A Curious Soul: Why I Consider Myself More Spiritual than Religious

Lately, with what has been going on with current events here in the United States, I will admit that I have been grappling with my ambivalence with the religious faith I was raised in – Catholicism – more than usual. I have been one of those people who has always questioned things, who has always wanted to know the why and wherefore of things. Dogma has never done it for me, as I know dogma really doesn’t do it for a lot of people. Some find it very easy to separate their daily lives from what they might hear in church on Sunday, but I have found it very difficult to check my own beliefs and my own questions at the church door, which explains why I don’t attend mass regularly. And some of it also has to do with what I chose to study in college; I was taught to and encouraged to analyze how words work and how they convey meaning, and how to link the idea of one meaning to another. In one of my classes – a Renaissance English literature class – we analyzed the King James Bible not as a holy book, but in its other incarnation as a literary text. Approaching reading the Bible in such a way changes your entire approach to religion completely, as it did mine.

I had to analyze some of this as a literary text. It completely changed things.


For a good year or two, I went between periods of going to Mass and not going to Mass, and then I just ended up skipping out altogether. While the messages that I heard in the church I attended were about God’s and Jesus’s love for us and how we should strive to be like Jesus in our everyday lives, that part wasn’t clicking with a lot of the other things that are part of the Church’s belief system. It made me feel lost, and the questions made my head want to explode, so I took a step away.

But then I remembered a passage from the Gospel of St. Thomas – which I had heard in the movie Stigmata and had seen quoted in other books – and it really struck a chord in me: “The Kingdom of God is all around you, not in edifices of wood or stone. Look under a rock, and I am there, look behind every tree and I am there…” And there are quite a few quotes from Jesus in the New Testament urging people to seek him out. So why couldn’t I do the same thing? So while I didn’t go to church, I still prayed to Jesus, God, and my saints, and sort of started my own little “relationship” with them. I just took out the middle man. And so far, it has worked, and I have a much better understanding and attitude about my faith than I did while I was going to church.

Then, in late January, while running errands for work, I heard Krista Tippett’s interview with the late Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, on her radio show On Being. O’Donahue was able to articulate everything I had been struggling with in the past few years with just a few simple words:

An ancient Irish church, built 1000 A.D. Sometimes it's best to return to simplicity.

[Y]our identity is not equivalent to your biography. And that there is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s still a sureness in you, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. And I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary.

And then I realized that it was this. This is what I was missing in organized religion, and what found on my own. It is perfectly normal for human beings to question things around them and to seek answers out for themselves. And they are all going to find different things, because everyone’s own answer is right for them and might not work for everyone else. It isn’t one person’s place to try and covert another person to their religious or spiritual beliefs or to persecute someone else based on what they believe. Nor is it right to use those beliefs as an excuse to hate or persecute others who might not live according to the way that you would. It is about seeking out a higher part of yourself and coming to peace with who you are as a human being. It is about doing the best you can to contribute to the world around you and be of help to those who might need it. It is about showing love and compassion toward your fellow human beings. This was what Jesus was about all along.

At least this is what spirituality is for me.

13 replies on “A Curious Soul: Why I Consider Myself More Spiritual than Religious”

So while I didn’t go to church, I still prayed to Jesus, God, and my saints, and sort of started my own little “relationship” with them. I just took out the middle man. And so far, it has worked, and I have a much better understanding and attitude about my faith than I did while I was going to church.

I wish more people would do this. I think that in such way you can be much more conscious about your faith (not matter which) and believes and completely make it in your image. Individi-faith!

Thank you for sharing this. I feel the same way. I spent part of my childhood at a small Methodist church and the other part at a large Baptist church. I stopped going to church for a while until my mom started bugging me and then I went back choosing a small Baptist church near my house. After I transferred to a university, I spent time reading up on early Christian history and different spiritual ideas. I also considered become an Essene. Now that I’m back home with my mom, I’ve come full circle, attending another Methodist church with my mom and my  cousins. I don’t know that I’ll continue to attend once I’m able to move away, but I do intend to continue studying and learning about spiritual ideas

Thank you for sharing. Your experiences are remarkably close to my own. I go to mass most weeks, but I didn’t for years and it was during those years that I was sorting out my head on the matter. I was raised Catholic. I attended Catholic schools. In high school I had the most wonderful religion teacher who was very invested in getting us to reflect on our own relationship with religion and the divine, and to follow our questions through not shove them under the rug. She taught us about other religions and admitted that she herself was very influenced by Taoism. And then I went to college. I quit going to church, except for the odd Christmas or Easter mass. And I started to sort shit out for myself. And I was able to come at this without fear, because I had learned that the questions are ok. The questions are what lead to a mature faith.

In the end I started going back to church for two reasons. First, I realized that while I may not be wholly on board with Catholic theology, Catholic culture is a big part of who I am. Being in church on Sunday mornings is a happy time for me. The priest at my church sounds a bit like Mr. Rodgers with a Polish accent and has a gentle spirit to match. And while I don’t think that I need to be in the church to be able to commune with God, it’s easier there.

The second reason is that I’ve stopped seeing my religion as a rule structure I have to follow or else stand in the hall. It’s a community. And it’s a community of which I am a part and wherein my voice matters. This may mean that I end up writing a lot of aggravated letters to Bishops, and that I get told that I am a “bad Catholic” but I say screw that. I am a Catholic.

I sometimes call myself a “secular Catholic” person, and I feel similarly to you, actually, though I would have initially said I feel the opposite way Linotte Melodieuse does! I would describe myself as more religious than spiritual. In my day to day life, I turn to my faith very rarely (though I strongly value having it to turn to when necessary), and for weeks at a time I can think of things in entirely scientific and philosophical terms, without finding need for anything “higher.” But I like the culture of the Catholic church (in which I was raised, not always the current political institution of it), and I sometimes set aside my pragmatic view of the world and choose to take up that religious mantle for an hour or a conversation, and I like that. I feel like calling oneself spiritual connotes a deep personal adherence to reflection or prayer in a way that doesn’t resonate with me, but I do like “being Catholic,” though my way of being Catholic is sort of halfhearted most of the time.

I still feel that I am more spiritual than religious, it’s just that religion has a place in my life. For me though it’s spirituality first, then religion. I try to be spiritual in a little way always somewhat like St. Thérèse of Lisieux (not that I am always successful mind you). I have my occasional grand moments of faith, but for the most part I try to stay in the moment and appreciate the everythingness of my life and to bring good into it. If that makes any sense at all.

See, I am very all or nothing when it comes to this.  I have a huge issue with someone telling me that God loves all but that I’m not good enough because I’m a woman and my obligation is to bear children.  Forget that.  I’ll find my own path, thanks.

Gnosticism is also very interesting.  It’s not perfect, but it is different and I like it a lot.

A lot of it boils down to my individual parish for me. I’ve lived in the same city my whole life, and if I moved, I’m not sure that I could easily settle in to a new church. A lot of my beliefs about God can best be described as “Christian?” but I feel a strong connection to the community of my own parish. I feel that I can voice dissent there without fear that leadership will think less of me for it. Somewhere else I might not be so welcome or so willing to attend mass. But I do think that everyone should pursue their own path whether or not they choose to meet weekly with others to talk about it or not.

Thank you so much for this article! As someone who refers to herself as a spiritual atheist, I wonder sometimes what that “spiritual” part means.

I wonder sometimes if my failure to describe that says something about the spiritual. Often mystic texts break language. They’re not meant to just “make sense.” It’s like they’re trying to get to something beyond words. I feel like most religious texts, at least in their non-translated form, try to do this.

Maybe this means that part of the spiritual is taking what’s before us and venturing beyond? I don’t know; I can only seem to think of it as a sort of “rising.” It starts from the basics and then it rises, until you can’t even use words to describe it anymore. It is deeply personal, but it is beyond internal; it is everything. And perhaps it is also nothing. But no matter how those words seem to fail at grasping its entirety, it is the sublime.

I wonder about it sometimes; spirituality is different for everyone because of its personal roots, but it has so many similar threads. Why is that? How is that?

I think these questions are why I do philosophy. Philosophy is my spiritual exploration.

I like the way you phrased your thoughts, and as possibly what I might call an agnostic theist, with strong feelings about spirituality, I see things in a similar manner. I wish I were better at putting my thoughts into words, and at figuring out all things spiritual and the way they relate to me, as well as how they relate to society, people, and relationships between us all. I think spirituality is very personal, while organized religion is almost the opposite (this is just my point of view, mind you). Perhaps that’s why I can’t seem to connect the two.

I love that you describe your own refuge in individual faith. I totally agree. Being LGBT, I spent a long time trying to work out whether I could be religious when I believed that a religion had to stand by its words; I had never found picking or choosing different parts that agreed with me to be particularly satisfying, and it seemed pointless to me to evaluate the Bible in parts, not as a whole.

For me, any understanding of God I have has to be predicated (as it is for many) on the idea that God is incomprehensible. If there is a God who exists, no human, book or piece of information has ever fully encompassed the entire superstructure of the Universe and thus God (who is, theoretically, omnipresent) and by definition can’t. For me, relying on the Bible to give an accurate conception of God is like looking at a letter and calling that an accurate conception of language.

I also have been forced logically into two concepts of God; either God is a force, of no intent whatsoever, or it is imperfect. Because as far as I see it, it’s not really deciphering why God made a universe full of evil, but rather deciphering why God made a universe at all. What possible motivation is there?

I still don’t know whether I believe in God. But I think if there is a God, it doesn’t resemble anything anyone has ever conceived. I think I’m attracted most to the idea of Brahman; a God who can only really be conceived of through facets of its nature, fundamentally essential but featureless. Polytheism seems to me like a much more amenable way of expressing a God-like force multiferously, as it infuses everything in nature.

I’m going to stop being pretentious now. Thank you for the article. xD


The universe as cyclical always appealed to me more than the idea that the universe was somehow “created.” Perhaps the Big Bang theory is true; but what says the beginning of it had to come from nothing?

Your discussion of what you think God to be reminds me of the more spiritual European medieval philosophy texts. St. Anselm and St. Bonaventure come to mind! Sure, they’re expression of it isn’t polytheistic, but there is a great emphasis on God and the holy being something beyond human conception.

This is on a smaller scale, mostly, but W. B. Yeats (the poet) had this notion of the world as a widening gyre (like a spiral in the shape of an ice cream cone, starting at the small end and then getting bigger as it spins) that will eventually collapse back in on itself and start over again from the small end. I don’t know if there’s a ton more to read about his views, but I think it’s interesting, and sort of seems like a similar view to the one you just mentioned, that the universe didn’t have to be nothing prior to the Big Bang or whatever. Just another thing to look into, maybe.

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