Cardinal George: “I’m religious but not spiritual”


HAMSA YOGA SANGH YOGIRAJ GURUNATH SIDDHANATHBeing religious is not cool.  In fact, it’s downright uncool.

We learned that from a really profound (but really not) video that went viral a year or so ago, right around the same time some other things became really uncool – like asking people to pay for their own birth control, or thinking men should marry women.

“I’m spiritual, but not religious.”

That was the mantra.  If I recall correctly, it had something to do with the really deep observation that if Jesus was around he wouldn’t like organized religion.

Which is why Jesus said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build…nothing, because once I’m gone I don’t want my views imposed on anyone else unfairly.  I just want people to use me as a virtual puppet with a nice beard to be the imaginary but authoritative proponent of whatever personal impulses or ideas they have.  Oh, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail or even exist because that’s mean and rigid.”  Matthew, chapter Let’s See, verse No.

So fast-forward about 2,000 years to March 13, 2013 and we have Pope Francis – Successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ.  Turns out Jesus is still around, and the religion he organized on that rock is still (let me check…yup) the oldest institution on the planet and not showing any signs of going away.  On top of that, it’s even managed to stay pretty organized – no small feat for an institution made up of incompetent sinners.  Impossible, really, unless a certain Someone wanted it that way.

So maybe Jesus likes his religion organized after all.  In fact, I bet the other religions sometimes look at Catholicism and say, “Gosh Catholicism, how do you do it?  How do you maintain that hierarchy?  And that code of canon law?  And the Sacraments, always in the right order?  And you still find time for liturgical rubrics?  You’re just so…organized!”

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, in his weekly column, takes the notion of “spiritual, not religious” and gently turns it just like it should be turned – upside down.

Cardinal George CancerPeople can always make claims to any kind of experience. The question is always: Who cares? Why should anyone care where someone else gets a spiritual high? Because no one really cares, the claim to be spiritual but not religious is always safe. It’s never a threat and can be dismissed quite easily. The claim to be religious is different. It is a claim that God himself has taken the initiative to reveal himself to us and tell us who he is and who we are. Religion binds us to God according to his will, not ours, in a community of faith that he has brought into existence. Being religious can therefore be threatening.

Read the rest of Cardinal George’s column here.


Categories:Culture Theology

  • Abraham V.Llera

    Jonathan, I understand your point because I understand where you are coming from. “Protestant” churches emphasizes feelings, thrives on feelings, encourages feel-good experiences. That’s why their worship is all feelings; their teachings all about feelings; their standard for everything is feelings. That is why, for instance, they flee from suffering, they reject the Cross, they only want fun.

    The question is: Is that what Scripture says. Scripture says one has to “believe” to have eternal life. Thing is Protestants think all this requires is for one believe same way one “believes” Monday comes after Sunday. Wrong.

    To believe is to obey (Rom 1:5) throughout one’s life. If you doubt it, look p the Greek original of “believe” (“pisteou”) and see how it is used in other verses.

    “Protestants” have it wrong in a lot of things; in fact, they have it wrong in ALL things they differ from Catholics.

    Jonathan, I suggest you review things.

  • Jonathan

    Yep, Cardinal George hit the nail right on the head! He probably didn’t mean to, but he put into words what a lot of us Christians already believe: The Catholic church is indeed religious but NOT spiritual. I’ve been to Catholic weddings, funerals, and masses, and all I ever saw was ritual, ritual, ritual. No Holy Spirit guiding and uplifting people’s lives, just fancy church buildings, lots of memorized chanting, smoke wafting around the pews, and bored, zombie priests reciting prayers and verses like automatons. Jesus certainly did speak about the Catholic church but it had nothing to do with Peter. Instead, read Matt 23:27 –“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

  • Cch

    Yes. I agree you are religious not spiritual. I believe most religions do cherish the letter more than the spirit of the law. I also know the truth will set you free.

  • FrC


    Actually, “Islam” is only 1,400 years old. It is, in many ways, a Christian offshoot founded by Mohammed in the 7th century. It has two primary sub-species, Shia and Sunni and no centralized authority at all.

    In that, it is like Judaism, which is, yes, older than the Catholic Church, but like Islam, not a “Church” per se, but a religion based on holy writ and interpretation by leaders, some of whom are recognized by some followers, and some who aren’t.

    The Catholic Church is an institutional Church, established by Christ and the only visible institution on the planet that is 2,000 years old or older.

  • bb

    I’m Catholic and I get the point, but I must say your argument lost its legitimacy when it said: “the religion he organized on that rock is still … the oldest institution on the planet”. What about Judaism and Muslim, just to name a couple? We aren’t that old. Yes, we have a traceable lineage, but for the most part, so do the ones mentioned.

    • jgbech

      Bill O’Reilly recently opined that religions offer a “calming” effect in the world. WOW! I wonder what world he lives on.

      Religiously driven wars throughout the centuries are abundant. My dilemma with the Catholic Church is their cavalier use of the term “Christianity” when attempting to associate the “church” with a social ill. Christianity = Catholicism and no other. Pope John Paul II said “other Christian religions are fundamentally flawed. That puts it straight. If one believes that Catholicism is the oldest religion… I have a 6 million year old fossil bone I could sell any creationist.

      Please tell me… how do I reconcile another flawed Catholic position when they use ecumenism and evangelization in the same breath?



Receive our updates via email.