Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spiritual But Not Religious?

Q - A friend recently told me that she is not so much interested in a religion as she is with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and walking with him. We discussed it a bit and it seems like it mostly comes down to vocabulary and jargon. I read your post about spirituality vs religion but it talked a lot about spirituality that is not Christian. What if someone is spiritual and Christian, but doesn't consider themselves "religious"? I've never understood how you could have one without the other.


A - Thanks for the question.  There are several types of people who describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious".

The first kind are non-Christian ( I focused on this group in my previous post on this topic you referred to above).  They may identify with some kind of higher power, but their belief system is quite nebulous.

The second kind of people you might find who make such statements are Christians who are quite sincere in their desire to have a personal relationship with Christ, but want to do so without the perceived "baggage" that comes with the idea of being "religious".  Now, if you look at the root of what being religious means, you won't find the baggage in the word itself.  The definition of religious is:
1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with religion: a religious holiday.
2. imbued with or exhibiting religion; pious; devout; godly: a religious man.
3. scrupulously faithful; conscientious: religious care.
4. pertaining to or connected with a monastic or religious order.
5. appropriate to religion or to sacred rites or observances.
6. a member of a religious order, congregation, etc.; a monk, friar, or nun.
7. the religious, devout or religious persons
So, the negativity associated with the word doesn't have to do with these definitions or any other objective reality.  Rather, it has to do with the perception that there is a rigidity and a formalism that doesn't translate into true transformation of hearts in religious practice.  Certainly someone can go to church (any church) and not have a relationship with Christ.  But, religion doesn't have to be the cause of such problems.  Thus, they are making a dichotomy out of spirituality and religion - spirituality has to do with a personal relationship with God and religion is an institutional and man-made construct that keeps us from a true relationship with God.  This is simply a false dichotomy.  This understanding has grown stronger since the emergent church movement has picked up steam and post-modernism, eastern prayer, etc. has crept more and more into Christianity.

Religion is not bad - it is good.  Religion should be personal.  Religion is when we choose to be bound to God, and if we base religion on such a definition we can see how religion is never a negative thing and in fact how someone can never be spiritual but not religious.

In modern evangelical Christianity (especially in the emergent church movement) this statement can be translated into - "I am a Christian who doesn't subscribe to a particular church or denomination's understanding of doctrine or structure.  I am the only one who can authoritatively interpret Scripture for me. I love God and think that the rules aren't for everyone."

They might compare a "religious" person to a Pharisee, who only cares about rules, while the followers of Christ wanted more than just rules.  Again, this is a false dichotomy, because Jesus had all kinds of rules, including the fact that he called 12 men to run his Church in a particular manner.

To be "spiritual" isn't enough.  A pagan, a witch, a Christian, or a devil-worshiper can all be spiritual and not subscribe to any religious practices.  The bible in fact says that religion is a good thing, but it should be a pure kind of religion.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
-James 1:26-27
In other words a religion that isn't enfleshed and lived out does us no good and can become Pharisaical.

In the same manner a spirituality that doesn't have any kind of religion as a guide runs the risk of being self-centered, feel-good, anything-goes, and/or false.

To be spiritual and religious - that is what it means to be in the heart of Christianity - the Catholic Church.
I hope this helps.

1 comment:

Literacy-chic said...

You might also consider that this person may be someone who has had bad experiences with one of more churches that she has attended, or bad experiences observing the behavior of those who attend the churches that she has attended. In the case of friends who are not Catholic, it might be useful to ... See Moreremember that other faith traditions do not have the core that Catholicism has--namely, the Eucharist--and for someone who is sincerely searching, that might be the element that separates a Church "worth" joining from one that doesn't seem to have anything to offer. I am speaking from experience. Sacramental spirituality is very different from the practices of baptism and communion in other Christian denominations. Of course, this is not going to be how she perceives it--that Catholicism has the missing piece--particularly if she doesn't want to be seen as "religious"! To someone in that frame of mind, Catholicism is likely the utmost in religiosity, for all of the reasons discussed above! :)