way for for any sin.

 

2. G-d is mysterious and cannot be understood or comprehended by man; however, all men that do not believe in him will be dammed.

 

3. G-d is a living G-d of truth - but what constitutes living and truth in any empirical way - does not apply.

 

These are just a few examples.  Many religious people think they have answers - but do not realize that their answers contradict other claims concerning their understanding.  So many rhetorically sound individuals conclude - religious individuals have their own excuses rather than logic.

 

I find Jesus amazing - He addressed those that disagreed with him with precise logic that was easily understood by his accusers and pointed out their logical contradictions.   The Gospel of John seems to be to be written for the express reason to bring this to light as the seemingly untrained Jesus logically took on the best and brightest logical thinkers of his day with sound rhetorical logic.  Something modern religious thinkers seem to claim - that sound rhetorical logic if it does not suit them - is the essence of heresy.   Which, interestingly is what the great religious thinkers of Jesus accused of him.

Edited by Traveler

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Traveler, if an engineer, or scientist, tried to engage me in an intelligent discussion about how the universe came to be, I'm sure they could quickly become frustrated, or dismissive.  On the other hand, there are intelligent scientific voices that could engage them.  In many cases though, the atheist/agnostic simply assumes they is nothing to learn from people of faith, no matter how academically gifted they are.  One answer is for us to be less fearful of sending our brightest into such fields.

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