Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm Spiritual, But I'm Not Religious!

Have you ever run into a person (of course you have; their name is Legion!) who makes the audacious claim: 

"I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual!"

Since my earliest days as an adult Christian, this has bothered me.  Sometimes it has made me feel as if a person was being lazy, doing the easy part of possessing faith while neglecting works.  Other times, I have thought that such people were only eating dessert (spirituality), while skipping the nutrition-providing meal (religion).

It is open to debate what such people even mean by the statement.  Often, it seems to mean that they hold to some sort of internal, mental faith in a higher power, while eschewing corporate worship with others of faith.  A related saying is:  "I'm a believer, but I have no use for organized religion!"  (Of course, I maintain that as Anglicans we can lay full claim to being members of no organized religion!)

My latest objection is two-fold:  (1) that such a philosophy works and teaches against the incarnation; and (2) that those who hold to it are missing out on most of the fun!

If you imagine a world in which God tried to love us without the Incarnation of His Son Jesus Christ, you may see what I mean by my first objection.  In this gedankenexperiment, God send positive vibes and blessings down from heaven, but He doesn't sully Himself by taking on flesh.  He would still feel kindly towards us, but would be unwilling to do the incredibly difficult work of becoming one of us and living among us.  And that is how it is with the "spiritual but not religious":  they are fine with thinking kindly thoughts toward their higher power throughout the week, but unwilling to sully themselves by attending church cheek-to-jowl with other sinners on Sunday morning.

As to my second objection, what if a man were to tell you:  "Well, yes, I am married.  My wife and I have exchanged rings, and our marriage certificate is legal and all in order.  But we don't believe in physical or emotional intimacy.  We lead separate lives."  Would you not think such a man is crazy?  No matter how much he might object, saying that in the deep, spiritual sense he and his bride were married, you would always think of him as not quite "getting" the concept of marriage.  For he is purposely avoiding the best and most pleasurable part of the thing.  And this is just what I think when I run into yet another "spiritual but not religious" person.