Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

SBNR (Spiritual, but not Religious)

December 26th, 2010, Promulgated by b a

I don’t get it.  I really just don’t get it.  If you don’t believe the Catholic Faith, then why be a member?  And what would motivate you to pretend to teach others about Catholicism?  What am I talking about?  The SBNR (Spiritual, but not Religious) movement which claims that “All Religions Contain Some Wisdom” is in complete contrast to Christianity.  SBNR and Catholicism are mutually exclusive.  You can believe one or the other, but not both.  Proof of this is all throughout the Bible and all throughout the CCC and other Church Documents.  One such Document is

“DOMINUS IESUS” 2000 issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
(It’s hard to pick one snippet because the whole document is loaded with retort against the SBNR mentality)

The thesis which denies the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ is also put forward. Such a position has no biblical foundation. In fact, the truth of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lord and only Saviour, who through the event of his incarnation, death and resurrection has brought the history of salvation to fulfilment, and which has inhim its fullness and centre, must be firmly believed as a constant element of the Church’s faith.


Let me share another story for thought.  Shortly after I became a Catholic I was helping out with RCIA.  The program was run by a nun.  The first session brought together all the people seeking to become Catholics and those who would be helping out.  We went around the room and everyone explained their background.  One of the “teachers” explained the SBNR mentality to the “T”.  Fortunately my turn came later, so I could gently explain that this is in contrast to the Catholic faith.  I was assuming the nun would clear things up and back me up.  She said nothing.  I got the feeling more people there disagreed w/ me than agreed.  What a shame.  How many people (kids and adults) have been incorrectly taught the faith?  I used to assume former-Catholic protestants were lying when they said, “I’m a former Catholic who never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ until I heard it from [fill in the blank] protestant church.”  Sadly, I think all too often they are telling the truth.



34 Responses to “SBNR (Spiritual, but not Religious)”

  1. Anonymous says:

    That’s even in the official diocesan Web site. There is a nun who indicates that to her, we must simple accept all religions because they will never be in union with Rome and that each religion has positive qualities to emulate. Such diversity flies in the face of what Christ said that he prayed all would vecome one.

  2. benanderson says:

    anon – do you have a link?

  3. BigE says:

    I have no trouble believing the Catholic Faith contains the fullness of truth. But to say that the Church doesn’t recognize that there is “some” wisdom in other faith traditions is simply not true.

    “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.” (Nostra Aetate, Section 2)

    “Certainly, the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements which come from God” (Dominus Iesus, Section 21)

    “Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as ‘a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.'” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 843)

  4. Steve Frazee says:

    You misunderstand the SBNR perspective. One doesn’t “join” or the SBNR movement.
    Being SBNR is a way of looking at life. does not speak for SBNR people. Our site seeks to serve SBNR people who are a widely diverse group. However, you are right that our organizations perspective is heresy. And yet, we honor that your devotion to your faith is no different than our devotion to our perspective. While we may not share the same spiritual philosophy, we can find agreeable ways to share this planet and thrive as human beings.

    Considering reading What Does SBNR mean? to get a better understanding of the SBNR perspective.

    Steve Frazee
    Executive Director,

  5. benanderson says:

    Hi Steve,
    Thanks for sharing that. Sure, if people want to believe be SBNR, they are free to do so.

    you are right that our organizations perspective is heresy

    That was my point. To be a Catholic, you must be SAR (spiritual and religious).

    we honor that your devotion to your faith is no different than our devotion to our perspective.

    That’s where we part ways. We believe that Catholicism is the one, true religion. Other devotions may be noble and commendable in some ways, but none possesses the fullness of the truth that Catholicism does.

  6. Anonymous says:


    They have changed their web home site since I last checked. They had many audio tapes you could hear on line. Several were from Pat Fox. The audio I heard from the Nun was from there. But I can’t find it when I returned to it.

  7. Dr. K says:

    BieE – I am aware of the passages you have cited. This is the problem: “but no one religion contains all wisdom”

    This is very similar to the Fr. Shaw belief that some Protestant religions better reflect the truth in some aspects than the Church.

  8. Persis says:

    Sorry, but I have to agree with the statement that “no one religion contains all wisdom.”

    Wisdom & Truth are not the same things.

    Do I believe that the Catholic Church contains the “fullness of Truth”? You bet! 🙂

    Do I believe they contain “all wisdom”? Sorry but no, not by any stretch of the word.

    According to “wisdom” can mean an accumulation of knowledge, insight and/or good judgement. Three things that seem to be in very short supply everywhere, including the Church. 😉

  9. Matt says:


    in the eyes of the SBNR crowd, truth is a purely relative term

  10. benanderson says:

    point taken, Persis – thanks for your comment. Certainly Catholicism doesn’t contain all wisdom in the sense you describe. I don’t want to squabble over semantics, so I’ll concede your point. The idea of that statement though seems to be religious syncretism (as Matt says). I’ll take 2 spoonfuls of Kabala, a dash of Buddhism, and just the parts of Catholicism that make me a “loving” person. While Catholicism can’t give you all the answers (eg when will our Lord return), you can rest assured you don’t need to go looking to other religions for answers. In other words, non-Catholic religions will reveal no truths (and no wisdom) that Catholicism doesn’t. If you’re grounded in your faith and you enjoy learning, then by all means learn something about Sikkhism. But that’s a fine point that is often used to legitimize relativism. The overwhelming problem is that Catholics are tragically uneducated. They haven’t exhausted the vast amount of spirituality found in Catholicism before they go looking elsewhere.

    The other problem w/ SBNR is the title itself – specifically the “Not Religious” part. Catholicism is a religion. If you’re not religious, then you’re not Catholic.

  11. Steve Frazee says:

    I agree with @Persis.

    Truth is a curious concept, especially when applied to the revealed nature of the Transcendent.

    By definition, that which is Transcendent defies understanding by the human mind. Our minds can only grasp tangible signs that point to the transcendent, but not the transcendent. We are constantly at risk of making false idols of our stories. At best, we are left pondering the metaphors while absolute truth hovers just outside our subjective perception.

    Regardless of what is revealed to humanity, we are only able to conceive that which falls within our existing cultural zeitgeist. If such a thing as absolute truth exists, we are unable to perceive it. The totality of all human perception can’t contain the Truth, and therefore, no one religion can either.

    It is my perspective that truth is not something to be known, but a direction in which humanity travels. Wisdom is the most relevant map.

  12. Monk says:

    “…..If such a thing as absolute truth exists, we are unable to perceive it.” not true Steve…..Jesus Christ is the absolute truth made incarnate for all mankind to see and believe!

  13. Louis E. says:

    My own perspective is similar to SBNR (I call myself a “plain-vanilla Theist” at times) but I believe in rigid truths there to be discivered,not determined,and the impossibility of a religious organization or text holding all truth is one of them.God is too big for any of us to understand,and no exclusive path is possible.I would never,as a matter of conscience,join any organization founded on a belief I did not share (e.g. Jesus being God’s Only Son or Mohammed being God’s Only Prophet).

  14. Steve Frazee says:

    @Monk, I honor your faith and beliefs. But relative to my comment, you must concede that even among devote Catholics, the concept of Christ varies….as it does in each of the Gospels. (No, he is under no compunction to concede. You see, as a Catholic, he professes a belief in an absolute Truth. It is this Truth he defends here. The Gospels portray different angles of the same Christ – they don’t say, “well, he was a good guy – let’s leave it at that.”)

    If the Christ is absolute truth as you propose, we are destined to lack complete awareness of that truth as we are not Jesus. (“As you propose” makes the belief in Christ’s divinity seem narrow and novel. It’s not.)

    I think this point relates back to the the original question of this post

    “If you don’t believe the Catholic Faith, then why be a member?”

    I grew up a practicing Catholic and many family and friends continue to be involved with the Church. I find that they all have varying levels of attachment to the Catechism. (Just because they have varying levels of orthodoxy it doesn’t mean they’re all right.)

    What draws them to mass, and to identify as Catholic, however is not the philosophy, but a sense of community and comfort with the ritual and language.

    Even among the priests I know, there is a great breadth of perspective in spiritual philosophy. (Yes, as we all know, there are good priest and there are bad priests. To justify a new-age movement on these grounds is naive at best.)

  15. Gen says:

    Perhaps a refresher on commenting policy is needed.

    Any comment which does not seek to defend the teachings of the Church liable to be removed. There is a difference between engaging in dialogue and just being argumentative and downright heretical.

  16. benanderson says:

    Personally I don’t think anyone’s being argumentative. Heretical, yes, but Steve admitted as much.

    I do appreciate you entering this discussion. I’m curious how you got here – was it via google alerts or something? I’m always curious how people reach us.

    Again, my main point was not to rip SBNR, but to point out that it is in opposition to the Catholic faith. You and I don’t agree and so we shouldn’t pretend like we do. I have much more respect for people who are honest about what they believe. That obviously varies from a passive Catholic in the pew to a lay teacher, priest, or bishop. If any of the latter do not believe in the Catholic faith, they should not teach principles that are contrary to the Catholic faith under the guise of Catholicism. Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, Secular Humanists, and SBNRs should not have prominent positions in our Catholic parishes. I think you’d agree with that, wouldn’t you Steve? That was my main point.

    What draws them to mass, and to identify as Catholic, however is not the philosophy, but a sense of community and comfort with the ritual and language.

    bingo! And this is where the problem lies. People in the pews need to be challenged to delve deeper into their faith. If presented with the “why”s of Church teaching, I think many would find they agree with the Church. Those that still don’t believe should be welcomed to mass, but should not receive communion (and certainly shouldn’t teach the faith). If we don’t educate why the Church teaches what it does and pretend like the Church doesn’t have answers to common questions (She does!), then people who might potentially believe are never even given the chance. How can you believe in something you don’t even understand?

    If I find some time, Steve, I’ll respond to your SBNR claims, so you at least understand why we believe what we believe.


  17. Dr. K says:

    Persis, the following is also found on the site:

    “The staff at believes that all religions and philosophies contain some truth, but that no one religion of philosophy contains all truth

    SBNR appears to be using the terms wisdom and truth interchangeably to convey the same idea.

  18. Steve Frazee says:

    I am grateful comments are open for discussion.

    @Dr. K, we originally crafted the phrase as “All religions and philosophies contain some truth, but no one religion or philosophy contains all truth.” Our site is new and focused on “applied spirituality”. After some interactions, and specifically the post that you linked to, we realized that the concept of “truth” quickly becomes a philosophical discussion of Universality versus Relativism. We modified the language of the phrase to be more practical.

    I was inspired by this thread on this site to open a discussion on ours to discuss the difference between Truth and Wisdom, feel free to join in.

    @Ben, thank you for your tone. It was not my intention to be argumentative. And yes, as an Apostate, my view is implicitly heretical. Having said that, it seems to me the Church is faced with a deeper underlying question: Should it evolve or not?

    That which does not evolve will eventually die, but that which does evolve must change. It’s a tough spot for the Church. I personally find wisdom in the Catholic tradition including the practice of Lectio Divina and Father Thomas Keating’s Centering Prayer. Sadly, neither of those practices was made available to me in my parish.

  19. BigE says:

    @ Dr. K

    I was only refuting the statement that: “’All Religions Contain Some Wisdom’ is in complete contrast to Christianity”. That is not a correct statement based on current Catholic teaching.

    I don’t even see where the “but no one religion contians all wisdom” is mentioned in the blog. Did that come from the SBNR website?

  20. Dr. K says:

    I don’t even see where the “but no one religion contians all wisdom” is mentioned in the blog. Did that come from the SBNR website?

    Yes, it’s on the front page below the main logo of the site.

  21. benanderson says:

    @Ben, thank you for your tone. It was not my intention to be argumentative.

    And thanks for your politeness. I didn’t think you were trying to be argumentative.

    I do think it’s important to answer the questions you raise. I am a convert to Catholicism after having had a pretty negative view of the Catholic Church for most of my life. I wrestled with and pondered these questions for years before joining the Church. There are so many great resources out there that I’m usually able to point elsewhere instead of using my own words (which are much less effective). When I get some time, I’ll see if I can find some good resources to the questions you raise. Sometimes I’m very slow, though, because I have a day job, a family, and our site has lots of priorities. It’ll probably take the form of another post. I’ll email it to you so you don’t miss it.


  22. benanderson says:

    @BigE – Don’t get caught up over these semantics. Read some articles on SBNR and then read the document I linked in the post. SBNR and Catholicism are not compatible. Our friend Steve Frazee is agreeing on that point.

  23. Monk says:

    “… seems to me the Church is faced with a deeper underlying question: Should it evolve or not?” Steve, you don’t understand the nature of the Christ’s Church. It is the reign of God among us, the new Jerusalem. Within the Church all salvation is at hand and contains all truth. The Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ. It doesn’t “evolve” because it already contains all truth. You seem to be “hung-up” by what one priest did or said or some practice or tradition that you thought was important and ignored and you are therefore missing the exciting totality that is at your side.

  24. Louis E. says:

    I part company with Mr. Frazee,it seems,in that I hold that ultimate truths are inalterable.A religion that “changes with the times” is admitting itself to be a fraud when it comes to representing the eternal God and divine truth.And I consider hypocrisy discreditable wherever encountered…a Jew who declares ham-and-cheese sandwiches kosher,or a Catholic who purports to consecrate them at a Mass,is a fake.

  25. Matt says:

    The inherent pompousness of centering prayer is alarming…and yet people are convinced it is something humble…centering prayer is NOT Catholic, Steve, no matter what any “liberal Catholic” (read: heretic) will tell you.

  26. BigE says:

    @ Steve Frazee

    The Church HAS evolved….and continues to evolve. That is why she calls herself a “pilgrim” church. And a quick look at her history shows just how movement there has been in 2,000 years. I don’t understand your statement relative to the Church.

  27. Steve Frazee says:

    This is a fascinating thread of discussion. I am grateful to be included and to spend this time with you during my week off.

    I am curious about the concept of absolute truth and our ability to perceive it.

    @Louis E. says, “ultimate truths are inalterable,” which I can accept in principle. But do we have the ability to perceive and understand those truths? …If so, at what point in our lives?

    I know I am a different man today than I was in my thirties. I except I will be different again in my sixties. Surely I am a bit wiser now than when I was fifteen. So even if some truths are absolute, when are we mature enough to comprehend them fully? How does the Sacrament of Confirmation change when received by a babe instead of a teen or an adult?

    I find myself aligned with @BigE’s perspective. The Church HAS evolved and will continue to evolve. But the change has not come easy. I know several Catholics that continue to grumble about the changes which resulted from Vatican II. @Matt, is that what it means to be a ‘conservative Catholic’? Do conservative Catholics agree that that Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation should be given all at the same time, or oppose a shift back to the old ways?

    I apologize for not being completely clear on the orthodoxy being defended on this site. It is not obvious to me where the boundaries are that define ‘conservative Catholic’ in your diocese. I looked for a position statement on this site, but didn’t find one.

    The relationship between the evolution of the Church and conservatism is interesting. At what speed can evolution occur that will also be tolerated by Conservatives? Does conservatism ultimately mean opposition to change?

    @BigE, you are correct, I asked my question poorly. The question is not IF the Church will evolve; the question is at what speed and at what price will the Church evolve so that it might thrive. How does this site play into that dynamic?

    I honor your zeal in standing up for what you believe to be appropriate in your worship community, although I wonder if the tone of this site is aiding or hindering your desired outcome for the diocese.

    Finally, @Monk, I am well studied in the Catechism, traditions and history of the Catholic church, more than most Catholics and some priests that I’ve met. While I respect your beliefs and faith, I do not share them for reasons that are sane, healthy and fully educated.

    I do understand the Church, but belief is not about understanding. The gap between us is not one of mind, but one of the heart. I tell you honestly that God speaks directly to my heart and tells me that while the Church is the right path for you, it is not for me. If God speaks to your heart and tells you differently, how are we to resolve our perceptions with compassion and respect?

  28. benanderson says:

    how does one know truth?

    I’m afraid I can’t give you a specific resource off the top of my head. CS Lewis addresses it somewhat in the “Abolition of Man”, but I’m not sure it’s exactly pertinent (and it’s been a while since I’ve read it). I’m sure there’s gotta be good resources out there… anyone?

    I think we have a wide range of opinions on this blog. I believe I can speak for the staff, though, when I say that we prefer to be called orthodox Catholics (conservative is a little too political). To be an orthodox Catholic simply means you follow Church teaching.

    Disciplines change – doctrines don’t. Although doctrines don’t change they do develop. John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote about this. I have not yet gotten to reading it, but I believe it might be pertinent to this discussion:

    I apologize for not being completely clear on the orthodoxy being defended on this site. It is not obvious to me where the boundaries are that define ‘conservative Catholic’ in your diocese. I looked for a position statement on this site, but didn’t find one.

    I think that’s something we could work on. The orthodoxy we defend is in doctrine and in worship. Before I joined CF, I ran my own blog where I have somewhat of a mission statement:
    We expect our local Catholic leaders to teach what’s in the CCC (and not contradict it). We expect our priests to follow the GIRM in regards to celebrating the mass.

    although I wonder if the tone of this site is aiding or hindering your desired outcome for the diocese

    we hope it’s helping, but that’s something that’s certainly open for debate. The negative tone is reserved more for the wolves in sheeps clothing. I find it easier to have a nice tone with someone like you, Steve, who is honest about what he believes instead of being deceitful (which I think is much of what we’re faced with here). I believe you are earnestly seeking truth as am I.

    I do not share them for reasons that are sane, healthy and fully educated.

    have you read CS Lewis? Chesterton? Ratzinger?

    If God speaks to your heart and tells you differently, how are we to resolve our perceptions with compassion and respect?

    obviously at some point we agree to disagree. This is the pluralistic society that we live in. I believe B16 has spoken rather well on this.

  29. Nerina says:

    As someone who self-identifies as an orthodox/traditional Catholic, I find I have a knee-jerk reaction to phrases such as “All religions contain some wisdom, but no one religion contains all wisdom.” To me, the phrase conveys a certain amount of relativism, which I believe is the fundamental problem facing not only the Catholic church, but western civilization in general. I don’t want to take this thread down a rabbit hole, but I will echo Ben’s sentiment that what I object to is having people in places of leadership – especially in charge of forming the faith of children and young adults – who subscribe to the SNBR philosophy/movement. Certainly people should be free to identify as they wish, but I don’t want my priests or my CCD teachers espousing such views.

    I also want to thank Steve for taking the time to share his thoughts and perspective. While I don’t agree with either, I appreciate anyone who approaches a discussion honestly and in good faith.

  30. Steve Frazee says:

    I have learned much here. Thank you for your time.

    @Ben, I appreciate those links and I will bring more awareness to using the phrase “orthodox Catholic”. @Nernia, you are correct, relativism is not unusual of people with an SBNR perspective. I can understand why that perspective is not appropriate in an orthodox Catholic venue.

    My journey calls me to explore how in a pluralistic society people of varying beliefs can find mechanisms to create shared values toward the wellbeing of all involved. I am sure that we don’t have to be alike, or believe alike….to like each other. 🙂

    Blessings to all of you on your spiritual journey and good luck in the coming new year.


  31. benanderson says:

    One more resource for you if you’re interested is an audio series by theologian RR Reno. He goes really deep into the question of truth and how we come to know it. I’ve listened to it a few times (not all at once because you’ll want to really contemplate what he says). I have a snippet here and there’s a link to all the audio files as well:

  32. Louis E. says:

    Nerina,realizing that all religions are imperfect is not relativism,it’s discerning between the truth of the Infinite and man’s finite attempts to communicate it to other men and the adulteration that inevitably results.The truths are just as absolute behind the obscuring barriers,as the elephant is a real elephant for all the disparate perceptions of the proverbial blind men.I certainly agree that people who have a cafeteria approach to religion have no place as ostensible teachers of any particular religion.

  33. Nerina says:

    Louis, I’m digesting what you posted. Hmmmm……I guess the phrase I quoted above doesn’t imply any religion is imperfect, as much as all religions are incomplete. Further, it seems to imply since no religion is complete, then a person can evaluate each and determine what is right for him or her – therefore, relativism (when relativism is understood as a philosophy that conceptions of truth are not absolute but relative to a person or group). To me, it implies that no one religion can possibly contain or express absolute truth and that truth changes throughout time and in different cultures.

    The second comment in the following thread illustrates my concern:(the commenter says exactly what I expect a relativist to say)

    I might be accused of being a “sheeple,” but I’m counting on the fact that truth exists in the person of Jesus Christ and is expressed through His Church. Honestly, I don’t know how I would get through my days without this belief.

  34. Louis E. says:

    What is right is not up to us to determine,only to discern.And truth is independent of culture.It is there to be found,only in part,in many religions,but it is not up to anyone but God what it is.

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