You know how when you are talking to someone about religion and they make some comment about how they agree that religion has been a problem, then they follow-up with saying that’s why they aren’t religious. Then you smile, and when they continue to say something like “I just have a personal relationship with Jesus” or “I’m just spiritual” you throw up in your mouth, right?
Why are you looking at me like that? That has never happened to you?
Well, nevermind then…
Here’s the thing; religious institutions are not inherently good or bad. The scandal about the cover-up of child molestation, rape, etc by the Catholic Church is one example of bad, and the civil rights activity of many churches is an example of good. But inherently, religions are not the problem (nor are they a solution, but I’ll let that go for now).
Now, religion includes many things, and not always belief in gods or spiritual things. The community, rituals, traditions, architecture, etc that comes with religions are often good things on a social scale, and I freely recognize this and rarely have an issue with the whole religious institution itself. Hell, even the Catholic Church has some nice things going for it.
But spiritual? That’s another thing altogether. First, what the hell does it mean? I have heard all sorts of rationalizations, fumbling definitions about experiences through meditation, prayer, etc. I know. I’ve had those experiences myself (some of them, anyway). It is supposed to be about direct relationships with gods, spirits, powers, or perhaps magick. But there is no good reason to believe any of it. None of it survives scrutiny. It’s all personal experience and anecdote, just like all paranormal woo-woo out there.
Why, if there is anything to spirituality, hasn’t anyone won James Randi’s million dollars?
So when someone says to me that they are not religious, but they are spiritual, I wince because they are admitting that they are trying to disassociate themselves from religious institutions and claim belief in these silly, nebulous, and vague ideas of spirituality. They are clinging to the part of religion that often is the problem; faith, credulity, and the belief that they are in connection with the powers of the universe. It’s worse when they claim that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ but are not religious. I just want to slap the old forehead when I hear that one.
(Yes, I mean my forehead)
The idea seems to be that our personal “spiritual” paths are somehow superior to religious tradition. But spirituality is part of the many religious traditions, people! Those who started new religions, sects, etc were doing similar activities as those who claim they are not religious today. And, of course, only a few of them did so in any significant way. Many others were probably often killed or otherwise socially ostracized due to their heresy.
Example: The Buddha was not following the religion of his time and place, he was seeking his own path and created a new one. His meditation and subsequent ‘enlightenment’ was a personal spiritual exercise outside of the dominant religious tradition, even though it was influenced by it. He might have said, if he were as unaware as many I’m talking about in this piece, that he was spiritual but not religious.
And that’s why Buddhism is not considered to be a religion today.
(My forehead us really starting to hurt)
It just seems that every schmuck out there who is “spiritual but not religious” is thinking of himself (or herself) as some unique person not going with the mainstream.
Just like everyone else.
(ouch! Why is my palm so hard?)
If you are doing spirituality, you are doing religion. If you are doing religion, you are probably doing spirituality, of some sort. Spirituality without religion makes no sense.
I’ll make that simpler.
Spirituality makes no sense. At least religion gives you community. And I’ll bet many of you spiritual-but-not-religious people have your own community somewhere, don’t you?
(Seriously, my forehead is red and sore)