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Non-religious experience


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Hello everyone.

I know that this subject has been discussed in the group in the past, but I'd like to see if others have any different perspectives.

I'm curious as to what some of you think are the benefits of the Camino for a person interested in the pilgrimage for purely non-religious reasons.

What is a non-believer's experience like?

The 2024 Camino guides will be coming out little by little. Here is a collection of the ones that are out so far.
Secular "Pilgrimage"

In my opinion, walking the camino for secular reasons is the same as walking the 88 Temple pilgrimage on Shikoku. It is a 1200 year old Buddhist pilgrimage but you don't have to be a Buddhist to walk it.
Or, walking the Jomsom trek to Muktinah in Nepal which is both a Buddhist and Hindu shrine. You don't have to be either to do the trek.
There are many 'sacred places' that attract large numbers of people who do not practise the particular religion of the place.
You will meet people of all persuasions on the camino - Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, Secular Humanist - you name it.
Perhaps the benefit is that YOU become the pilgrimage on any long distance trail?
Hmm.. I have been listening audiobooks while walking. In evenings, I have, for example, been developing a systematic approach to modify my own behavior in family context (=a practical way of making the world a better place, which is one of the main purposes of any religion...)

Actually, just before camino I quited the lutheric church that I had belonged to all my allmost 40-years of life. I could no more share some views, e.g. regarding some gender issues.

In my opinion, true spiritual (or religious, if you will) growth does not require any organisation nor holy books or ceremonies... a long walk, however, probably will produce spiritual growth, since you will have time to listen to your own thoughts, think about your relationship with other people etc...

I was looking for a way to express gratitude, and it seemed appropriate, so in that way it had quite a big emotional content. I also found the history side of it so interesting and very present and thought all the time about how it was for pilgrims in the middle ages, a very close feeling of linking with them in the unbroken chain of pilgrims from the start to now. I think the fact that we were walking the pilgrimage the same as then really promotes those ponderings. I was surprisingly moved to be at the pilgrim masses at the beginning (in Roncesvalles ) and the end in Santiago, even though I am not religious and never Catholic, it was some sort of very lovely spiritual feeling. My husband, very not religious, just loved the communing with nature thing.
It seems to be rather a deep contemplative response whatever your background and beliefs.
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I know I may be digging a large hole here and I really do not wish to enter into any theological argument (unless over a glass of wine) but ...... hmmm ... look, this world/universe is either here because of no reason at all, just the outpourings of chaos, or it is organised. If organised there is an organiser - and He is in control, not us.

So the pilgrimage? Why not just go for a walk around your local park/seashore/hills/mountains/deserts? In England there are countless books describing thousands of pleasant/arduous walks - I'm sure it is the same in your country. ... so why choose the pilgrimage?

Just because you fancy it? Because there are hostels? errmm .. scenery?

HHmm , no , the hostels are primitive, the walking is hard, if you come from far away it is expensive .. so .. ermm.. why are you doing it?

Because, my deeply secular person - even deeper inside you have a secret desire to know to connect and that search is known by the religious as the search for God - so, God calls, you respond, just as if you have a ring in your nose and are being pulled.

All is well, all is very well - be not afraid.
Br. David said:
ISo the pilgrimage? Why not just go for a walk around your local park/seashore/hills/mountains/deserts? In England there are countless books describing thousands of pleasant/arduous walks - I'm sure it is the same in your country. ... so why choose the pilgrimage?

Just because you fancy it? Because there are hostels? errmm .. scenery?

HHmm , no , the hostels are primitive, the walking is hard, if you come from far away it is expensive .. so .. ermm.. why are you doing it?

It's a bit early in the day for a religious discussion, but i'll respond to the above statement.

I'm an atheïst. Not only me but my entire family going back 3 generations has been. So why do I do the Camino? And not once but 4 different routes so far...
Because it's a very cheap holiday in beautifull surroundings. Because it enables me to meet people from all over the world in a situation where everyone is equal. Because I adore the great outdoors.
Yes you can walk in belgium but here we have no free beds, the weather is terrible and we have no countryside left. And, as you probably know, it takes a couple of days to get into the 'rhythm' of the camino.... a 1-day walk in my own country (or even a 3-day) is in no way comparable too walking a 1000km in 30 days. Not physically nor mentally.

I will admit that walking for days on end has an effect on my state of mind. I'm more relaxed than in daily life and I feel more in touch with my spirituality...but to call that looking for God is a step too far for me personally.
The Caminos are for all

In 1987 the “Camino de Santiago” [specifically the Camino Frances] was designated the first European CULTURAL Itinerary by the Council of Europe. It was not designated a ‘Catholic/Christian/Gnostic/Zionist etc etc itinerary'.

Why not just go for a walk around your local park/seashore/hills
Br David

I would have thought the reason is obvious. Being a cultural itinerary the caminos (and the Via Francigena) attract historians, artists, architects, musicians geologists, botanists etc. Hard to find these in your local park!

All of the camino’s have always belonged to all – not to an exclusive group of followers of any particular religion.
According to Linda Davdison and David Gitlitz (in their deifinitive book on the camino) when the hospice at Ibaneta was rendered unusable by the violent weather of the pass, it was moved to Roncesvalles in 1132. Right from the start it was open to all, as attested to in the 12thc Latin hymn sung at mass called “La Pretiosa”, which includes this verse:

Its doors are open to sick and well
To Catholics as well as to pagans,
Jews, heretics, beggars and the indigent
And it embraces all like brothers.”

Lets hope that everyone who does the camino has the same tolerant and charitable view.

Crikey! Bit prickly aren't we?
You must live in a dull place if your local park is devoid of interesting people.

I'm sorry, did I say anything contrary to that? Did I in some way suggest exclusivity? Did I suggest that 'God' belongs to only one religion, one denomination and that this therefore excludes all other humans and life forms (including atheistic artists for instance)?
Or did you think that? Good Lord, what sort of images do you keep in your head about God?

I note that you believe that Linda Davdison and David Gitlitz's book is the definitive book on the camino - well that is an interesting belief but you may find that a lot of people disagree with that, thinking it just a book on the camino ... shall we start two camps? Those that believe it so and those that don't?

My point was that we are drawn to this pilgrimage, over and above going on a long walk and that that being drawn is a desire for connectedness, knowing, and that a religious would name that the search for God.. you, of course, may name it what you wish

Now you may disagree with that but it doesn't alter the situation, it doesn't alter reality.

As I said before - enjoy.
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Sorry Br David. Religion is such a personal subject that I never discuss or debate it. I wasn't talking about religion at all. No images of gods, no rings through the nose, and perhaps not everyone shares another's idea of reality.

Of course what I meant to say was that one can't find monuments, history, tradition, etc in one's local park so most people travel to learn more about the things that interest them.

As for books, we all have our own opinions about the books we read and I certainly do not care to set up opposing camps to debate the merits of any book. However, I know that I am not alone in my praise of Linda Davidson (and her husband David) whose book made an enormous contribution to literature on the camino. A Spanish friend once commented about the book saying:

"I have spent, literally, hundreds and hundreds of hours translating portions of the book for many professors, priests, writers, artists and architects in Spain interested in the Camino. They have often expressed to me their deep regret that the book is not available in Spanish. Even Don Juan Jose Cebrian, who runs the Sociology Department of the Santiago Archdiocese and who has written more than thirty Santiago and Camino-related books, and his brother, Don Genaro, who is in charge of Pilgrims' affairs in Santiago, have expressed their admiration for the book and have said, repeatedly, that those of us who can read the book are very fortunate."

Our CSJ recommends "The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago" to any person who wants to learn more about the camino.

Agree with you on all of that - perhaps it is I who is getting prickly in my old age ...
to go back to the original question ... what do you think? Life is now full and stressful and loud and usually we take little time for ourselves. Our support systems are all synthetic - synthetic television, oven ready meals, emotive and un-thought-out books. There is a lot of fear, and no time, no time at all. In England, for instance, children no longer have the time or space to daydream, they are pushed into 'schools' from 3 and a half and don't then ever stop, possibly for the rest of their lives - terrible.

Perhaps (without attaching deeper meanings to it) to take the time to step out of all that, to enter the rhythms of an older age, to oxygenate the brain for hours a day until it starts to work properly again, to rediscover calm, silence, the time to think and think and think and then not to think, to have only primitive basic desires - food, shelter, health, simple companionship and an almost tribal sharing. To discover that one does have roots - roots that go deep - because living breathing people who are now not even dust left buildings and roads for us to walk upon , enter into, enjoy.
Perhaps these are some of the benefits of the pilgrimage for a secular person

I will stop here because the next paragraph would go elsewhere ... :wink:
For me it's been a combination of:

a. meditation-on my life, where am at, what's been happening, directions

b. appreciating the art/history/architecture/topography/religious rites (am a non-believer, now ain't this last one something!) as I come upon them

c. making time to dialogue with townfolks I meet on the way

d. connecting with the pilgrims I do connect with (not all) & enjoying the fellowship

e. but ah, the solitude

Buen Camino 8)

Okay guys, so on the subject of the camino as a religious or non religious experience here is my take. Even though I am a third year divinity student looking to eventual ordination to the priesthood. I see the camino as a journey into learning life. I will be doing my camino in May of 2008 and it is for the purpose of seeing Spain's country side. It will be my third trip to Spain. I plan on learning some of lifes experiences such as sharing food, drink and just plain conversation with my fellow travellers. Just make the best of it help others, be of assistance to others in whatever way you can. Be kind, lovinging and understanding. Who knows the lesson we might learn on this journey. Jusy imagine the sunsets and the early morning walk the natural beauty of Spain, WOW that for is a an experience. I hope to make the best of it and yes the churchs and religious services we attend on the way might or might not be a way to bring us closer to the God we know or do not know as yet.

Be open to the experience thats all I ask of myself. Peace everyone and have a great experince as we travel life's road.

Let us put Christ back into the season of Christmas.

The one from Galicia (the round) and the one from Castilla & Leon. Individually numbered and made by the same people that make the ones you see on your walk.
Related to this topic of discussion I'd like to tell you all about an experience I had on my first camino, prefacing it with the comment that although I consider myself to be a spiritual person, I have always felt apart from "organized religion" and for no good reason that I understood, felt quite anti-Catholic. The experience below shifted some of that in me however.
Somewhere along the path one morning I realized that I hadn't seen a yellow arrow for quite awhile. I had noticed that a couple of truck drivers had honked at me and kind of waved wildly in another direction but I didn't really pay much attention (it's a girl/truck driver thing!!) But just about the time I accepted that I had gotten off the path and had no idea where I was, a woman came striding along. I was formulating in my mind how to ask her directions for getting back onto the camino in Spanish when she said to me (in Spanish of course) "are you going to Santiago?" and when I assured her I was, she confirmed that I was "going badly". She said "I'm just going for a walk so come with me and I'll show you the way". As we walked, she told me her name was Cecilia Alegro Alegro, which those of you who speak Spanish will recognize translates to Cecilia Happy, Happy.I asked her if she had been born with that name or if she chose it for herself because it seemed like a really good name to have. She said she chose it herself and her reason was that she had had breast mcancer and had both breast removed but was healed, then she had uterine cancer and had it removed and was cured from that too. And that was the reason she felt so happy. A nice story but then she told me the doctor told her she had bone cancer in her legs and had to stop walking but she said she would keep walking until it was impossible. She asked me to pray to Santiago (St. James) for her when I reached Santiago de Compostela. In spite of my lack of religious affiliation I said I would - and did. She gave me a hug goodbye and wished me success with my journey. Her parting words were " We are all pilgrims on the camino of life." Somewhere in there I understood how the "religious" and the "secular" walkers could meet with an understanding of our similarities and walk side by side in acceptance of our differences. cecelia
To the individual who claims he is an atheist down three generations, a bit proud of yourself it seems. Well dude here goes I am a beleiver down probably to ten generations. I hope to live breath and die believing there is a God who cares and is concerned with my well being.

A note of interest I am doing an M.Div. a prof of mine said that it was stated by theologian that even an atheist who is kind helps those in need, feeds the hungry and assists those in need has done the corporal works of mercy which are also called the Gospel values. By this fact that he/she has them is a belief that God is present in their life and therefore, they believe, is that amazing, and ironic He has won.

Pax vobis.

How strange - or perhaps not strange - that Cecilia should meet her mirror, what a fine story too.

Yes, three generations of atheism ...he must pray that his children will follow the family tradition ......
you know ... something that surprises me is how dogmatic many of the atheists and agnostics on this forum are ... if you read back on different posts you find that the religious explain things from their viewpoint, but don't insist that others agree, whereas many of those who insist on how free they are seem terribly accusatory and dogmatic .... what an odd world we live in .....
First off, I would say that this discussion is changing from its original subject, and I would ot have normally replied to the thread. I would normally preferred to read the comments of others regarding secular or relegious experiences on the camino. Yet the thread has moved into the comparion of atheist against religious beliefs. (Apologies if Ihave misunderstood or misstated this)

I am I suppose a christian, I am a catholic by birth. My faith or should I say religion has been seriously challenged by events in my country, Ireland , over many years, that have been revealed recently.

I have made 2 caminos and I know that it is indeed a wonderful experience.
I have a very basic understanding of how it was for me and indeed of how I feel and think about spiritual matters.
I understand that there is good and evil in this world, I have seen evil stare at me in my face in my home. I have felt its grip on me many times and I have lived evil in my life. I have seen goodness in my life around me in nature in music in the weather and also critically in people I have met. I have also lived a good life at times when I was mindful of how I was living.

The desire to find god is difficult for me to accept, as I am naturally inclined to see good in people and things. I try to find a deep spiritual meaning to my life through the solitude of the camino and living and reliving my past experiences. I try to find the goodness of life in strangers and how they may (Or may not) help me with the tribulations of the camino. I dont go to pilgrim masses, but I do speak to priests, looking for the earthy goodness. I love the freedom the lonliness and the end of a long day with people I dont know who help me with kind words and the smallest and simplest of things, they offer me goodness, while they themselves may be agnostic, atheist, christian or whatever, but all good.
This is my god, not a person a place or thing but a feeling and experience of goodness from life on the camino.
I can get this noweher else, but I know it is there and when i speaqk of tis to m y close friends and my life partner they say I am bright and shining and good. This is perhaps a little simple for some ,but for me its an abstracted experience of the universal good that is in life, not god as a catholic/christian understands it but perhaps the common denominator of why a catholic and atheist can behave the very same way and can think the very same way to me and of me on the camino.
Don,t tell an atheist that his goodness is anything to do with god. That implies ownership of their good behaviour. Thew goodness is there and we should give thanks (to who is your business) that it is and in giving thanks we multiply that goodness.

All is well, Thanks

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apologies in advance, i did not see the previous post to my won.

Yes I agree let us stay on the subject of helping one another with info. on the camino. Religion is definerly a private concern and let us leave it at that unless someone asks of us for advise or our opinion. I apologize to anyone who has taken offense with my opinions.



Well, I'll toss my 2 US cents in, even though our currency is getting hammered by the Euro... :wink:

As I wrote in my Varieties thread, when I put in for my leave of absence from work in March of 2007 to do the Camino, I was a committed evangelical Christian. I'd been one since 1984, and since that time I've served in various church ministries, and even graduated from a Protestant seminary with an MA in Pastoral Studies (Family Ministry emphasis).

However, during that time I was also going through a period of reevaluation, and what also might be called a Dark Night of the Soul (google that phrase if you want more background). I review books and other products on the Amazon US site, and also participate in the Amazon Discussion Boards (much like this one). One thread, called Dawkins and Dangerous Ideas II, is run by a Canadian atheist. I spent many months on that board engaging in lively debates, all the while reading books by Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and others.

By the time I hit the trail in St. Jean on July 14th, I was distancing myself from my church and martial arts ministry (at the time, I was a 2nd degree black belt and chaplain for an Xian karate dojo). I felt more and more alienated from them & their dogmas, many of which simply didn't make sense or were even harmful (legalism, bogus healing methodologies, pastoral wackiness, etc.). While on the Camino, I met good folks who were atheists, like a young Slovanian woman who had issues with the Church's actions during WWII in her region, and a pagan woman from Denmark who I had an interesting discussion with over vino at an albergue.

All of this made me think of past travels to other parts of Europe, along with being stationed in Japan for two years while in the Marines (and traveling to other Asian countries in that region). I found it hard to imagine that millions, even billions, would be condemned to eternal torment for an accident of geography (remember, I'm thinking in an evangelical conservative Christian framework here). And ideas like predestination were simply horrendous - people created specifically for torment?! Madness.

Also while on the Camino, I began to think over my church experiences during the last two decades, along with personal issues I'd been working through. A lot of this stuff came to a head on the meseta - a place were it seems you can't hide from yourself. I came to feel that while the church has some beauty and goodness, including good people, it has a lot of ugliness and posturing. Indeed, many so-called Christians seemed to deserve hell a lot more than those whom they condemned.

When I finally returned home, spent some time reflecting, and went back to work, I felt like I'd crossed a personal Rubicon. I quit my karate class (to the chagrin of my sensei, who basically said that God would zap me with lightning or nail me with a 2x4 board - another oddball doctrine I couldn't stand), backed away from my church, and stopped reading the Bible and studying Xian books. Indeed, I don't even pray anymore or talk to God. I still attend a small group Bible study, but only because the people there are good folks, and I don't want to be a total loner.

So, one might look at me and say that I've become an atheist. Perhaps that is so. I'm not sure I'm into agnosticism, because it seems like a cop-out. And Pascal's Wager looks like fire-insurance - another cop-out, especially with what is supposed to be a relational God. If there is a God, then why is He/She so unclear about His/Her true nature (as the guy who writes the Dilbert comics asks)? So, to me it seems like an either/or thing. You either pick an idea of God and run with it, or else embrace rationality and go commando.

Well, I don't want to go on forever with this post, so I'll wrap it up. I feel like I've made a paradigm shift in my life, and part of that took place on the Camino. Ironically, a religious pilgrimage helped lead me away from my evangelical Christianity. In some ways I miss it - the sense of purpose, the hope for an afterlife, and so on. And at times I hope there can be some way for me to reconcile Biblical Xianity with reality. But I feel like I'm more focused on the here and now, that every day is precious, and that the world and those in it can be pretty special even without a divine spark. It would be nice if there were a God whom we can commune with. But if not, at least we have each other. :arrow:
Vinotinto wrote: But I feel like I'm more focused on the here and now, that every day is precious, and that the world and those in it can be pretty special even without a divine spark. It would be nice if there were a God whom we can commune with.

Sounds like you've come to both a "good" place in your life and a cross roads.

Remember when the DI threatened to kill you, and then they ran you so wished he had! At that believed!

If there was a God...Please grant me the strength to continue! If there wasn't a God..."It's all up to me Brother and, I'm going to make it thru this".

In both sentiments, you searched for inspiration and inner strength.

When you ask of yourself how am I doing're really asking about the past and, as you're focused on the "here and now". If, you've decided that there isn't anything after doesn't matter what you believe!

Vinotinto went on: But if not, at least we have each other.

Always Brother!

Semper Fi
It's a bit early in the day for a religious discussion, but i'll respond to the above statement.

I'm an atheïst.
Because it's a very cheap holiday in beautifull surroundings. Because it enables me to meet people from all over the world in a situation where everyone is equal. Because I adore the great outdoors.
Yes you can walk in belgium but here we have no free beds, the weather is terrible and we have no countryside left.


I was more than a little taken back by the comment about being Atheist yet taking advantage of the so called FREE beds. I am not religious yet I would never use anothers religion to give myself a FREE/CHEAP vacation...those places are by donation. I hope there are not too many people walking the camino abusing this provision. Sorry but I was offended.
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Hi Todd. I am not religious. Watched the movie THE WAY and all of a sudden had the biggest NEED to do this walk...I am not sure why...I am quiet emotional about it...preparing..

For will be about reconnecting with myself...lots of thinking, reflecting...inner peace...acceptance..self love...a journey of self.

I look forward to the adventure of new country, cities, places to see. I crave meeting as many new people as I can and I also hope to make one or more rest of my life friendships. Perhaps love excitement is overwhelming for me at times..I have 2 yrs before I go...

You will enjoy this walk /journey no matter what the reason. And maybe you will find something unexpected! :)
Wannes last visited the Forum on September 10, 2007, so he should not offend you too much with his cheap vacation remarks!

Todd last visited on March 19, 2007, so he is not likely to read your response.

No one tracks atheists in beds, but only 40% of the pilgrims in 2013 walked for solely religious reasons. About 5.5% did it for neither religious nor spiritual reasons. So there is a pretty good chance that a lot of atheists used a lot of beds.;) The cheap vacation motive may be present in some degree in a lot of pilgrimages. Many Forum Members are very apologetic about staying in private accommodations, though other Members urge them to walk their own camino and stay wherever they are most comfortable. A fair number of Members feel the albergue accommodations are an important part of the experience regardless of their religiosity. :)

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