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Monday, February 07, 2005

The Religious Chicken and the Spiritual Egg

In "Christian" America, that fabled time in the days of yore when everyone was a Christian, people were first religious, and then some or many of those religious people became spiritual. In "post-Christian" America, the current age, in greater numbers people are spiritual first, and then some of them are becoming religious.

What's the difference? I mean, aren't spiritual and religious just two words that mean the same thing? Well, it depends on who is defining them. Since this is my blog, I am going to define them this way:

A religious person associates or affiliates with a religious group and, to some extent, adopts their practices, belief systems (actually or theoretically), and name. The extent to which the person adopts the practices, beliefs and name of the groups determines how religious they are. A good Catholic goes to mass, listens to the Pope, follows the church teachings and is not afraid to be called a Catholic.

A spiritual person experiences, senses, and/or connects with the non-material or metaphysical world. Typically they believe in God or a god or some transcending power. A spiritual person is likely to respond to beauty by making mental or emotional connections between the beauty and the spiritual world. A spiritual person is humbled by their own smallness in comparison to the universe and their perceptions of the spiritual world.

For a religious person, there is nothing necessarily or inherently transcendent about life. A religious person can spend his or her whole lives being religious without ever being spiritual. The Pharisees of the New Testament are a worst case scenario of extremely religious people who were not spiritual.

For a spiritual person, there is nothing necessarily or inherently useful in planned, choreographed, and rehearsed corporate acts. A spiritual person can spend his or her whole life being spiritual without ever being religious. "New Age" people might fit into this description.

At one time, when "everyone" went to church, the goal was to find a way to get these religious people more spiritual. Now, I believe that I am overly optimistic in saying what I just said because I really think that many religious types believed that if a person was religious (church 3 times a week, baptized, weekly communion, didn't cuss, smoke, drink or dance), that was all that needed to be done. But either way, religion came first and spirituality was some kind of bonus or extra if it were considered at all.

Now days (and probably in the next couple decades), people are frequently spiritual, but not religious. There exists a depth and appreciation for the divine in some perhaps vague, but certainly meaningful way.

When a religious person meets a spiritual person, this situation turns adversarial quick when religion is pitted against spirituality. It is very tempting for the religious person to discount, demean, or even mock the spirituality of the spiritual person merely for the fact that it is not contained in religion. On the other hand, the spiritual person, may be tempted to respond in similarly unhelpful ways to the religious person.

What is needed is spiritual people who are religious and religious people who are spiritual. Neither is better than the other. Think about it this way: would you rather be a Pharisee or a New Ager? Would you rather know the name of God and use it to oppress people, or worship anything that seems kind of goddish?

We need large doses of both. We need personal connection with the divine and we need a community of faith that has an identity. There is value in personal appreciation and there is value in corporate ritual. There is value in freedom and there is value in tradition.

What we do not need is for religious people to be against spiritual people. Religious people need to meet the spiritual where they are at. Make friends with them. Be there for them. Call on them when you need help. Learn from them. Appreciate their spirituality and connection to things divine. The goal is not to get them to shed their spirituality and become religious, but rather to be good news to them, love them, care for them, and make that relationship with them be the defining mark of your religion. If you're not selling something, they might just think you mean what you say and do.


7 comments:

David U said...

Chris, great post! Your topic is very much on my mind and heart at present because I am reading Phillip Yancey's book about how he survived the church. Having grown up in similar circumstances, the book almost sounds biographical for me.

I tend to be skeptical about the deeply religious person becoming spiritual, but I am reminded of scripture that declares very bluntly "Nothing is impossible with God"! :) Your are correct in saying that BOTH extremes are not what God wants from us. The deeply religious person scares me more though, because many times they seem to communicate they don't need God or a Savior. I have heard Jim Woodroof say that if you teach "the church", it will produce pride. I believe the religious people you described are full of pride, and I see that as a bigger hurdle than any spiritual person may have to overcome from that side. At least the spiritual person acknowledges that it is not about them, and that there is a higher power. Again, I agree with you that one is just as far from God as the other. But as Rubel Shelly and John York communicated so vividly in "The Jesus Proposal", isn't there something to be said for those headed in the direction of God as opposed to those who are at best stuck in the same place, and at worse headed AWAY from God? I believe it would be easier to share the Gospel with a spiritual person than a religious one. The number of converts from Africa compared to those from Europe may have something to do with that.

Anyway, thanks for causing us to stretch and think.....and to take inventory of my own relationship with the Father. I can't think of a better way to start my day! Thanks for giving us that blessing!

In HIM,
DU

Keith Brenton said...

Fajita - so glad to see this on the New Wineskins blog, too! Thanks for some great insights ... I know a few people who seem to get that great balance of "religious" and "spiritual" just right somehow, and I keep hoping I can too!

Fajita said...

Keith,

I understand you are the techno genius who got the Wineskins blog up and running. Thanks.

Challis said...

Are definitions helpful? You're blog got me thinking. Is defining religiousness or spriritualness helpful in creating better people? how bout christians people? You ask what I would choose, to oppress someone with my religion, or worship anything that I like. I don't want either, can I abandon fully both definitions, and the term "christianity" while still clinging to Christ and following the Bible? I shy away from these terms I find. I know what I am (a follower of Christ) but these terms seem to confuse others. When people ask if I'm religious, I say "I don't like that term. I AM a Christian" and the term "spiritualiy" is so focused on emotions and feelings, that I sometimes wonder if who Christ is gets totally lost in the self-focused aspect. Words are funny.

Those are my random thoughts for the day.

Fajita said...

Challis, Aha! You have correctly identified the problem of language, it has severe limitations. Can any language every really capture the meaning we try to share? I should say not. At the same time, we cannot not communicate.

We need words, but words get us into trouble at the speed of sound.

You make a great point!

Challis said...

Are definitions helpful? You're blog got me thinking. Is defining religiousness or spriritualness helpful in creating better people? how bout christians people? You ask what I would choose, to oppress someone with my religion, or worship anything that I like. I don't want either, can I abandon fully both definitions, and the term "christianity" while still clinging to Christ and following the Bible? I shy away from these terms I find. I know what I am (a follower of Christ) but these terms seem to confuse others. When people ask if I'm religious, I say "I don't like that term. I AM a Christian" and the term "spiritualiy" is so focused on emotions and feelings, that I sometimes wonder if who Christ is gets totally lost in the self-focused aspect. Words are funny.

Those are my random thoughts for the day.

David U said...

Chris, great post! Your topic is very much on my mind and heart at present because I am reading Phillip Yancey's book about how he survived the church. Having grown up in similar circumstances, the book almost sounds biographical for me.

I tend to be skeptical about the deeply religious person becoming spiritual, but I am reminded of scripture that declares very bluntly "Nothing is impossible with God"! :) Your are correct in saying that BOTH extremes are not what God wants from us. The deeply religious person scares me more though, because many times they seem to communicate they don't need God or a Savior. I have heard Jim Woodroof say that if you teach "the church", it will produce pride. I believe the religious people you described are full of pride, and I see that as a bigger hurdle than any spiritual person may have to overcome from that side. At least the spiritual person acknowledges that it is not about them, and that there is a higher power. Again, I agree with you that one is just as far from God as the other. But as Rubel Shelly and John York communicated so vividly in "The Jesus Proposal", isn't there something to be said for those headed in the direction of God as opposed to those who are at best stuck in the same place, and at worse headed AWAY from God? I believe it would be easier to share the Gospel with a spiritual person than a religious one. The number of converts from Africa compared to those from Europe may have something to do with that.

Anyway, thanks for causing us to stretch and think.....and to take inventory of my own relationship with the Father. I can't think of a better way to start my day! Thanks for giving us that blessing!

In HIM,
DU