Persons who had spirituality without religion are not new to our history. There were many people even before the depopulation of churches in Europe who lived spirituality without religion. What I am giving here are three cases of notable persons who displayed this condition in their life, one that had spirituality without religion.
37 Years Living on Top of a Pillar
The first person that comes to my mind is that of a Christian who lived in the 4th to the 5th century in Syria. He stayed on top of a pillar or large pole for 37 years. His name, Simeon Stylites (the Elder, to distinguish him from others of the same name) is quite famous because he initiated this kind of living and others followed him.
Simeon was born around 390 in Turkey, the son of a shepherd. He entered a monastery before reaching the age of 16. Because of his extreme bodily penitence he was told to leave the monastery. He hid himself in a hut for one and a half years. Then he went to a mountainous area where he virtually imprisoned himself within a diameter of less than 20 meters. But he was sought out by persons asking for his prayers and advices and this led him to a radical decision in his life. He wanted to avoid them in order to devote more time to prayer. He found a pillar and he went on top of it and lived there for 37 years, rain or shine, under intense heat or in the fiercest of cold weather. He only tried to go down when he was tested by some church authorities whether he still would obey them or not. The shortest of the pillars on which he lived was 4 meters. Later he went higher to a 15-meter pillar.
During this space of more than 30 years he did not attend our usual religious services, like Mass or preaching, did not openly profess a creed or doctrine, and did not study or follow any moral code. He primarily spent his time communing with God. There were occasions when he wrote letters which were filled with wisdom. He was a very good example of a person who had spirituality without religion.
He died on September 2, 459, an example who was followed by many others who lived on pillars. It is recorded in the 2010 Guinness World Book Of Records that his stay for 37 years on top of the longest pole is also the longest ever recorded.
The Destroyer of a Centuries Old Custom
Slavery has been with mankind even before recorded history. It was taken as a normal fact of life. Even in the Bible slavery was considered part of the normal activity in life. The man destined to destroy this custom, at least legally, was somebody who had spirituality without religion.
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States of America. He had only about a year of formal education from traveling teachers. But he learned things continually on his own. Eventually he became a lawyer. In 1837 he said "[The] Institution of slavery is founded on both injustice and bad policy …". He continually opposed slavery until he was able to abolish it by the Emancipation Proclamation which he issued on September 22, 1862. He followed this up with the amendment to the US Constitution outlawing slavery in the whole nation. This became the famous Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
That Lincoln was chiefly instrumental in the abolition of slavery is a fact well known by most who know something of US history. But it is not so well known that he did not belong to any church. He went inside churches and participated in the activities but not as a member of those churches. He was only an observer. He developed religious skepticism early in life. He doubted whether the Churches were teaching what was really true. But he read and meditated on the Bible and frequently used biblical terms. By any standard he was never a religious man. He did not profess any of the standard Christian creeds, had no regard for the morality of his time, did not frequent religious services. But he was deeply spiritual. In fact he had a dream of his impending death and went through it with resignation. He is a true example of a person who is spiritual without religion.
Power Greater than Nuclear Energy
Most Christians who have some working knowledge of the Bible believe that they are temples of God, that is, that God dwells inside them. This belief may be only intellectual. They may not feel the presence of God within them most of the time. But the idea is there that God somehow is in their body after the reminder of Paul the Apostle in 1 Corinthians 3:16, "ye are the temple of God."
There lived a man who did not take this idea of God living in man only intellectually. In fact he lived out this idea in his thoughts, words, feelings and actions, and taught it to others and made a living out of this teaching. He read and taught passages in the Bible and interpreted them in ways no mainstream theologian would ever do. For example he not only taught that we have an imagination which we can use to create reality. He taught that Jesus Christ is our imagination. In other words not only is God in us but God is our imagination. The activities of our imagination are divine activities. They are not merely human musings and imaging performed by our brain.
This man was not religious at all. In fact he never bothered to enter churches on his own. His morality was not according to the usual code acknowledged by most people. His name is Neville Goddard.
Neville was not only conscious of a power within him that was greater than nuclear energy. He identified himself with this power and used it to attain anything in life that he wanted. But he did not perform any of the religious ceremonies we are familiar with, nor did he conform to any religious creed, neither did he teach any morality. He believed rather in the creative power of the imagination to do anything one can think of and put this belief into practice in his life and in the lives of others.
Neville Goddard was born February 19, 1905 in the British West Indies. Seventeen years later he went to United States. He studied drama and became a dancer. While performing dances in England he became interested in New Age teachings. He became a US citizen after a brief Army training. Later through a tutor named Abdullah he studied Hebrew, the Kabbalah, and the esoteric interpretation of the Bible. Then he began giving lectures on the powers of the human mind. He focused his teachings around the imagination of human beings. He was a popular speaker in the United States during the mid-20th century. Even today he is still listened to through his recordings. He died on October 1, 1972 at the age of 67 years.
This man is another example of a person who was spiritual without religion. He totally agreed with what William Blake said, "All ritual, all creeds," everything in the form of a ritual "was anti-Christ."