Neither Spiritual Nor Religious

| October 30, 2012 | 3 Comments

To my surprise, a growing number of kids my age are pursuing a more spiritual existence.

I always thought my generation was characterized by our rebellion against organized religion. Equal parts teen angst and rationalism, this trend towards a more secular youth seems natural considering the increased role of science and technology in our lives.

But now, I’ve found that more of my friends, who previously had no religious affiliation, have adopted spiritual practices as a part of their daily routines. One of my friends left school and joined a yoga ashram, and another became certified as a reiki practitioner (a form of energy healing). By spiritual practices, I’m generally speaking of nondenominational, non-Western means of enlightenment, such as yoga, meditation, reiki, qigong, and holistic medicine.

My friend doing yoga in Costa Rica

Our generation’s secular trajectory has splintered off into a group that rejects Western religion and promotes a more Eastern ideal of oneness with nature. It’s not in my interest to judge the validity of these practices, because whether or not they work, they’ve changed the lives of my friends for the better.

As someone who is neither spiritual nor religious, I hate the question but have to ask: What am I?

I was raised Jewish, but I don’t practice the faith. I don’t consider myself an atheist, nor am I agnostic. I don’t believe in past lives and reincarnation, and yet, I attribute some sort of higher meaning to my existence. I believe that life is too great a thing to be experienced only on a physical level.

So again I ask: What am I?

Here’s where I see the appeal of nondenominational spirituality. For me, organized religion presents too many rules that limit personal expression and reduce the importance of the individual. A blog post on CNN argues that the “I’m spiritual but not religious” movement is a cop-out because it avoids answering fundamental questions, such as whether or not God exists. I disagree. It’s not a cop-out but a more free-form way of appreciating the interconnectivity between humans and nature.

And still, I’m not sold. If I wanted to live a more spiritual lifestyle, I would start meditating, practice yoga, undergo energy healing sessions, and read Eastern philosophical texts. But what’s the difference between Eastern and Western philosophy? How is it that you can teach meditation or be certified as an energy healer? As free-form as this spiritual movement is, there are just as many rules to be followed and cultural constructs to be applied as are found in organized religions. This isn’t a criticism of the spiritual movement but an explanation as to why it isn’t for me.

I went to the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism, but I didn’t feel anything in terms of spirituality.

So what am I?

Between my temple-going parents and downward-dogging friends, I feel misunderstood. Just because I subscribe to neither organized religion nor common spiritual practices, doesn’t mean I don’t have beliefs. And just because I can’t name those beliefs, doesn’t mean they’re not important.

Whether or not you enjoyed P.T. Anderson’s The Master, consider the following quote from the film: “If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world.”

Maybe I should rephrase my question and instead ask: Who is my master? As someone who neither prays nor meditates but still seeks enlightenment, I would like to answer that I am the master of this life, or at least that is what I strive to be.

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Category: featured, Philosophy and Religion

Jeff Marks

About the Author ()

Jeff Marks (COM '15) is from Scotch Plains, New Jersey. He studies film and television. "I have an older sister and a fast metabolism." He ran track in middle school.

Comments (3)

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  1. It doesn’t have to be either/or. Spirituality can be a general philosophy about existence. In fact, even science is running into big questions about universal existence and principles. Quantum physics is becoming a scientific approach to what seem like religious questions.

    • Jeff Marks Jeff Marks says:

      Perhaps my problem is that I have always seen at is either/or. You’re definitely right. I find enlightenment more often than not when discussing scientific topics, and the give and take between science and religion has always driven us spiritually.

      The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine who is studying engineering. He defined the Big Bang as an explosion that happened and is still happening as the universe expands, and that every subsequent action is a part of that explosion. For example, the creation of our solar system was an explosion, the city of Boston is an explosion, me typing this response is an explosion, and so on. It’s a basic idea, but it’s cool that such an objective, scientific observation can give meaning to the smallest of actions.

  2. Marcus says:

    great great article! I’ve seen this trend as well!

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