It’s a struggle I project in the sense that if I’m feeling it, I’ve got to believe others are too. I have on occasion fallen into the trap of describing myself as being spiritual but not religious. By this I mean that though I believe my faith is strong, at times I tend to abhor religious trappings. I think others feel the same thing.
But there are dangers to the mindset. Watered down theology can be the result.
David Mills explains:
A few years ago a much-reported study of college students’ religious practice found that they become more “spiritual” as their observance of their childhood faith declined. The researchers defined “spiritual” as “growth in self-understanding, caring about others, becoming more of a global citizen and accepting others of different faiths.” They simply dressed up their favored attitudes by calling them “spiritual.” That kind of spirituality, detached from anything specifically religious, is just materialism in a tuxedo.
The word “spiritual” has no useful meaning if it does not refer to a relation to a real spirit, something from a world not our own, something supernatural, something that or someone who tells us things we do not know, judges us for our failures, and gives us ideals to strive for and maybe help in reaching them. It’s not a useful word if it means a general inclination or shape of mind or emotional pattern or set of attitudes or collection of values. There is no reason to call any of these spiritual.
Unless, of course, you like that little sense of importance and that comforting sense of social approval that our society still gives to “spiritual things,” though not to religious things. It’s a warm and fuzzy word. It’s a cute cuddly bunny word. It’s not like “religion.” That’s a cold and forbidding word. It’s a screeching preacher with bad breath word.
A better definition is not, however, wanted. The moment you acknowledge a real spirit to whom your spirituality is oriented and by whom it is guided, however distant and unengaged that spirit may be, you have a religion. You are bound by something. You have marching orders. You have to ask what the spirit wants and what he requires and what he says.
As the writer Malcolm Muggeridge, himself a convert from a vaporous kind of religion, put it, we crave “a Christianity without tears; . . . an idyll rather than a drama, with a happy ending instead of that gaunt Cross rising so inexorably into the sky.” The spirit might turn out to be a Puritan. He might say something about taking up a cross. Better to be “spiritual” without the spirit, and hope no one notices.
If being spiritual but not religious leads to the minimization of the salvific work of Jesus Christ, you might be practicing a vacuous faith.
If being spiritual but not religious leads to an open-mindedness that finds moral relativity to be a strength, you might be practicing a vacuous faith.
If being spiritual but not religious leads to this notion that you need not a Savior, you might be practicing a vacuous faith.
If being spiritual but not religious results in concluding that evil is merely a by-product of environment then you might be practicing a vacuous faith.
If being spiritual but not religious leads to the avoidance of conflict at all costs, you might be practicing a vacuous faith.
I pray that my disdain for that within the church which I see to be roadblocks to Christ will not blind me to the understanding that at times being faithful means enduring unpleasantness and worse.
The Anchoress, who brought us the Mills piece, writes something I’ll use to close:
It is a challenge to look past our own comfortable and self-righteous sense that God thinks just as we do, and to let the Word dwell within us, shake us, unsettle us until it has reformed us-re-formed-in the image of God; holy as he is holy, perfect as he is perfect.
Dear God, challenge me… and grant me the wisdom to see it as such and to rise to the occasion.
Crossposted at Brutally Honest.