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Dorris '15: Is religion the scariest word?

We've all met them. 

They're the ones who see God in the hills, on the beach and through the clouds. They see God when they're struggling with an essay and it all comes together. They see God when they're having sex.

Sound familiar?

In case you haven't jumped on the SBNR - "spiritual but not religious" - bandwagon yet, identifying oneself as such seems to be a growing trend. Roughly speaking, the term describes those who don't identify with traditional organized religion but still feel a spiritual presence. 

This is no different on campus. In fact, it describes Brown so acutely that it's almost as if we were the first SBNRers and the rest of the world is just catching up.

Not convinced? Check out the religion choices on and eHarmony: Muslim, Jewish, Christian - and then there's spiritual but not religious.

Yes, it's true, and the irony is flawless. Spiritual but not religious is our most popular religion. In a 2009 survey by LifeWay Christian Resources, 72 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they were "more spiritual than religious." 

Why us?

Aside from the committed spiritual wanderer, your regular Josiah Carberry SBNRer is probably not going on an excessive number of spiritual journeys - at least not sober, anyway. Let's be honest, many of us don't want to take sides. We don't want to be associated with the stereotypes connected to religious extremism. We don't want to face the possible emptiness surrounding the world of atheism, but we don't want to bind our identities to full-fledged traditionalism. We would rather spend a beautiful day on the Main Green than sitting through a service. We would rather please everyone.

We have been raised in a customizable world. It's not that we don't want religion, it's that we want a personalized, privatized religion that fits into our busy lifestyles. We want it at a party, not at a temple. We want to text it drunk, and we want it to secretly arrive at 4 a.m. We don't want it to nag us or make us pay for weekly dates. While we admire organized religion from afar, while we study it platonically, what we really want are hookups.

We tend to focus on the potential for oppression or close-mindedness and forget about the benefits of religious communities - friendship, a social support network, a positive outlook on life and a sense of commitment. Does this sound a bit like a serious relationship?

It's almost eerie how vibrantly SBNR mirrors the hookup culture unique to our generation. Just as we jump from partner to partner, just as we are uneasy with even choosing a relationship status on Facebook, we do not wish to bind ourselves to one religion. If   spiritual dabbling is hooking up, choosing a lone religion is the until death do you part.

So we dabble in it all - a little Hindu yoga, some Buddhist meditation, a couple Alpha Epsilon Pi Passover seders - hard on the wine, easy on the Hebrew, maybe with a few Easter eggs thrown in.

Just like love, religion has become a scary word. It represents a hierarchy of intellect and elitism. Be honest - don't pretend you haven't judged someone prematurely after learning they are "very religious." 

While we may meet God on a green, in the Rockefeller Library or in a downward facing dog pose held for too long, one thing's for certain - many of us don't meet God in a house of worship. Are we too self-centered to devote ourselves to religious responsibilities, or are we just avoiding sheer idealism? Is this just another allegory for our fear of commitment?

While our generation is known for being the most innovative, motivated and driven, it is also known for being the most depressed. We may have morphed from a Prozac to a Xanax nation, but perhaps we're using the wrong pills. Is religion the med we really need? 

Many of us call ourselves spiritual, but we are reluctant to visit Hillel, the Brown Muslim Student Center or the Manning Chapel. We claim to enjoy different religious experiences, yet, with the exception of yoga in the Hillel social hall, we rarely set foot into these institutions. 

Even groups like the Multi-Faith council pose the same threat. Religion. Commitment. Once you come you have to come back - you have to identify as a Hindu or Christian or Jew. You feel the walls closing in, your freedom disappearing - you wonder what people will think. You start to feel a tiny bit uneasy when you scarf down that stack of bacon, the plate sorely dripping with unkosher guilt. 

Let's not kid ourselves. Perhaps traditional organized religion is not appropriate for a generation terrified of commitment. Maybe we shouldn't put a ring on it after all. 

However, what we do need is access to more outlets. We need places that don't only cater to traditional religions but cater to the amorphousness of SBNR. Because if we do see higher power(s) in interesting places, if we feel enlightened, we should have a place to talk about it, debate it and experience it with other people.

Love and religion may be two of the scariest words, but spirituality is relatively safe. Even if we don't choose religion, we need to build a stronger spiritual community.



Cara Dorris '15 can be reached at



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