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du Garbandier

On being religious but not spiritual

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New article up at Christianity Today about being "spiritual but not religious." Key paragraphs:

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that only 5 percent of the religiously unaffiliated attend church weekly or participate weekly in group prayer, and that only 9 percent read Scripture weekly outside of religious services. Yet what are worship, prayer, and study but "spiritual" disciplines that strengthen faith in a mature Christian?

And that's the problem. How different are we from the group that admits it's not religious? We too bristle against the binding demands of our faith. We find it easy to justify not tithing or praying. We disrespect authority, fail to take care of our neighbors in need, and covet the materialism of the world. We barely qualify as spiritual or religious.

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The sad problem is once you join the "spiritual but not religious" crowd, you suddenly find your describing yourself exactly like the pop psychology, Oprah spirituality crowd. Not cool.

Speaking of which, Mark Oppenheimer writes about the "church of Oprah" as she departs her daytime TV show:

Yet the Church of Winfrey is at most partly Christian. Her show featured a wide, if drearily similar, cast of New Age gurus. As Karlyn Crowley writes in her contribution to “Stories of Oprah: The Oprahfication of American Culture,” an essay collection published last year, Ms. Winfrey excelled at offering “spiritual alternatives to the mainstream religions” in which many of her followers grew up. Ms. Winfrey presided over something like a “New Age feminist congregation,” Dr. Crowley writes.

That is a rather neutral way to put it. Oprah scholars excel, as many good scholars do, at withholding judgment, seeking to explain rather than praise or condemn. One wishes for a more critical eye. I, for one, found something cathartic in Dr. Illouz’s brief critique, when she called Ms. Winfrey “absurd” for “making suffering into a desirable experience.”

In her earnest spiritual seeking, Ms. Winfrey gave platforms to some rather questionable types. She hosted the self-help author Louise Hay, who once said Holocaust victims may have been paying for sins in a previous life. She championed the “medical intuitive” Caroline Myss, who claims emotional distress causes cancer. She helped launch Rhonda Byrne, creator of the DVD and book “The Secret,” who teaches that just thinking about wealth can make you rich. She invited the “psychic medium” John Edward to help mourners in her audience talk to their dead relatives.

“The Oprah Winfrey Show” made viewers feel that they constantly had to “sculpt their best lives,” Dr. Lofton writes. Yet in her religious exuberance Ms. Winfrey gave people some badly broken tools. Ms. Winfrey nodded along to the psychics and healers and intuitives. She rarely asked tough questions, and because she believed, millions of others did, too.

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I've read nothing by this guy, but I'm always interested when I see non-religious and non-spiritual people playing with religious ideas. This seems as good a thread as any. Here's David Webster on punching spiritual people in the face:

Personally, I don’t believe at all in what these organised religions offer. However, I do recognise the depth in many of those traditions, and the insights they have had when answering existential questions. I don’t mean preserving the bits of religion in the same way that Alain De Botton seems to, so much as to acknowledge the way that Theology, both in Christianity and other monotheistic traditions, has really delved deep to consider the consequences of their beliefs. It provided a set of theological limits, in which creative responses to the human condition came about. Oddly, there have been those in the Theistic traditions who have seen the distance of God, the unprovability of God (the arguments to-and-fro about proving God’s existence seem ever-more to misunderstand what religion is), and sought to frame their Theology in response to that. These people (and I am aware of Kierkegaard as the obvious example here, but he is not alone) have not treated religion as an easy cop-out of difficult worries – rather it is a source of them. They have found faith hard. They know that theirs is not a claim that admits of evidence, and that they alone can validate their belief – these are the believers that interest me!

[snip]

Being ‘spiritual but not religious’ makes sense as a sociological posture, but less so beyond that. It relies on a narrow, ahistorical account of what ‘being religious’ means, and seems to usher in a raft of problems. The key ones, as I delineate in the book, are that this kind of untethered spirituality damages our critical faculties: if everything is true, then the true/false distinction ceases to even make sense. This kind of monist, mystic collapse into unspeakability ultimately makes us mute. On subjects that matter – such as mortality and morality.

FWIW, more directly connected to the topic of this thread, I find myself more often than not in the "religious but not spiritual" boat. Which is to say, I like the mechanical bits and bobs that come with religion, even if I argue vehemently against them (well--some of the stuff that gets argued simply isn't interesting to me b/c I think they miss the point of tinkering around in the first place). That's why guys like Webster (and Zizek, of course) always catch my eye: they play with (and respect!) the pure mechanics of the thing w/o worrying about the Transcendental implications of any of it. It's a much more exciting approach to me than "let's see if we can get the real, true answer about x." I'm pretty sure my approach isn't the usual one; it probably isn't even the correct one.

Edited by NBooth

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I'd consider myself religious and spiritual. Religious in that I have chosen (based on fruit) to take a kierkegaardian leap of faith in trusting that the Christian doctrine is true on the meaning of God, faith, etc. Spiritual in that, like Persona said a couple pages back, the spiritual realm is everywhere, in everything. Like a Jedi feels the Force, or a Tolkien wizard feels magic, I "feel" the spiritual realm, know that Something More than this exists.

I honestly prefer Religious or Atheistic to Agnosticism although I have often described my faith as Agnostic at best. I see it as a struggle though, not an acceptance. I want to know God, intimately. I don't want to stay uncertain, unsure, etc. although I think to a certain point that is inevitable in life. But I think the act of seeking itself is a beautiful meaningful act we must all do.

I don't pretend to have all the answers, and I am openminded to being wrong, and I think there's a goodness in being so teachable/open, but there is a beauty in conviction, in surety that reaches to the very deepness of us, the meaning charged selves we are. We need purpose, reason, meaning. God is that purpose, reason, meaning. I think it would behoove us to seek out what that means our whole lives, and help others to seek as well. Not push, or cajole, or manipulate, but encourage, walk beside, etc.

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Here's a couple of relevant links that might give some food for thought, and also probably just tick some off.

Common objections to shredding religion. and the Religion Free Bible Project

I did find myself nodding along with some of the things said in the first link. Especially this.

"When people begin thinking for themselves and base their opinions on firsthand personal experience, they realize that the world doesn’t fit so nicely into all the labels and boxes that religion is sometimes prone toward imposing on things."

When one realizes that many of the labels and boxes don't necessarily work then they have to operate more and more by acquired wisdom, and cultural understanding. Which is awfully hard, and is also awfully hard to acquire within some of the boxes.

Edited by Attica

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I never really know what to make of these secondhand accounts of studies...

A study found that people professing to be spiritual, but not conventionally religious, were more likely to suffer from a host of mental challenges.

--Spirituality Linked To Mental Health 'Demons' Like Eating Disorders, Drug Abuse, Anxiety, Study Says

Edited by du Garbandier

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Yeah, without reading the full linked study, only the excerpted highlight, I always find myself wondering if there's a chicken-and-egg thing at work with such findings. Are people with emotional/health problems more likely to be spiritual -- or religious -- because they're fighting those "demons" and feel helpless without some higher power?

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Yeah, without reading the full linked study, only the excerpted highlight, I always find myself wondering if there's a chicken-and-egg thing at work with such findings. Are people with emotional/health problems more likely to be spiritual -- or religious -- because they're fighting those "demons" and feel helpless without some higher power?

While the old correlation/causation chicken-and-egg question is certainly valid, it's important to note that the study suggests that those "fighting demons" are not more likely to be religious — only spiritual. Those who practice religion and those who are non-spiritual both enjoy better mental health than the "spiritual but not religious" demographic.

So, the study seems to suggest either that a) spirituality without religion tends to be bad for one's mental health, or that b.) those with poor mental health tend to be attracted to spirituality without religion, or else that c.) some third factor inclines individuals toward both poor mental health and spirituality without religion.

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Those who practice religion and those who are non-spiritual both enjoy better mental health than the "spiritual but not religious" demographic.

So, the study seems to suggest either that a) spirituality without religion tends to be bad for one's mental health, or that b.) those with poor mental health tend to be attracted to spirituality without religion, or else and that c.) some third other factors inclines individuals toward both poor mental health and spirituality without religion.

Fixed.

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