Spiritual but Not Religious: Mentally Unstable?

by Joshua Tilghman on January 12, 2013

Spiritual anguishI found an article by Dan Merica on CNN this week very interesting. In case you didn’t see it, the headline read:

“The spiritual but not religious likely to face mental health issues, drug use, study finds.” You can read the original story on CNN here.

When I first read the headline I passed judgment; what kind of person would say such a thing? I decided to click on the link and see what it was all about. After finishing the article I realized I couldn’t argue with the conclusions, and as I looked back over the past 8 years of my life, I thought that the article might as well have been about me. Fortunately, I never got involved with drug use, but I did experience my fair share of depression, anxiety, and nights of heavy drinking, just to escape my reality. And it all began in earnest when I became spiritual but not religious.

I eventually gave up drinking, got into meditation, and realized why I was so unhappy. I had some profound experiences while going within and exploring the self. But getting there was hell to pay. Suffice to say, everything is still not always perfect, but I no longer experience the fear and anxiety as I once did. And although I don’t find anything wrong with a few drinks, I don’t feel the need anymore.

So…although I agree with the conclusions of the CNN article, it’s for very different reasons than most psychological experts would probably understand. Let me explain…

Everybody creates suffering through the mind. It begins and ends there, but religion can provide an avenue to medicate it. This medication is proscribed in the form of rituals, emotionalism, and doctrinal beliefs which reinforce more emotionalisms. So while it may be better for some spiritual people to involve themselves in religion for the short run, it certainly can never end the problem of suffering for them.

Tanya Luhmann, a psychological anthropologist from the article, had this to say about religion:

“…organized religion provides three outlets that benefit churchgoers’ well being: social support, attachments to a loving God and the organized practice of prayer.”

And he’s absolutely right! Many religious concepts such as prayer and believing in a higher power are very comforting things. Even rituals. We all need a certain amount of them in our lives. Meditation practice is one of mine. But when we do those rituals because we believe we must, just to placate a higher being, the very act of those rituals loses its holiness. It is then that we are resorting to self-medication through religion. There is nothing permanently healing about it.

In fact, those kinds of beliefs allow us to give away our own individual power, power that we wield through the mind. I have learned that when we give away our power to someone, or something—like a religious doctrine—it can feel very good. The ego tricks you into thinking that everything is going to be alright because you are doing the right thing. But this is a very powerful illusion, and it is the cycle of self-medication that keeps the illusion alive. That is why some people get up every Sunday morning, go to church, sing songs, listen to a sermon, give some money, and then go home. It can seem so medicinal.

It was a while after I left the institutional church before I realized all this. Within the first few months, my subconscious mind realized I wasn’t being medicated anymore. I had lost much of my social support and I was still quite confused about who and what I ultimately believed. I knew my former religious authorities didn’t have the right answers, especially when it came to their interpretation of the Bible (which I still knew to be of great value), but I still sort of felt like an injured soldier who had lost my supply of morphine. And it’s all because I was no longer involved in a religious framework.

And thus began my long journey of self discovery. I do not regret the journey. It has been the greatest one of my life.

Looking back, I realize it was supposed to be this way. Both Jesus and Buddha had to suffer to gain Enlightenment. The Buddha left his carefree world of wealth and luxury in order to engage suffering head on. Once he had peered over the fence of his false world, something deep within him sought the experience he needed to realize the illusion created by duality.

And as for Jesus…well this scripture sums it up for us:

“Christ learned obedience through the things that he suffered.”

But as Christ showed us, suffering can be crucified at Golgotha, the place of the skull, or what’s in your head.

The path to truth always produces suffering in the mind first. I remember when I first realized Santa Claus wasn’t real. I incurred some big time suffering of the mind. My whole world shattered. So much joy had come from the thought of Santa Claus that my brain couldn’t— no refused—to process it. At least not at first. But each time I returned to the questions that left me doubting in the first place, I knew something was dreadfully wrong: how did he fit down the chimney? How do reindeer fly without wings? How could one man have enough time in one night to deliver billions of gifts? The wonderful world of fairy-tale magic I wanted to believe in so bad was quickly coming to an end. But this was necessary for me to continue to mature and grow in the real world.

A similar revelation occurred to me many years later, a revelation which desperately needed to happen so that I could also continue to grow and mature spiritually. It happened one day as I was driving in the car and pondering the great mysteries of life. I suddenly realized the Bible wasn’t real either, at least not the way I had been taught. Talking snakes and donkeys? The sun standing still? Men walking on water? A man sacrificing his own daughter to God just because he made a silly promise, and God allowing him to go through with it (yes, that’s in the Bible too). In an instant it was like a light bulb came on and I realized the Bible stories meant something much more profound than those incredulous interpretations. They were for a greater purpose, and I had to discover it. So I left the very place that was holding me back from this purpose and began to uncover the esoteric knowledge revealed in the great scriptures of the world.

At first I really did feel sort of lost, like a ship sailing on a vast ocean with no compass, desperately hoping to reach a shoreline. Water was everywhere. Yes, I was floating, but why? Who built the ship? And for what purpose? And to what shores could I now sail to find out? The shores of Catholicism, Protestantism, and even the Pentecostal persuasion were now just mirages on the horizon.

But I eventually reached a very satisfying conclusion through that mental anguish. There’s nowhere to go. No shore to travel to. No distant land to discover. Just enjoy being the ship and allow the breezes to take you in whatever direction they blow. From this state of being, you may even eventually realize that you are creating the breezes in the first place, and that you can begin to use this creative power to sail to any shore where the land beyond is more like you imagine it to be.

All the truth we can ever know is already inside of us! That’s where the true message of Jesus rings true:

“The kingdom is within you.”

So yes, the article from CNN had some truth to it: spiritual people without a religious framework usually end up going through a lot of mental anguish, leaving them very vulnerable. Many, if not most, probably end up succumbing to those vulnerabilities. But for a few—and I believe the numbers will be greater and greater from here on out—the path of suffering can be the path of liberation. So don’t be fooled by the article. Yes, there is a lot of truth to it, but it’s not the whole truth.

Besides, once we learn not to resist the path of suffering, then our journeys will begin experiencing those rare occasions where reality can be seen in a new light, and slowly but surely, we begin to wake up to something to something infinitely peaceful. And then quitting the self-medication of religion can become quite healing.

Now it’s your turn. If you had a chance to read the article, what did you think?

And by the way, since we spoke so much about suffering in this article, I think my next post will be about Job. We can learn some very cool esoteric knowledge from his life. Blessings!

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie January 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Dear Josh,
You are so right on!!!
Just keep on truckin’ in the face of ignorance.
It’s so hard to find the Light in mainstream news
Thanks, Debbie


Joshua Tilghman January 13, 2013 at 9:46 am



Deone Higgs January 13, 2013 at 11:15 am

Powerful read here, Joshua! I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading, resonated with, and could truly appreciate what you’ve shared here. I’m with Debbie, you are so right on with this message! The thing I resonated most with in this post is when you said, “Just enjoy being the ship and allow the breezes to take you in whatever direction they blow.” Simplicity, at its best, my friend. Very well put!

It’s been close to five years since I quite the self-medicating. However, the journey inwardly began about seven years ago, when back then, I was just two weeks shy of becoming a minister. An uneasy feeling, caused by a host of unanswered questions, led me to where I am now. It was one of the greatest decision I’ve ever made in my life. The day I begun my own self-discovery journey was the day I truly begin to live. Consequently, I feel so much closer to the Higher Source at this stage of the journey, than I was ever able to achieve in my lifetime of being raised up in the church. Loved this mate! I look forward to reading more of your thoughts here. Thanks for sharing. Blessings.


Joshua Tilghman January 13, 2013 at 11:25 am

Thanks Deone. I’m happy that you discovered who you really were before making the decision to be a pastor. I was actually being groomed for leadership in church too. At first this was exciting because I was on the spiritual path and I truly wanted to be a blessing to others. However, it wouldn’t have been a blessing – telling people what to believe and how to believe it or else! Good to have you here.


Mary Jay Costello January 13, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Dear Josh-
I am so glad that I found your website-I think you are doing very important and wonderful work here with your spiritual interpretations of the bible stories-
I did read the CNN article you mentioned in your recent post and it brought to my mind something Jesus had said to his disciples-I found it in Luke 16.8
“for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the Children of Light”
I agree with you that the CNN article is right in one sense-suffering there will be-perhaps for quite some time-but salvation does come-not by the law of obeying”outside demands”-but by Grace.


Joshua Tilghman January 14, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Nicely put, Mary Jay. I am glad you have found something here of interest. It has been a dream of mine to lift the veil from the Bible for some time. Thanks for taking the time to comment and giving some encouragement. Blessings.


Brandon January 14, 2013 at 10:02 am

When there remains neither unbelief nor religion, your body and your soul will disappear; you will then be worthy of the mysterious — if you would fathom them, this is the only way. Attar


Joshua Tilghman January 14, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing that with us, Brandon.


Sipiwe Mashingaidze January 16, 2013 at 9:12 am

Thank you Joshua for a great article. Thanks to the others for all your comments. It looks like suffering is a common withdrawal symptom for those who embark on a journey of self-discovery. Getting rid of all authority can be quite scary, as one has to rely on the self as the teacher and the disciple. And yet, being an individual is the best thing a human being can ever be. One is forced to tap into the power that is within. One is forced to realize that one is the power.

I tried in my mid-twenties to be a good mother who takes the kids to church. But I could not stay for long each time I tried, because whatever was being taught never sounded right. Most recently, in my late forties, I put more effort in my spiritual pursuits, as career and raising a family were no longer a challenge. I still suffered, because I could not see the shores, but I continued to float. And in the process I got the urge to write my books The Kingdom Is Within: Master of Your Destiny 2 and Journey to The Kingdom: Master of Your Destiny 3.


Joshua Tilghman January 18, 2013 at 9:57 am


It’s good to have an author with us. Maybe you could share a little more about your books. The titles seem interesting.


Sipiwe Mashingaidze January 18, 2013 at 4:24 pm

All my books are part of a series called Master of Your Destiny. The name was chosen based on the truth that we are children and images of God. That means we have the spiritual DNA of God within us, and therefore we have all power within us. We have the potential to be masters of our destinies if we can remember who we are.

The 1st book in the series is called Destiny Mastery 1: Start With Your Health. As you know, when you are sick, even with a small problem, it is difficult to do anything. Now, humanity has become very sick, and the more advances in medicine, the sicker the people. That is because we have been mis-informed as to what health is and what affects our health. Because we are too focused on our illnesses, we cannot question the authorities. We cannot even think of becoming masters of our destinies. So in this book I explain to people why they are getting sick, and what they can do about it. The message is “Take control of your health!” Once that area is under control and your body has healed itself, you can focus more on spiritual growth because physical health is not enough.

The second book in the series is called The Kingdom Is Within: Master of Your Destiny 2. In this book I explain what it means to be the image and child of God, and that the kingdom of God is within us. The kingdom of God is a state of mind or a state of being in which one is connected to God, is one with God and works with God. That is what those powerful people in the Bible did. As Jesus explained to us, the kingdom of God is here, now and it is within us, now. We do not experience it because we do not know what it is and we have been made to believe that the kingdom of heaven is a place where we go only after death and only if we have belonged to a certain religion.

The book explains how human problems of war, poverty, illness, anger, crime, etc. are linked to our ignorance of what we are. We think we are just bodies, so everyone is here to please the senses. We therefore focus on accumulating goods, over eating, too much sex, and self-abuse of all kinds in our pursuit for happiness. Coupled with that is our belief in scarcity, in which case we accumulate wealth by taking from others through force, lies and manipulation. That has resulted in the imbalance that we see in the world, where a few people own most of the weath in the world and the rest are in poverty. Wars erupt because some seek to take by force while others seek to defend. Crimes are committed because of greed or because some people have been so deprived that they can only survive through crime.

All these world problems have arisen because we have forgotten our spiritual nature as images of God. We are not aware of the inherent powers that lie within us. Those in the know have always kept the knowledge hidden fearing that the corrupt would do more harm to the world than they have done now. Avatars have come to teach the truth, but religions that started as a result of the teachings eventually hid the truth under dogma, doctrine and rituals.

The books explains how we can begin to know ourselves as the first step towards healings ourselves and solving world problems. Since world problems are a reflection of what humans believe within themselves, solving societal problems should begin with solving the problems within ourselves. That is the first step towards self-realization and later God-realization.

The 3rd book is called Journey To The Kingdom: Master of Your Destiny 3. This book is a course in self-transformation. No matter how much we all want to achieve great things in life, most of us are tripped by issues that are hidden within our psyche. The issues can be tribal beliefs, religious beliefs, racial beliefs, negative feelings, negative thoughts, old hurts, negative attitudes, negative habits, etc. These have to be uprooted one by one till the heart and mind are pure. The process heals and purifies the self, leaving a cleaner slate for positive actions, attitudes, feelings, habits and thoughts. With knowledge of who we are, with a pure body cleansed of toxins and diseases, and a pure spirit, one is close to the kingdom of heaven. Only one or more steps are required to get into the kingdom, where all power is given to us, and where everything can be had should one so desire.


Joshua Tilghman January 21, 2013 at 9:19 am


Thanks for giving us the break down. Your books sound wonderful and seem to portray a lot of the same information of this blog. Thank you.


Christine Hoeflich January 19, 2013 at 12:25 am

Hi Josh, I grew up Catholic, then after college wanted to know my higher purpose, so I went to a church a friend recommended that was Christian, but after going a few times and reading some material that was given me, I found no answers there. So a few months later I explored Werner Erhard and Associates (Landmark Education, formerly est) and found actually many answers there, namely, I learned to take a deeper look at reality, questioning reality and improving relationships and goals, and more, and I loved it.! I don’t think I could have explored this path in the Christian church—questioning reality and authority?? No way. Then after several years of Landmark Education, I explored the deeper spiritual nature again. For me, all these paths was just more and more growing….

Thanks for your post, take care! Christine


Joshua Tilghman January 21, 2013 at 9:28 am


Absolutely. I have been to churches which were more open and didn’t exercise the control aspect. I did find some inspiration there, but the church today can only ever act as the first step towards operating in the higher nature. For example, literal baptism and most Sunday preaching will never awaken the true spiritual man, but it can cause the soul to long for something better. The problem is that the soul will never find that which it truly years for in the doctrines and teachings of mainstream Christianity.


Kyra grace August 15, 2015 at 3:12 am


Yes,yes and YES!!!
my story of faith and what it actually means to be a christian is exactly the same,except you bravely have gone before me and I can benefit from your utter courage and curiosity despite the cost at the time.
Thank you for your blog,the bindings of evangelical mantras ,dogma and doctrines and the illusions these create are coming off in swathes! I stumbled across your blog whilst searching for ideas about Genesis ie I knew the story of Adam and Eve in the garden couldn’t be literal but accepted Abraham and his lineage as real people living real lives.I wanted to clear my confusion about when Genesis started to be a literal account of real people,where was the transition point? Your insights have shown the truth and the bible now makes sense after 40 years of daily reading, studying,praying till my knees are worn out trying to save the world.why were all my efforts falling on stony ground? I know now why because faith in God is all about my internal transformation…A difficult but liberating journey to peace. I always to think God had left me in the morning and I had leaked his presence because of my choices the day before,I was frantically praying as soon as I opened my eyes trying to invoke God back in!
Thank you Josh for your courage
Bless you my friend
Do you have any blogs about God as judge
Kyra grace


Joshua Tilghman December 25, 2015 at 3:38 pm

Kyra, perhaps the article on God and Good and Evil will help. Thanks for commenting.


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