Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Religion - The Enemy of Spirituality

Spiritual but not religious.  Good Grief!  Not that again.  How often do we have to go over that ground?
An ongoing locker room conversation led to an hour or two over coffee.  If you are spiritual but not religious, I asked, what is religion?  He had a quick, definitive answer.  Religion is to be forced into a community where you are told what to think and believe, and be threatened with eternal damnation if you don’t.  This was religion as he knew it from his youth, and it seemed unlikely to him that there could be any other kind.  Moreover, the religion of his younger life asserted that one’s personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ was all that mattered, it was an individual thing, and if that’s the case, what good is religion or the weekly gathering of so-called believers whose claims to be Christian are highly suspect based on their daily behavior?
What if religion is something different from that, I asked?  We explored what, for him, was a brand new idea.  That religion, the Christian religion, is made up of the rituals and traditions that serve as conduits through which we enter into a more profound communion with God.  That no one set of traditions and rituals serves all people well, and some people not at all.  That however important our individual relationship with God through Christ might be, we cannot lose sight of the fact that Jesus was all about restoring, healing and calling people into community.  There is something essential about being spiritual that can only be found in community with others.  
Consider that our whole conversation was an act of community in community: a lapsed fundamentalist talking with an Episcopal priest in a coffee shop owned and staffed by Greek Orthodox.  It was church, but only for a moment, and it depended on there being other churches, organized, in buildings, centers of regular worship, places from which the Word is sent out into the world.  
I wonder where our hour or so will lead.  Maybe another conversation some day.  My desire is for doors to be opened through which he can encounter the love of God in Christ who commands faith, but faith not chained by fundamentalist dogma, rather a faith in which he is invited in to conversation and community with God Almighty.  He may never join a religion, but perhaps he will make enough peace with it so that religion is, for him, no longer the enemy of spirituality.

4 comments:

SUNRISE SISTER said...

Would that your friend would find that relationship with God. It's a blessed one to be able to sit next to one's annoying:) neighbors and find comfort in the mere act of sitting next to them. xo

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Steve.

I happen to play handball at the YMCA with this fellow (and some other guys)a few times each week and he mentioned the conversation you had. He was really intrigued by what you had to say...sounds like he would like to continue the conversation.

He's part of an interesting group of guys who were born and raised in Walla Walla and have remained friends for most of their lives. For example, he and another handballer talk about experiences they had in kindergarten together. Wow. That is a degree of if not community, "continuity" that I have trouble imagining.

Best,
Mike

rob culhane said...

Thanks for a succinct outline of the differences between spirtuality and religion and the inability to see that 'religion' can facilitate our spirituality. I might put a link on my own blog to this post b/c it was very helpful. Yours in Christ, Rob

Anonymous said...

I am the "lapsed fundamentalist" Steve referred to in his entry this morning. I am interested if other people, besides me, use the term spirituality and are NOT thinking of religion. As an adjective, spirituality means "of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit."

Since many people, activities, works of art, moments of reflection and many other factors "affect my spirit," I was surprised by Steve's opening comments, although I respect both him and his explanation of early Christianity's emphasis on community. That certainly affected how I feel toward the idea of Christianity, but does not change how I feel about people who profess to be Christians and ignore "For I was hungry and you gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not."