Tuesday, June 08, 2010
spiritual but not religious
"spiritual but not religious" is a very popular descriptor people use these days when describing their spiritual lives. It even has been getting press from Lady Gaga describing herself as very religious while separating that from the church on Larry King to a CNN article on just that topic. My wife is a chaplain with a local hospice provider and seems to have many patients, perhaps even a majority, who would describe themselves that way.
So, no punches pulled... the descriptor doesn't impress me. I have to say that many people I know who use that descriptor are really just saying, "I know there is something more, something bigger than me, but I don't want to relate to that entity in any way that requires anything that requires commitment from me or calls me to a place where I'm not entirely comfortable."
I understand the bad feelings about organized religion. I know the failures of the institutional church as well as anyone and can recite the sins of organized religion's history. I have friends who have been deeply wounded by religious organizations and whose scars will never completely disappear. I've seen the pettiness, the lust for power, the self-righteousness, the easy answers to hard questions. I understand the reluctance to give anything to organized religion... BUT...
It seems to me that the organized part is absolutely and completely necessary for human beings to mature spiritually. Why? Because you can't do it alone. I'm a Baptist and I believe in soul liberty - the idea that each individual is responsible for his or her own faith before God (yes, that is a Baptist idea!) - but, the individual cannot spin it out of his or her own juices. You need a community of faith to give you a vocabulary to begin with. And then you need people to call you on the carpet when you've gone too far and to push you when you haven't gone far enough. To do this efficiently and consistently, you need organization. You need regular times to get together. You need some way to raise and wrestle with the important issues. You need structures. Virtually nothing of any importance happens without organization.
Here is my picture of "spiritual without religion..." - it is like when someone asks for a glass of water, you pour the water into their open hand without a glass. Yeah, they get a little water, but most of the water is spilled onto the ground. Now having a glass requires some effort. You have to wash it. You have to take care so you don't break it. But in the end... a container sure would have made things better.
So, given all of the failings of organized faith, what do we do? Dream dreams of what it should be and jump in. It won't be easy. Inertia is a powerful force, but change can come and the organizations can become more of what they're supposed to be.