Spiritual, Not Religious by Hunter Baker

Book Review

Spiritual, Not Religious

Pagans & Christians in the City: Culture Wars from the Tiber to the Potomac by Steven D. Smith

One of the staples of the sociological view of religion is that it is a sort of serious game that we play in which we glorify some collective vision of ourselves. In other words, the “cult” in culture is manufactured by us, for us. When religion is considered that way, it is easy to understand something like idol worship and systems of sacrifice. We simply affirm our participation in the ritual thing and put some skin in the game. It is a way of being a member of the group. Because this cultic identity is important to the broader society by way of ordering classes, enchanting an otherwise mundane existence, sanctifying law, and/or even giving structure to the calendar, everyone must participate in it. This sociological religion is paganism. It was the faith of the Roman Empire before Christianization. 

Paganism was not greatly concerned with matters of truth and doctrine. It was religion oriented around participation and performance rather than seeking the ultimate truth about reality. Where the Christian “believed” in God, the pagans “had” gods. Where Christians heatedly debated questions of heresy, it hardly occurred to pagans to have such disputes at all. But when it came to religion and deference to the public cult (if only to demand a simple sentence or a symbolic action with no real expectation of actual belief), the pagans were utterly serious. Many Christians faced torture and death in consequence of refusing to comply.


Hunter Baker , J.D., Ph.D., is the dean of arts and sciences at Union University, a fellow of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and an affiliate scholar of the Acton Institute.

Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

more on history from the online archives

31.1—January/February 2018

Vikings Under the Son

on Ragnarök, an Extreme Weather Event & the Paths to Conversion by Timothy J. Burbery

14.6—July/August 2001

The Transformed Relics of the Fall

on the Fulfillment of History in Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon

15.6—July/August 2002

Things Hidden Since the Beginning of the World

The Shape of Divine Providence & Human History by James Hitchcock

more from the online archives

30.6—Nov/Dec 2017

The Messiah's Beauty

on Benedict XVI on the Fairest of the Sons of Men by Michael Martin De Sapio

32.1—January/February 2019

Surprised by Delight

Divine Love & the Love of Man & Woman Surpass Mere Consent by Anthony Esolen

26.1—Jan/Feb 2013

The Destroyer of Peace

on Abortion as a Matter of National Welfare by W. Ross Blackburn

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone