The Media Project is a network of mainstream journalists who are Christians pursuing accurate and intellectually honest reporting on all aspects of culture, particularly the role of religion in public life in all corners of the world. It welcomes friends from other faiths to such discussions and training.

Does 'spiritual but not religious' mean anything?

Does 'spiritual but not religious' mean anything?

sbnr.jpg

From CNN.com "I'm spiritual but not religious."

It's a trendy phrase people often use to describe their belief that they don't need organized religion to live a life of faith.

But for Jesuit priest James Martin, the phrase also hints at something else: selfishness.

"Being spiritual but not religious can lead to complacency and self-centeredness," says Martin, an editor at America, a national Catholic magazine based in New York City. "If it's just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?"

Religious debates erupt over everything from doctrine to fashion. Martin has jumped into a running debate over the "I'm spiritual but not religious" phrase.

The "I'm spiritual but not religious" community is growing so much that one pastor compared it to a movement. In a 2009 survey by the research firm LifeWay Christian Resources, 72 percent of millennials (18- to 29-year-olds) said they're "more spiritual than religious." The phrase is now so commonplace that it's spawned its own acronym ("I'm SBNR") and Facebook page: SBNR.org.

But what exactly does being "spiritual but not religious" mean, and could there be hidden dangers in living such a life?

Did you choose "Burger King Spirituality"?

Heather Cariou, a New York City-based author who calls herself spiritual instead of religious, doesn't think so. She's adopted a spirituality that blends Buddhism, Judaism and other beliefs.

"I don't need to define myself to any community by putting myself in a box labeled Baptist, or Catholic, or Muslim," she says. "When I die, I believe all my accounting will be done to God, and that when I enter the eternal realm, I will not walk though a door with a label on it."

BJ Gallagher, a Huffington Post blogger who writes about spirituality, says she's SBNR because organized religion inevitably degenerates into tussles over power, ego and money.

Gallagher tells a parable to illustrate her point:

"God and the devil were walking down a path one day when God spotted something sparkling by the side of the path. He picked it up and held it in the palm of his hand.

"Ah, Truth," he said.

"Here, give it to me," the devil said. "I'll organize it."

Gallagher says there's nothing wrong with people blending insights from different faith traditions to create what she calls a "Burger King Spirituality -- have it your way."

She disputes the notion that spiritual people shun being accountable to a community.

"Twelve-step people have a brilliant spiritual community that avoids all the pitfalls of organized religion," says Gallagher, author of "The Best Way Out is Always Through."

"Each recovering addict has a 'god of our own understanding,' and there are no priests or intermediaries between you and your god. It's a spiritual community that works.''

Nazli Ekim, who works in public relations in New York City, says calling herself spiritual instead of religious is her way of taking responsibility for herself.

Ekim was born in a Muslim family and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. She prayed to Allah every night, until she was 13 and had to take religion classes in high school.Then one day, she says she had to take charge of her own beliefs.

"I had this revelation that I bow to no one, and I've been spiritually a much happier person," says Ekim, who describers herself now as a Taoist, a religious practice from ancient China that emphasizes the unity of humanity and the universe.

"I make my own mistakes and take responsibility for them. I've lied, cheated, hurt people -- sometimes on purpose. Did I ever think I will burn in hell for all eternity? I didn't. Did I feel bad and made up for my mistakes? I certainly did, but not out of fear of God."

Read the full story at CNN.com.

Book Review: The Good Man Jesus

Book Review: The Good Man Jesus

CPJ calls on Israel to release reporters