Spiritual but not Religious – Love Jesus but Hate Religion

More and more today, we hear people saying that they are spiritual but not religious, meaning that they believe in God but choose not to encounter him within the context of the institutional church. One young man has chosen to post a video on YouTube in which he recites a poem about how he loves Jesus, but hates religion. I applaud him for taking the initiative to talk publicly about his faith. I couldn’t disagree more with his viewpoint. I invite you to watch and then to share your response by leaving a comment here on my blog (scroll down to where it says “Leave a Reply”). Remember, on my blog, all comments must be respectful. Respond to this young man out of love and Christian charity.


My own comment to him is actually a question:

I’m not doubting that you know Jesus but my question is, how did you come to know Jesus? To know the story of Jesus is to know Scripture, and Scripture, in particular the New Testament, is a product of the Church (religion) which you say you despise.  Jesus becomes known to us through the proclamation of the Gospel by others. Paul encountered the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus but then sought out the Apostles to learn more about Jesus. Any attempt to proclaim the Gospel – including your YouTube poem – is in and of itself a form of religion. You are simply substituting your doctrine for the Church’s doctrine. I applaud your efforts to focus on a personal relationship with Christ, however, you are fooling yourself if you think that can be done in isolation.

By the way, it is precisely the “spiritual but not religious” population that I had in mind when I wrote my new book, 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness, which will be available in just a few short weeks.

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.


  1. I had the same reaction you did, and I really appreciate your response. Fr. Jim Martin has a great section on the whole “I’m spiritual but not religious” phenomenon in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything in which he makes the point that religion both connects and corrects us.

    Have you see this video response by a youth minister out of Texas? I’d be interested in your response:


  2. I also could not disagree more with his viewpoint. It is all those wonderful things he describes as from Jesus that Jesus tried (and continues to try)to spread throughout humanity through the Church – through religion. All the flaws that this young man points out about religion are, in my opinion, actually human flaws – hypocrisy, etc. – not flaws of religion. Jesus himself said that to follow him would not be easy. And our human flaws are what make it so difficult. Through the help of the Holy Spirit acting in our lives, we can only pray that, one day, we will all live up to the example set by Jesus – despite our human frailty.
    By the way, religious institutions of all kinds are perhaps one of the biggest feeders of the hungry.
    I also applaud his efforts to get across the point of how we need to focus on our personal relationship with Jesus. But I also agree with you, Joe, that it cannot be done in isolation.
    Thanks for sharing, Joe!

  3. I would agree with him in that our churches should not be museums for the good people but hospitals for the hurting(or something to that effect.) And I would say that it is just that “hospital” that I see at my church every weekend. B/c I go to church regularly and know the people there, I know they’re hurts, heartaches, and struggles and they know mine. We support each other. I certainly don’t expect anyone there to be perfect, nor they, me. I do expect them to hold me to a higher standard than the rest of the world does.
    I believe that it is too easy to say, Jesus, yes, religion, no. I couldn’t make it alone. Jesus gave me the Church so I don’t have to.

  4. I almost get the sense that there are 2 different languages being spoken here.

    The cuplet that caught my attention was “Religon is Man searching for God Christianity is God searching for Man” So is not christianity not religion? What does he mean by a religion?

    I get the sense that many young people who wish to be spiritual think of Religion as an artificial structure rather than an organic one. Something that stands between them and their relationship with Jesus Christ. They sincerely seek a deep personal relationship with Christ but they do not seem to be able to connect with the notion that relationships are not just spiritual but require that our whole being, body and soul be engaged. And that as a “religion” that is what we strive to do as a community just as an individual might.

    When I think of the church as organic I think of it rather like my mother. She gave me birth (new life) and she wants me to grow. She leads me to deeper appreciation of God by both her example and her guidance. But by not means is she perfect any more than I am. In my mind church and religion are interchangable but clearnly this is not so for this young man who says he believes in the church.

    I have noticed more and more in the past few years that young people are searching for authenticity and are very put off by anything that smacks of hipocracy. Perhaps for him and others like him church or chritianity is more organic and religion more artificial. If that is infact his view then his words offer us a challenge because the church is called to be organic to be true to her nature and to be in deep realtionship with God to the point that we become a living authentic example of God’s presence. Every time that we fail in that task, every time we let the rules and regs. speak louder than our love of God and eachother we fail young people like this one and ourselves.

    • After reading the comments and watching Jefferson Bethke’s video, I also watched some video responses and Jeff’s interview on CBS: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7396087n&tag=mncol;lst;1. Maura, I believe that you’ve captured some of Jeff’s thoughts behind his poem. He said that part of what people have issues with are actually due to semantics and his used of the word ‘religion.’ His real issue is with hypocrisy in religion and people elevating things above God.

      Whether you agree with Jeff’s views or not, his video poem, with almost 18 million hits, has generated a discussion about Jesus and religion. So, for that, I applaud him.

  5. I’m sad that he thinks of Church as holy perfect people. I think it’s a problem that we are working on though. There has been a lot of change since Vatican II to bring us away from that. But, the Church is slow at that process.
    People think they need to be perfect and have to hide all their sins or they will be discovered. But, Church is a place for sinners.
    So I’m sad that he sees Church in the way he does.

    I don’t think he’s alone in what he sees and feels which is why I think so many young people don’t attend Church when their parents don’t force them anymore. They can’t feel perfect enough. When I started in my job the kids thought saints were people who never sinned… really? Wow, we can learn so much from saints their sins, struggles, and how they worked through all of them to find Christ.

    I would hope that as a minister, I can change the kids perspective. So they can see the Church as a welcoming place. A place they will be supported by Jesus and the community for their gifts, talents, and sins.

    • One of my favorite images of church that was reclaimed at Vatican II was “Pilgrim People.” Perhaps if that image were proclaimed more often it might help.

  6. we should pray for him,have you ever watch any animal show the wolves, lions ,wild dogs never attack the herd they always single one out, they separate it before they attack. To me Jesus and the Church are one,being Catholic is not who we are if you are truly living out your faith it is what you are. I watch both the video and his interview on CBS, I really feel he is looking for the truth, that can only from jesus and his church.

  7. My comment isn’t actually anything to do with the video. I’m curious as to your question for the young guy that included:

    “To know the story of Jesus is to know Scripture, and Scripture, in particular the New Testament, is a product of the Church (religion) which you say you despise. Jesus becomes known to us through the proclamation of the Gospel by others. ”

    I’m interested to know why you think the only way this boy could have come to know Jesus is through the written works of others? He may have heard about Jesus from Gospel (as most people do during school, church etc before they begin to make up their own minds), but the journey he has been on to find his connection and love for Jesus may be absolutely nothing to do with Gospel but a journey through his own heart. Therefore, he is not contradicting himself with his feelings toward organised ‘religion’.

    Also : “you are fooling yourself if you think that can be done in isolation.”

    are you suggesting that people cannot sustain a relationship with Jesus on their own?

    • Megan, thanks for your thoughtful insights and questions. I’m going to try to avoid getting too philosophical here so bear with me! You are right that his journey may be through his own heart, however, you also suggest that he may have “heard about Jesus from the Gospel” – think about that. Without someone first proclaiming that there is a person named Jesus, his journey would not have begun. I said that Jesus “becomes known to us” through the proclamation of others but that knowing then continues and grows in a personal relationship that is fed and nourished by prayer. However, it did not start in a vacuum…it begins with someone at some point telling us that there is someone named Jesus that we should get to know. Even Saul (Paul) who encountered the Risen Christ directly on the road to Damascus, was aware of who Jesus was because of the proclamation of the first Christians whom he sought to destroy. And immediately upon encountering the Risen Christ, one of the first things Paul does is seek out the other Apostles to learn from them. The young man in the video is suggesting that NO outside help is needed for the inner journey. I’m asserting that the inner journey, while it can and does indeed take place, does not happen in isolation from the community of faith. Without that, it would be, as St. Paul teaches, like the eye saying to the hand, “I do not need you.” 1Cor 12:21. I would argue that, Yes, I am suggesting that people cannot, in the long run and in the big picture, sustain a relationship with Jesus on their own. That does not take away from the fact that we have a private personal relationship with Jesus and that personal prayer nourishes that, but it also is the recognition that Jesus reveals himself, not solely through private revelations, but through others, through experiences, and through all of creation. I’ll stop there because I’m sure you have some thoughts you wish to respond with so I look forward to continuing our conversation. Thanks again.

  8. Hi Joe-

    Thanks for posting. I was searching the web and came across your article. It caught my eye because of the link you posted. I can relate to this young man somewhat. I am an ex-Catholic. I went to Catholic University and volunteered through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I am searching for a spiritual group that supports my belief system…I am enjoying the Eastern religions and I’m growing spiritually. I have a brother who is gay, and I am totally put-off by religions who exclude based on sexuality, who are hypocritcal, and/or have a self-righteous attitude. I loved Maura Sweeney’s post and I wish I could make more change in the Catholic church. In fact, maybe if women were allowed to be more involved, we would see more change. Instead of fighting that battle, I’ve chosen to search elsewhere for my spiritual teachings. I respect each individual who choses whatever path they feel helps them reach a higher spirituality…I feel organized religion is missing out on the gifts I have to offer. They are losing many wonderful young leaders due to their inability to change and get with the times.

    • Joslyn, thank you for your very heartfelt comment. I encourage you to continue your spiritual journey. I invite you to look at my book, 7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness (Loyola Press) in which I show how Catholicism is a spiritual path. The institution is not perfect, but God is and God can be found in the Catholic Tradition. I deeply appreciate your sharing and your thoughts. God bless you.

      • Thank you! I love what you said…The institution is not perfect, but God is. I think that is the entire point that young man was trying to make. Thank you. I have a deep love and gratitude for the Catholic tradition and I go back to Ignatian Spirituality and many Catholic ideas (as are discussed in your book) time and again. I appreciate your work and I’m touched that you found the time to respond to me.

  9. Jesus never talked about religion ever. Infact in the old testiment the true word of god be for man changed the words around to keep you in control Jesus dispised people who belived in religion and he even calls them whors and blind sheep.

  10. I truly believe that we are all on our own unique journey. Our journey with/to the One that Created and Loves us will be mysterious and adventurous. What makes any one Religion the “GOTO” Religion or the only Religion God will honor? If we are children of GOD we should be loving our brothers from all different Denominations(I do not like that word). We should not go to the same Church every Sunday, we should be bouncing from Church to Church sharing Love and Perspectives. We should not be member’s of a Church, but friends and brother’s of every Church(Religion). I do not hate religion, but I have questions and doubts. I was baptized when I was very young(Church of Christ)and I really did not understand what was happening and what it really meant. The only Religion there should be is “Love”, that’s it, that’s all you need. My Religion is Love, this is not a Denomination or a Non-Denomination, it’s GOD.

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