Spiritual But Not Religious & Avatar Customization

Dr. Jarryd Willis PhD
6 min readJul 27, 2021

Transcendent Avatar Customization — Why Spirituals are likely to increase as identity agency increases in other areas of life

Let me begin by saying that as a Catholic I’m discussing this from the space & positionalities of Christian Privilege. As such, I may edit/revise this document as I learn more and/or if any facepalm-esque errors in my discourse are brought to my attention.

We customize our avatars in videogames 🎮, our Bitmojis, we wear contacts that differ from our natural eye color, we use emojis that don’t match our skin tone, we customize our iTunes & Spotify playlists, we air brush/ photoshop/ use old photos/ use photos where a friend looks blah so we look even better by comparison, we alternate profile pictures on LinkedIn & emails & social media based on the messages we wish to convey to predicted audiences about who we are…

People who are Spiritual (but not religious) have simply made the logical extension of this species-level revolution in identity agency & customization to their private spiritual lives.

Image Source = Spirited Away

Spiritual But Not Religious

(A belief in something higher but no belief in religion)

Spirituals’ combination of values, practices, ideas, etc of different religions may seem whimsical from the perspective of organized religion, but those disparate components of their ‘spiritual’ assemblage only seems to reflect a Frankenstein religion BECAUSE they’re a part of existing organized religions.

Assuming no organized religion existed in the world, each spiritual person’s hybridic faith would appear perfectly constituted on an individualized basis. The same logic applies to how one might customize your MMORPG avatar, Bitmoji, & Spotify playlist.

Spotify Example

Some people have “Bad Blood”/Lakshmi & “Thank You, Next”/Mary Magdalene on the same playlist… a decision I’m less likely to make as a Catholic because those are 2 wholly different faiths/musicians.


To be clear, this isn’t to suggest that Spiritual people are poly-religious given that they don’t believe in organized religion in the first place. Rather, they seem to approach their spiritual life with the mindset that the enriching components of different faith practices shouldn’t be locked away from their spiritual practice just because they were born into a Christian family instead of a Hindu family (or vice-versa).

We desire to express/perform our spiritual/transcendence-receptive selves in a particular way.

[For spirituals who still indicate religious affiliation, it’s unlikely that religion is something they believe in. Rather, it’s likely the same as someone from Dallas moving to California & continuing to identify as a Cowboys fan despite not going to worship on Sunday mornings — and occasionally Sunday/ Monday evenings — in September through January… and hopefully the first Sunday in February again soon now that Dak is healthy again. In short, their religious affiliation, whether reported on workplace questionnaires or Pew surveys, is likely either purely utilitarian in nature (A), an embedded/core part of their identity like a sports team (or a mix of both. And these considerations are by no means exhaustive.]

Individualism & Collectivism

Spirituals may desire an experience that is truly personalized as opposed to being collectively/socially experienced. They may not embrace the idea that living your life in accordance to religious tenets means that the rituals, prayers, scripture, meditating, etc that you engage with IS INDEED a spiritual experience.

One of the ways #God ✝️/ #Allah ☪️ / #Brahma 🕉 act through us is via devotional practice. The ritualistic engagements of believers is an enriching prelude to our spiritual experience. The faith work of practitioners & being acted on by God’s grace are positively correlated (p < .05).

Consistent with an individualistic approach, faith practices may be tailored/individualized to specific practitioners based on how they were raised, what their childhood congregations tended to emphasize, or what emerged as personally meaningful for them. To be clear, this is individualistic WITHIN a religious faith practice — which differs from the faith customization associated with Spirituals.

Having discussed the reality of spiritual experiences that the religious experience when we practice what others may see as empty/repetitive rituals, it’s highly likely that spirituals experience the same when engaging in behaviors that they’ve come to define as meaningful for them. That is, if some future organized religion engages in brand new rituals/practices that generate a spiritual experience for its **plural** practitioners, then the future organized spiritual beliefs that Mary from Seattle develops on her yoga mat one day should also generate a spiritual experience for her as a **singular** practitioner.

Thus, for both Spirituals & the Religious, our spiritual performativity gradually defines a significant portion of our faith experience — whether newly constructed & practiced individually (Spirituals — startup faith/ Silicon Valley of Prayers, not Pixels) or collectively based on pre-constructed tenets (religion — ancient order).

Religious but not Spiritual.

God’s existence is independent of religion (God can exist without religion). Thus, it seems it would be somewhat easier to be spiritual non-religious than religious non-spiritual. A spiritual life can exist without the necessity of religion; organized or otherwise.

Religion is partially borne of spiritual performativity

Even if God & spirituality are detached, Buddhism’s spirituality doesn’t require a supreme creator. This is also why most of the subjects in my lab’s studies who reported being in a “my faith with some other faith” relationship was mostly someone Christian/Muslim/Hindu with someone Buddhist. To be sure, the majority of Interfaith relationships were “Something with Nothing” relationships.

As such, religious but not spiritual is interesting — and its mostly males (according to Pew)

Sidenotes (assume direct quotes)

Easter Sunday (-) Good Friday 72 hours… And that’s fine

via The Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, Catholic Edition (Ignatius)

Pagan my Bunny fran: Good Friday isn’t 3 days away from Easter Sunday, so how could…

Pastor Elf: The scripture said He is Risen **ON** the 3rd day; not after

GamerGirl: Ahh, so if JC died Friday at 1pm, then rose Sunday after the Stanford game (at 5pm), it would’ve been ON the third day because 52 hours would’ve passed 💁🏻‍♀️

via The Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, Catholic Edition (Ignatius)

Random Thought

Keep the museum objects in your mental/emotional museum.

DO NOT attempt to utilize the objects in any functional capacity as they may be in fragile condition & break upon the smallest error, never to return to your life again in any psychically utilitarian way (redeemable as commoditized emotional commerce).

It doesn’t need to care; you don’t need to care. All that matters is that his/her presence improves the quality of your museum.

Color of the Doggo

¨Wells and Hepper (1992) discovered that people have a much greater preference for blonde, over black, colored dogs, often perceiving the latter to be more unfriendly than lighter colored animals.

“Entirely black dogs showed somewhat lower odds of adoption — and higher euthanasia risk — than those characterized as secondarily black or sans black.”

Jennifer Sinski et al. (2016)

LG rank religiously-oriented traits and the desire for the same number of children lower than heterosexuals (Sara Glass, 2019).

Lesbians value IQ in a partner more than straight women (Glass, 2019; Lippa, 2007).

Gay men value financial status in a partner more than straight men (Glass, 2019; Lippa, 2007).



Dr. Jarryd Willis PhD

I'm passionate about making a tangible difference in the lives of others, & that's something I have the opportunity to do a professor & researcher.