The Indie Believer – a manifesto

by Gareth C. du Preez


Do you find yourself in a position where you are not at home in a faith community, but not willing to give up on faith altogether? You are not alone. Although this can be challenging, there are ways to live a meaningful spiritual life without either being fenced in or having to give up on your spiritual path in life.

More and more people are moving away from religious structures and traditional ways of practicing religion. While still being religious, serious about their faith, and interested in spirituality, they prefer a more independent approach. These indie (independent) believers are representative of a substantial and fast-growing section amongst religious-minded people. Although it may not be for everyone, some believers have long found it to be a viable alternative to the traditional way of practicing religion.

This manifesto aims to describe this trend and argue the case for people who identify as indie believers. What this is all about will be discussed first, who these indie believers are and what motivates them gets looked at next, and finally, reasons for why this is a growing trend will be explored. A question-and-answer section follows.


Indie believers, the expats of the religious world, should not be confused with atheists or even agnostics. This broad categorization applies to independent believers of all faiths and traditions across the board. The term “indie believer” therefore does not apply to any specific tradition or truth. It simply refers to the (more independent) way some people prefer to engage with what they believe to be spiritually true and how they choose to do it. It describes an approach to practicing a spiritual life and not the nature of any truth or doctrine. Indie believers can therefore be found in any religious tradition.

Most religious people are followers of the tradition they grew up in or chose when making a sacred commitment. It facilitates the practices, teachings, and ways of that tradition. They are guided by trained professionals within their tradition and adhere to the ways and customs of the given culture. In most cases, this approach is presented to followers as the only true way. Not everyone agrees. For various reasons, some people want to move away and even break free from these traditions and communities, without having to give up on their faith altogether. These indie believers take ownership of their spiritual life by approaching it from a more independent perspective and act pro-actively, without shutting the door on religion.

Some move easily into this space, while for others it may be the result of a difficult, emotionally tiring, and lonely process that can span over many years. Some people end up in this area after they have given up on religion altogether, but found that they do gravitate towards a position where they want to acknowledge the role of faith in their lives.

For the majority of believers, it won’t be an attractive solution and the argument is not that the indie way in terms of living a religious life is better. It is simply different and a viable option for people who are not comfortable practicing their faith through some form of organized religious structure. It is also not necessarily a permanent state and for some, it will be only a temporary phase.

A clue from the publishing industry

The term indie believer is derived from a fast-growing trend in the publishing industry.  People who self-publish their work by making use of various technologies and services available, call themselves indie authors. Traditionally in publishing, the individual often stood powerless in the face of the daunting and seemingly impenetrable publishing industry. Writers would send their material to agents or publishers, who would review it and if selected for publication, often control the whole time-consuming process. For some it worked out well, for others it did not.

Due to various changes and technological developments (like the emergence of e-books and print-on-demand services), it is now possible for an individual to play a much more proactive role in this process. Instead of having to deal with one big organization and having to follow one path or set of rules, indie authors make use of various independent service providers like editors, graphic designers, publishing platforms, and marketing services. There are downsides to this approach and many projects fail, but numerous people are willing to take the risk and do succeed in the end.

To use an analogy; instead of a single track with fixed stations (if you are lucky enough to get on the train), traversing this landscape now involves meandering through a terrain filled with a variety of options in the form of stores, displays, and stalls. There is no clear path or single outcome. It is a world filled with potential, but no result is guaranteed.

In the same way, there are many options available for people who have partly or fully left their mainstream faith communities and traditions. Information and support structures are readily available. There are for instance numerous courses, books, podcasts, videos dealing with topics of interest, just to name a few. Various communities offer an understanding and supporting hand to those who venture out on their own for whatever reason.

Make no mistake, going indie is not something people should be encouraged or advise to do lightly. Religious communities and traditions play an important role and serve as a spiritual home and safe place for most practicing believers. The argument is simply that for those who cannot stay or who have drifted away (for whatever reason), there are alternatives and options available. It is possible to independently engage in and live a meaningful spiritual life – now more than ever.


Since it is a very broad concept, indie believers vary and there is not just one typical profile that fits the mold. Here are just a few examples.

The disillusioned

Many people who gave up on their traditional spiritual paths are hurt, upset, and disillusioned. Often, they were very involved and committed, but things did not work out for them. Some feel that their faith was not relevant any longer and out of pace with the lives they were living. Others may have taken issue with the teachings, truths, or customs their specific branch of religion prescribed. For example, religious traditions are not immune to being hijacked by political and ideological ideas, leading to the discrimination and abuse of certain groups of people. People can also get disillusioned by scandals and the unethical behavior of individuals who are functionaries within these structures.

Dealing with disillusionment and making sense of what has happened is difficult and many people go through enormous hardship in the process. They often have to endure rejection, ridicule, and the wrath of the community they belonged to. Relationships are damaged and families suffer.


Some people may find a home in indie believer land because they have been cast out of their religious homeland for whatever reason. Often, they will just travel through the indie believer territories, searching for a new home or place of refuge.


Drawn to religion, but seldom satisfied to stick to just one way or teaching, the seekers are searching for wisdom and will venture wide to uncover mysteries and truths untold. Seekers are quite at home as indie believers.


Some find it hard to fit in. It is for example not uncommon for people drawn to religion, to end up being stuck within some kind of religious structure. Youngsters who embark on a spiritual path in life, easily enroll for courses and climb the ranks of their respective organized religions. Their spiritual growth may take them in one direction, whereas officially they are required to play another (arguable more traditional) role. While being employed in an official capacity, they can still explore the path of an indie believer for the sake of their personal development.

Young people with questioning minds

Amongst the younger generations, you will find people who are enthusiastic, energetic, and well informed. They want to be taken seriously and want their questions to be answered intelligently. They don’t take just one authority’s word on a matter and have access to information to check what they have heard against other sources. Many of these people feel frustrated by the top-down approach they frequently find when engaging with organized religious structures.

Rebels and Reformers

These mavericks want to change things for the better. Often, they are closely associated with a specific tradition, but also take issue with how the status quo goes about their business. Organized religions normally do not tolerate those who stir the pot, but also have these mavericks in their midst to thank for initiating sometimes quite necessary reforms. Not necessarily hard-core indie believers, reformers are independent-minded and often bring fresh ideas and inspiration from elsewhere to their own spiritual home and traditions.


Asking questions is necessary, but not always welcomed by the gatekeepers of culturally embedded religious structures. Interested in faith, spirituality, and religion, true spiritual intellectuals will tread in areas generally considered to be sacrilegious by the traditional believer. Not necessarily searching for a spiritual home, these explorers venture out to discover new ways of understanding, and whilst they are often misunderstood or easily painted as heretics or unbelievers, they do play an important pioneering role in the religious landscape.


Some do not feel at home in groups. Not everyone gets swept up by charismatic leaders or fiery rhetoric. Not everyone wants to be part of the current craze or meme on the latest miracle that happened. Not everyone enjoys being led around the nose by religious cheerleaders. Some people follow their own path and rhythm in life.

Individualists and intellectuals are thinkers who don’t like being told what they are permitted to explore or believe and are often at odds with the thought police of organized religion.

Those who return from the edge

People who gave up on religion altogether, but realized there is something they lost in the process and want to acknowledge the role of spirituality, but don’t want to return to a traditional form of religious practice, can be at home amongst other indie believers.



The way of the indie believer is not for everyone. Some people are drawn to it and others not. While is not a new approach to spirituality, it seems to be the case that more people are opening up to this approach. As to why this is happening, only some speculative thoughts can be offered.

Religious institutions used to be spiritual and political powerhouses with a firm grip on society and a sole mandate on what was considered to be the full and final truth out there. That picture has considerably changed over the last few centuries. Many have predicted the end of religion altogether with the emergence of the scientific method and the technological society most of us are living in today. Religion may not look like it used to, but it does not seem to be on its last legs either. It has a role to play and fulfills an intrinsic human need, many would argue. An interesting picture is emerging. On the one hand, we have the remnants of the organized religious structures, still active with lots to offer in terms of institutional knowledge, cultural practices, and moral guidance. On the other hand, a myriad of spiritually-oriented startups are emerging globally.

The offering out there is tremendous and intimidating at the same time. While some believers stick to the proven old ways, others are starting to find their way through this labyrinth, or find a balance by tapping into various resources, old and new.

As inquisitive creatures, we learn new things all the time and keep on adjusting to our environment. This influences our religious thinking as well. For example, due to various factors, many people are now self-employed or working from home. The same factors that led to this phenomenon also affect the way we engage with our spiritual lives. Traditionally people would attend services being offered within their neighborhoods. Now you can tune in to a broadcast originating from the other side of the planet and feel at home amongst like-minded people. It is therefore not strange to see more people being comfortable with a more independent approach to their religious lives and calling themselves indie believers.

Even though you may not actively seek this approach, it may be the place where your religious journey takes you. Your spiritual path may lead you to a position where you want to venture further on your own. This does not mean that you may not seek guidance any longer, but rather that you select the guidance you feel you need from a variety of available options.


Questions & Answers

What is an indie believer in a nutshell?

An indie believer is a person who prefers to approach religion from a more independent perspective in comparison to people who mainly follow the ways of a given tradition via their (often culturally based) institutions and practices.

By way of an analogy, if people following a traditional organized religion can be seen as passengers on a train, indie believers are travelers who find their own means of transport. Both may end up at the same destination, it is only the way to get there that differs.

Why the word indie?

Indie stands for “independent”, specifically independent from the mainstream. The word indie is for instance used to describe authors and publishers who publish and market their work themselves and not via traditional publishing houses. They still make use of professional services, but manage the process themselves. Other examples of this independent movement can be seen in independent film, media, art, etc.

What does independent mean in terms of religion?

Indie believers are still believers in the divine, they simply practice their faith more independently and less traditionally. Some indie believers are simply independent-minded people and others are not that comfortable with the larger organizations and structures that form the mainstream of religious practice.

Is the indie way of engaging with religion a new concept?

No, it may be a new name, but it describes something familiar. There have always been independent-minded people when it comes to religion. There may not always have been cultural tolerance for indie believers, but often they were the pioneers at the forefront of new and liberating changes within religious traditions.

Is it a faith or a doctrine?

No. It is an approach to a spiritual life and not a doctrine in itself. Indie believers believe what they find to be meaningful and true, and what is practiced will differ from person to person.  In many cases, indie believers will see themselves as still following a specific faith or religious tradition, but more independently. Individual indie believers may therefore choose to follow certain doctrines, but no doctrine applies to all indie believers across the board.

Can an indie believer still follow a specific religion?

Yes, many indie believers are happy to follow their religion of choice in an independent fashion.

Isn’t that a contradiction? How can an independent believer be a follower of a faith or tradition?

Indie believers are still believers, they see themselves as independent in how they approach their religious affiliation and practice, but they do follow a religious path in life. They feel they don’t have to be an active member of a specific religious community to be able to do that.

What is the difference between religion and spirituality?

The term religion is generally speaking a reference to organized religious beliefs and practices. Spirituality is mostly used when referring to your personal spiritual experiences, choices, and path.

Are there degrees or categories of indie believers?

There is no formal classification. The concept of “indie believer” covers a very broad field and there are people with quite different approaches to religion within this spectrum that ranges from practicing believers to mystics to intellectuals to people with a vague and undefined sense of spirituality.

Can you be a member of a religious group and be an indie believer?

Yes. Indie believers are not necessarily loners and many do socialize with like-minded people. Identifying as an indie believer means you take ownership of your spiritual life and joining a group or community can be a very good example of just that. When this membership becomes your main religious affiliation, you may opt to rather follow that instead of seeing yourself as an independent.

Can you be an indie believer and still be employed by a religious organization?

That depends on the individual. Some people who are employed or have a specific rank in a religious structure may have personal viewpoints that may differ from the official doctrine. It is up to them to see themselves as indie believers or not.

Is it a “make your own pizza” approach to spirituality?

Some may see it that way, but it is not a flippant or consumerist approach to religion. Many indie believers come to this point with reverence and humility, as a result of a long journey they have been undertaking.

Is it an “I can heal myself” approach?

No. Indie believers don’t see themselves as holding the key to their spiritual wellbeing. However, they do like to have options, instead of having to follow just one path. Staying with the medical analogy, indie believers are arguably more prone to “self-medicate” or look around for a second opinion, instead of just finding the nearest doctor and follow the prescription. The idea is to take responsibility for your health. You will get stubborn people who want to do everything by themselves, but it is a form of stupidity not to make use of medical expertise and not to rely on professionals who can help, when in need. The same applies to your spiritual health.

Is it a form of individualism?

Most indie believers opt for this approach because they want to live a meaningful life. It is not purely an individualistic stance in an activist sense. Indie believers are still believers in the divine. They may be more independent-minded, but they still believe and follow religious doctrines and practices. In that sense, they don’t see the answer or truth in themselves or individualism.

Are indie believers more spiritually mature and advanced?

No. Some may think they are, but there is nothing to the indie approach to religion that would guarantee more growth or a faster track. It is simply a different approach. For some, it will work better, for others not.

Is an indie believer against religion?

No, to the contrary. Indie believers approach their spiritual life proactively, but in an independent way.

What is the typical indie believer against?

It is easier to state what indie believers are for. Religious practice should be uplifting, empowering, and liberating, not only for individual believers but also for communities.

Some of the approaches indie believers will react against are:

  • Mindless religious traditionalism.
  • Religious practices mainly serving cultural or political goals.
  • Oppressive religious practices and ideas that enable the domination of others.

Would an indie believer try to convert others?

Not really, they may share their viewpoint, but the idea of converting others to your ways arguably goes against the principle of independence.

How do you become an indie believer?

If it rings true and you find the definition of an indie believer applies to you, call yourself an indie believer and see how it fits.

Is an indie believer a stage you reach before you become agnostic or an atheist?

No. It is simply a different way of engaging with your religious beliefs and does not indicate a state of indifference or non-belief or necessarily leads up to it.

Can the indie approach to belief be seen as a temporary phase?

Yes, some people will pass through this phase and move on. Others will be more comfortable with staying in this space.

Can you stop being an indie believer?

Yes, it is fully up to you to identify as an indie believer or not.

Is it an organization?

No, it is not an organized movement or group with a membership structure. It does not try to be what many people want to get away from. It is more of a personal philosophy and practice. To use the expat analogy. You are either an expat or you are not. You can’t apply to become one. Anyone who feels comfortable with the indie believer way is welcome to identify as one.

Do indie believers have a leader?

No, there is no leader. Having said that, there is conceivably one scenario where a leadership struggle may ensue. In case aliens visit the earth and run into an indie believer with the request: “Take us to your leader…” – just kidding.

What are the dangers of being an indie believer?

You can get lost following an individualistic religious path. Identifying as an indie believer also holds no guarantee that you will live a meaningful religious life. Having said that, there are also no guarantees when following the path of organized religion.

What is the downside to being an indie believer?

For many, it is a lonely path, for often they will miss out on the community traditional organized religious life offers. It is up to the indie believer to reach out. They can also face judgment from others who don’t understand their position.

Is it an easy path?

No, it may sound easy being independent, but many indie believers only reach this point after a long and painful struggle, facing difficult choices, rejection, and a lack of understanding from family, friends, and their community.

Do you get indie believers in all faiths and spiritual traditions?

You will most likely find people with this mindset in a wide variety of traditions.

Do you have to be public and vocal about being an indie believer?

No, what you believe and how you practice it is your business. You can be vocal or private about it.

 Many people may be indie believers who live a public religious life within a system. They rarely speak out about their doubts or true beliefs due to for example being easily misunderstood in their communities.

Why are indie believers sometimes called religious expats?

The term expat or expatriate refers to a person who lives in a country, other than their native country. Indie believers can be seen as religious expats in the sense that they acknowledge their heritage, but chose or were forced to live in a separate environment. This comes with both freedoms and challenges.

Are indie believers generally more or less religiously committed in comparison to other religiously minded people?

Indie believers are also committed, not necessarily more or less in comparison to others. It should also be considered to whom or what the commitment is made. There is often a strong cultural commitment involved with organized religion. Some indie believers tend to feel that the cultural tail frequently wags the religious dog.

To use an analogy, you will find people who are as committed to the team they are supporting, as they are to the sport that’s being played. For them, it is virtually the same thing and they can’t imagine being a fan of the sport without being fanatical about their team. While this may be normal in sport and arguably the status quo when it comes to religious affiliation for many, indie believers may have a different viewpoint.

What is the difference between an indie believer and an agnostic person?

Indie believers like being independent, but many may still prefer a religious tradition to associate with. These people may be comfortable with being called independent believers, but not agnostics. Those indie believers who do not follow a specific tradition may be closer to agnosticism. On the other hand, many independent-minded believers may have called themselves agnostic due to the lack of an apt definition. Some of them may rather prefer the term indie believer.

Technically speaking, agnostics are people who believe the nature of the divine is unknowable (very briefly put). Most indie believers will differ in that they do have an opinion as to the nature of the divine. These two concepts in essence refer to different types of things; different categories. The concept of agnosticism is a view on the nature of reality. It tries to convey a truth as to what can be known and what not. The concept “indie believer” refers to an approach to a religious life, and not to any truths or religious content per se. What indie believers think about the nature of reality is up to them to decide. An analogy would be like the distinction between an independent film on the one hand and a comedy, thriller, or science fiction movie on the other. The first refers to the approach in making the film and the latter to the genre; the type of film.

Can you plot the indie believer territory on a map of the religious landscape?

There are two ways to look at this.

Perspective 1:

The indie believer lands cover a vast territory stretching from just outside the bastions of the organized religious civilization to the ends of the earth where no one believes in anything. This is one way of looking at it; the unclaimed territory between the formal religions on the one side and atheism on the other.

Perspective 2:

Another way is to look at indie believers as people who are following a tradition but from an independent perspective. You will find indie believers living and working within the structures of organized religion, where scientific theories are easily frowned upon. At the same time, you will find indie believers living and working in the heartland of scientific exploration, where belief in higher or unseen realities are seen as primitive, outdated, or simply not fashionable. Many indie believers are pioneers who are working to bridge these kinds of gaps, ensuring that religion remains relevant to our everyday lives.

What is organized religion?

Broadly speaking it refers to what is considered to be the official religions out there, but can also simply refer to an organization that is involved in facilitating religious activities within a specific faith tradition. Organized religion can be any form of religious structure or tradition that has members and officials, arrange events, have assets and facilities, own property, have a constitution, etc.

Most people who are called to a life of service in the field of spirituality, find a place within the structures provided by organized religions to get their training and find the space to do their work.

Indie believers engage with organized religion, but don’t limit themselves to only one viewpoint or group.

Why do most people prefer to stick to organized religion?

It may simply be the truth and the best option for them. Many people prefer to follow the lead of trained professionals and established traditions. There is ample opportunity to grow spiritually within the structure of organized religion and for a large number of people, that’s the best route to take. For those who find it too limiting or would like more choices, there are the roads less traveled.

What is an indie believer’s view of organized religion?

This will vary from person to person, but here are some things that come to mind:

  • Organized religion is an essential part of the religious landscape.
  • It is viewed by many as a type of library. A resource and store of information.
  • For many, it is part of the journey, a place that was necessary to visit.
  • Some people think of organized religion as a prison they escaped from.
  • In general, since indie believers acknowledge the value of organized religion, they opt to engage and make use of what it has to offer but keep their sense of independence.

What should organized religion’s approach to indie believers be?

Organized religion operates in the truth industry and depends on membership to survive. They will do whatever is in their power to maintain the status quo and keep their followers. If people view indie believers simply as faithless deserters, they may want to ask themselves why this is happening at such a rapid rate? On the surface, there may be tension, especially because many indie believers have fled away from the clutches of religiosity.

 There may be another way to look at it as well. The mature religious professional, operating within the structures of organized religion will recognize indie believers as belonging to the same family of religiously minded people and welcome them, offer their services and support, without trying to fence them in. At the same time, the mature indie believer will recognize there is a lot to gain from engaging with what organized religion has to offer.

Indie believers and tradition?

Indie believers often experience mindless traditionalism to be very restrictive. Having said that, tradition holds great value on various levels. When you are free to engage with a tradition on your terms, you may be more open to tap into the value it offers. Therefore, many indie believers find their own way and practice when it comes to tradition and ritual.


When suffering from a medical condition, there is not much you can do before an accurate diagnosis has been made. Once you know what is happening, once the situation has been given a name, you can take action.

For many people, being religiously unaffiliated is a state of having no identity. It leaves them drifting without clear landmarks or a sense of direction. Finding a name, a concept to identify with, can be a beacon in this vast ocean. This manifesto aims to argue the case that identifying as being an indie believer, will be a validation of a legitimate position to occupy on your spiritual path in life. It does not state what you are not, linking you to what you have left behind; it states what you are and what you have chosen. Leaving the arena of organized religion does not mean you become nothing, a nobody. You can be an independent believer, embarking on a different route that can be just as meaningful.