Spiritual, not Religious, Part 2
Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained. Philippians 3:15-16
Last week I made the general and stereotypical observation that most of what we consider religion is associated with churches. Just about everything else that acknowledges or seeks a Higher Power or otherwise attempts to awaken something intangible within ourselves falls into the realm of spirituality. Spirituality may include activities that seek to put us in touch with God or with something within ourselves that we find purer and more transcendent than our egoic selves, which tend to be obsessed with materialism and other earthly matters that deteriorate over time. Religion focuses more on explaining God. In that sense, what we seek in both religion and spirituality is something eternal, something immortal. Spirituality and religion both propose to point us to a higher state of consciousness and awareness than we believe ourselves to be at today. In the Western world, interest in spiritualism is on the rise while participation in religious organizations is on the decline. For some, myself included, both religion and spirituality hold value.
Interestingly, the religious organizations that appear to be thriving are the ones that lean towards the evangelical, fundamental end of the spectrum. That end of the religious world proclaims a higher level of intellectual certainty in its teachings, such as believing the words of the Bible to be literally true, as if dictated by God, as opposed to the words of the Bible pointing to truth in an allegorical or metaphorical manner. I often wonder if the attraction to a seemingly stable, fundamentalistic theology is related to the insecurity and instability so many people experience in the world today. The latter ways of seeking truth through allegory and metaphor are more common in the realms of spirituality, where there is less of a premium on certainty. Many formerly active church goers have turned away from religion – some to spiritualism, but others have rejected everything religious or spiritual as irrelevant and either meaningless or beyond their ability to attain. Many who once sought solace and personal growth from church now find themselves spiritually adrift.
People shun the church for many reasons. The moment I was old enough that my mother could no longer force me to go to church, I stopped, at least for a couple of decades. I saw church-goers as hypocrites, acting one way on Sunday mornings and in completely different ways the rest of the week. Now that I have become a hypocrite myself, I see things differently and with more grace. I, like everyone else, am simply trying to be a better version of myself today than I was yesterday. Some days go better than others. The church is far from perfect, but it does form an imperfect community that provides an opportunity for the weaknesses of one to be compensated for by the strengths of another. This, I believe, is a critical piece to understanding salvation – that we were never intended to be perfect or complete as single, independent persons, but that we find perfection and completion in community with others. Unfortunately, few churches understand or organize around this principle. Too many are focused on individual sins and individual salvation.
Among the reasons some people avoid the church today are atrocities such as sexual and emotional abuse by church leaders, the condemnation of swaths of humanity under the guise of God’s will, the self-proclaimed position of being the chosen children of God, and the teachings of theologies that do not mesh with real-life experiences. Some denominations focus on certain portions of church doctrine while others emphasize other portions. It can be confusing to understand what the church stands for when individual churches promote or condemn different things. In the town where I grew up there is a church that focuses its entire ministry on a single issue: homosexuality. Unfortunately, some people see their message and assume all churches believe God hates homosexuals.
Among the reasons some people shun spirituality are its reluctance to provide clear-cut rules for living, its blurred lines with the perceived evils of the occult and witchcraft, its counter-cultural shunning of materialism, and the fact that much of it seems more consistent with Eastern than Western philosophies and cultures. For those with a strong intellectual bent, much of spirituality can seem otherworldly because it does not appeal to reason. It is experiential instead of logical.
Regardless of their reasons, increasing numbers of people seek spiritual growth outside of the church. Reuniting the broader view of spirituality with religion may help to reignite the church as a relevant and meaningful community for more people.
This is the 23rd in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.