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Spiritual but not Religious, Part II

October 10, 2013

Tonight I return to my ernstwhile blog.  I’ve been cogitating over many subjects, but I wanted to finish the thought that I began in an earlier post, getting back to the notion of spirituality and religiousness.  Don’t know that I have too much more to say on the subject — my mind is wandering to other topics.  But somehow I need to write part II, since I wrote part I.  Weird, aren’t I?

So it seems to me, as I wrote in the earlier post, that there is a difference in being spiritual and having a spiritual life.  Being spiritual is an openness to the Transcendent, to the presence and call of God’s Spirit; having a spiritual life is doing something about it.  What to do, then?

In my faith tradition, having a spiritual life is centered around practice as opposed to theory.  The practices of faith bind us to something beyond ourselves, to the Transcendent that lures us toward our natural way of being, spiritual. Now that is not to say that we are, by nature, spirit alone.  Just the opposite is true.  Our spiritual lives reveal for us a wholeness, an embodied self in which God is present in our bodies, in our actions, in our living.  Being spiritual is more than thought or feeling or idea or urge.  Being spiritual is living into our whole selves and having the ordinary transformed.

When I hear people say “I’m spiritual but not religious,” I often wonder, why bother?  Why all the energy around this declaration?  Is being spiritual somehow better than being religious?   Is being religious a bad thing?  Is this a putdown or judgment of someone deemed ‘religious’?  There seems to be some implicit, unspoken statement here:  I’m a deep person and I don’t need anything outside myself in order to find meaning.  There is also judgment:  being religious is somehow less than being spiritual, somehow artificial or calculated or, heaven forbid, hypocritical.  Is ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ code for ‘I don’t go to church’?  Because it seems like that is what many people are saying.

A recent study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion found that the boundary between being spiritual but not religious is often far less than clear.  The study suggests that most of the people who identify themselves as SBNR seldom really separate the two in their practices.  Rather, the people surveyed were often using this language to mark boundaries within their own experience.  “The ‘religion’ being rejected turns out to be quite unlike the religion being practiced and described by those affiliated with religious institutions,” notes the study’s author Nancy Ammerman.  “Likewise, the ‘spirituality’ being endorsed as an alternative is at least as widely practiced by those same religious people as it is by the people drawing a moral boundary against them,” she writes.   Spiritual but not religious, then, may be a rejection of a particular kind of religious understanding, but perhaps not religion itself.

For me, being religious may have nothing to do with going to church.  Or it may have everything to do with going to church.  Or, what if it is both?  Being religious seems to mean putting one’s spiritual self into action.  And that action might be being a part of a church.  Yet I know plenty of people who are religious about lots of things that have little to do with darkening the door of a church building.  Good old Websters defines religion as the belief in a god or in a group of gods;  an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods; or an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.   I would say that the last definition is the most relevant in our society today.  Aren’t there many of us who are religous about things in our lives?  Whether it be family, or career/vocation, or football, or society status, or our earning power, or sex, or exercise — sometimes one thing ends up trumping all else in terms of our time, our energy, our thoughts, our hopes, our fears.  No one of these things is necessarily bad in itself; yet each one of these things can begin to dictate the overall shape of who we are and how we live and act and have our being.  And often, that thing becomes our god and has nothing to do with God.

So I’ve outed myself here:  I see spiritual and religious as highly related.  The real issue, perhaps, is whether or not a spiritual person is willing to act on their spiritual beliefs, which might well bring them into the realm of being religious.  We all show what we believe by the way we live our lives, at least to some degree.  I’m not often concerned with the kind of hypocrisy in which someone’s words and their actions don’t always line up — we are all guilty of that on one level or another.  The hypocrisy that I pray to avoid in my life is when my I act in a way that is disconnected from my convictions, and I can’t say why.  Over and over I must return to God to empower me to walk the walk, to let my life show me what I really believe and ask the hard questions of why.

Being a part of a religious tradition, for me, matters.  This is the place that gives shape to my life, to my actions, where I am encouraged and reminded that I am  resurrected each morning to live into the life of God’s Spirit working in me.  This is the heart of hope, for me.  And Paul, in Romans 8, reminds me about hope:  Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose. 

What I see when my spiritual nature becomes my spiritual way of living leads me to hope for more, to hope for what I can’t see but somehow yearn for, that something which I can’t quite name but I know is there, within and without me, what I keep reaching for, what I know that the Spirit can and does communicate even when I can’t quite say it.  How I live reveals to me the truth of my soul, a bare and glaring glimpse of the deepest truths that govern my life.

From → On Faith

One Comment
  1. Brigett Boyett permalink

    Excellanta on all your writings.

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