|Fr. James Martin is a Jesuit that takes issue with SBNR at Busted Halo|
I’ve never met Reverend Lillian Daniel, but hearing her call out the spiritual but not religious (SBNR) crowd on this podcast made me an instant fan (listen to her 3 minute audio clip here, transcript here).
Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.
I particularly enjoyed her jab about sunsets and beaches. So true!
Fortunately, Reverend Daniel is not the only one that is standing up to the SBNR. Alan Miller sums things up nicely as well:
. . . the spiritual but not religious reflect the "me" generation of self-obsessed, truth-is-whatever-you-feel-it-to-be thinking, where big, historic, demanding institutions that have expectations about behavior, attitudes and observance and rules are jettisoned yet nothing positive is put in replacement.
OUCH! It turns out that SBNRism is pretty prevalent. A 1999 Gallup poll on American religious life found that 38% of respondents identified themselves as SBNR. A USA Today poll in 2010 found that 72% Millenials describe themselves using terms like SBNR. Furthermore, two thirds of the respondents that identified themselves as “Christian” did not pray, read the Bible, and rarely or never attend worship services. Not good.
SBNRism is a very convenient philosophy for those trying to find the perfect Laodicean temperature on the ‘commitment to God’ scale (i.e. – lukewarm; see Revelation 3:14-16). It enables the adherent to rationalize the dissonance between the moral absolutes that have been the hallmark of organized religion for 6000 years, and the desire to live without boundaries. The formula is fairly simple: reject organized religion and embrace a spirituality that is so abstract that it can’t be judged by anyone but yourself. In one fell swoop you are free of all the structure, demands and effort of religious devotion, while still proclaiming that you are every bit as spiritual as devoted churchgoers.
SBNRism is really just another incarnation of the self-indulgent spirituality of the Zoramites (see a related post here; see also Alma 31). An even better comparison is the belief system of King Lamoni:
Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit. Notwithstanding they believed in a Great Spirit, they supposed that whatsoever they did was right . . . (Alma 18:5).
I must admit there is a certain appeal from the notion that you can do no wrong. But as comfy as things feel for those that consider themselves SBNR, there remains a big problem: there are moral absolutes and man cannot save himself from sin when he violates these absolutes. I stand with the SBNR on the awesomeness of sunsets. But let's face it—they can't save you.
The decline of religiosity and increasing secularism of our society represents a greater threat to our peace and prosperity than the economy, the national debt, poverty or any other problem I can think of. I find it curious that the response of church leadership today in reaching out to those that think of themselves as SBNR is similar to the approach Alma used for reclaiming the Zoramites.
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma though it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God. (Alma 31:5)
As a result of the lowered age requirements for missionary service, the world—and North America in particular—will see LDS missionaries in unprecedented numbers teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike SBNRism, it does have the ability to save. As the perils of moral relativism and secularism surge, it makes great sense that the church ‘try the virtue of the word of God.’