Jump to content


Photo

On being religious but not spiritual


  • Please log in to reply
65 replies to this topic

#21 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 29,300 posts

Posted 16 August 2010 - 05:56 PM

Michael Spencer wrote:
: I was surprised to find that a lot of teachers and preachers thought that 'What would Jesus do?' was a flawed idea.

I'm surprised that he was surprised. "What would Jesus do?" has ALWAYS struck me as a slightly flawed way of putting the question. The question we SHOULD be asking ourselves is "What would Jesus have US do?" And sometimes, I think, Jesus lets us make it up as we go.

One of the most obvious rebuttals to the simplistic WWJD? approach is to ask, "Would Jesus get married?" Well, no -- no he wouldn't. But does that mean nobody ELSE should get married? Okay, fine, sure, any number of the Church Fathers took a dim view of sex and marriage because it meant you could never be a monk, or whatever. But seriously: who today would take that position? Even the most traditional churches out there have sacraments for marriage and the baptizing of children -- despite the fact that Jesus himself never had a family. Is this supposed to be a bad thing, now?

: I am convinced that people who say they are seeking spirituality and not the Christian religion are on the right path. If this offends you, let me ask: what is the other option? The only other option I can see is for Jesus-hungry people to try to content themselves with the religious junk food offered in the next new topical study, the bigger building program, the capital campaign, the latest attendance figures . . .

In other words, when Spencer talks about "the Christian religion", he is referring specifically to topical studies, building programs, capital campaigns and attendance figures? Um, wow. That seems awfully reductive -- and probably, in some ways, culturally narrow.

When I hear the words "Christian religion", I think of psalms and ceremonies, liturgies and ministries, and above all the sharing of bread and wine in the act of Communion -- which, like it or not, is a form of "organized" religion that goes all the way back to Christ himself. I'm not really sure how actively involved the average parishioner would be in all that other stuff. (Although, yes, sometimes the local Christian community needs to concern itself with things like finding actual spaces in which to worship on a quasi-permanent basis -- and that, in turn, means that the local Christian community needs to think about rent or getting a mortgage for the church building or whatever. But why should that be a problem?)

If "I'm not religious but I'm a very spiritual person" equates to "I'm not married but I'm a very sexual person", then it sounds to me like Spencer is almost making an argument equivalent to the idea that marriage kills romance, so we should always stay romantically involved with someone -- we should keep on dating them -- but without actually marrying them. Because once we marry them, we have to deal with, y'know, all the annoying nitty-gritty stuff like where we hang the towels and who gets to pick up the dry-cleaning and all that other boring stuff.

#22 Greg P

Greg P

    Episcopi Vagantes

  • Member
  • 1,739 posts

Posted 16 August 2010 - 06:30 PM

There's an easy assumption that when we're talking about the "Presbyterians," or some other mainline group of organized adherents, that we're talking about fakers. I'm past that stereotype, and I flinch a little when I see others use it, even though I embraced the stereotype -- with justfication, I think -- when I was younger. The fakers were the only religious people I knew then. But that hasn't been the case for decades.

I don't find "religious" people, like staunch Calvinists, to be fakers either. But I do think in their laser beam zeal for doctrine, they have a tendency to overlook far weightier matters. By all means, have convictions about pet doctrines but have some sense of proportionality.

I'm reminded of the Calvinist who joyfully cornered me in a five points debate at a church picnic once, while his poor, frantic wife was left to chase their two young children around the entire time. This is "religion" in my experience. It's not fake at all, it just has a tendency to think of itself as far more important than it really is.

The sensitivity to realize one has been talking too long at a church picnic while your wife has been busting her ass, seems to me an impulse more in tune with "spirituality". For whatever reason, that impulse doesn't seem to function as well when one is focused on "religion".

Edited by Greg P, 16 August 2010 - 06:38 PM.


#23 Jason Panella

Jason Panella

    "I like the quiet."

  • Member
  • 3,671 posts

Posted 16 August 2010 - 10:52 PM

I don't find "religious" people, like staunch Calvinists, to be fakers either. But I do think in their laser beam zeal for doctrine, they have a tendency to overlook far weightier matters. By all means, have convictions about pet doctrines but have some sense of proportionality.

I'm reminded of the Calvinist who joyfully cornered me in a five points debate at a church picnic once, while his poor, frantic wife was left to chase their two young children around the entire time. This is "religion" in my experience. It's not fake at all, it just has a tendency to think of itself as far more important than it really is.


I sympathize, Greg (and I'm a Calvinist!)

That said, I did want to add my two cents (something Steve and Christian noted, I believe) — everyone has different definitions of the words, but most of the folks I've chatted with that label themselves "spiritual, not religious" (which, I might add, is a fairly popular option on Facebook) tend to fall into the "like, I believe there's a god, I think, and it wants me to be happy, like, right?" category. Broad strokes, sure, but it tends to be just as much as a red flag to me as the people who slap me upside the head with doctrinal arguments.

#24 Greg P

Greg P

    Episcopi Vagantes

  • Member
  • 1,739 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 07:27 AM

That said, I did want to add my two cents (something Steve and Christian noted, I believe) — everyone has different definitions of the words, but most of the folks I've chatted with that label themselves "spiritual, not religious" (which, I might add, is a fairly popular option on Facebook) tend to fall into the "like, I believe there's a god, I think, and it wants me to be happy, like, right?" category. Broad strokes, sure, but it tends to be just as much as a red flag to me as the people who slap me upside the head with doctrinal arguments.


I agree. "Spiritual" in our culture is usually nothing more than flabby Oprah-speak for "I believe whatever suits me".

However, I think our own(and by "our" I mean specifically A&F folk) definition would be a little different. I prefer to think of being spiritual as being conscientious of the insignificant, invisible details of life. Someone who is spiritual is going to be keenly self-aware and able to recognize selfish behavior in themselves as well as see the good in others around them. They're also going to recognize God's hand in the mundane.

Edited by Greg P, 17 August 2010 - 07:40 AM.


#25 Andy Whitman

Andy Whitman

    Member

  • Member
  • 3,238 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:10 AM

That said, I did want to add my two cents (something Steve and Christian noted, I believe) — everyone has different definitions of the words, but most of the folks I've chatted with that label themselves "spiritual, not religious" (which, I might add, is a fairly popular option on Facebook) tend to fall into the "like, I believe there's a god, I think, and it wants me to be happy, like, right?" category. Broad strokes, sure, but it tends to be just as much as a red flag to me as the people who slap me upside the head with doctrinal arguments.


I agree. "Spiritual" in our culture is usually nothing more than flabby Oprah-speak for "I believe whatever suits me".

However, I think our own(and by "our" I mean specifically A&F folk) definition would be a little different. I prefer to think of being spiritual as being conscientious of the insignificant, invisible details of life. Someone who is spiritual is going to be keenly self-aware and able to recognize selfish behavior in themselves as well as see the good in others around them.

I think these are useful distinctions. Outside the Christian Church, those who label themselves as "spiritual" tend to hold to the vague, flabby convictions that Jason notes. But within the Church, my experience has been that those who would label themselves as "spiritual" rather than "religious" are essentially equating "religious" with "Pharisaical"; obsessed with outward form and appearance, holding to the letter of the law while missing the spirit of the law, etc.

Some of this may be a carryover from the Jesus Freak days. To quote an old Ed Raetzloff song, "I went to see my baby to tell her what I'd found/But when she heard I had religion she was nowhere around/Religion didn't help me, it didn't do a thing/I was dealin' with the system now I'm dealin' with the King." Certainly that was a prevalent view among those who had experienced radical, life-changing (or at least so they thought until old, persistent sin issues showed up again; raises hand here) conversions. But religion was for the lukewarm pew sitters who went to church because it led to an upstanding image at the Rotary Club, and who joined churches when they were running for political office and dropped out of sight just as soon as the election was over. To be fair, there was reason to be cynical. But to be equally fair, the righteous (and self-righteous) Jesus Freaks discovered their own hypocrisies soon enough.

But to this day I'd much rather hang out with spiritual people than religious people, even when the religious people share my basic convictions. I am less and less concerned with doctrine or the outward distinctive forms of the various Christian tribes and more and more concerned with how people relate to one another, particularly their families and their enemies. I want to be a person characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. I'm not convinced that the tribal distinctives can help me with any of that, and I need help. I'd like to be a spiritual person. I'd like to say that I can take or leave the religion, but I can't. I'll take it because I have no other choice but to live out my spiritual life in the context of a historical Christian tradition. But it's not where my focus is.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 17 August 2010 - 08:16 AM.


#26 Greg P

Greg P

    Episcopi Vagantes

  • Member
  • 1,739 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:30 AM

But to this day I'd much rather hang out with spiritual people than religious people, even when the religious people share my basic convictions. I am less and less concerned with doctrine or the outward distinctive forms of the various Christian tribes and more and more concerned with how people relate to one another, particularly their families and their enemies. I want to be a person characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. I'm not convinced that the tribal distinctives can help me with any of that, and I need help. I'd like to be a spiritual person.

Amen to this.

#27 Christian

Christian

    Member

  • Moderator
  • 10,703 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:32 AM

Tribalism is a big problem in our culture in general, not just in religious circles. But ultimately, people who make distinctions in what they believe are just that -- distinctive. That doesn't mean they're the problem. They can be problematic in how they live out those distinctives, but it's not a prerequisite that "religious" people who hold to doctrinal distinctives are inherently problematic.

I think Andy would agree with that statement, but I felt like I needed to make it.

Andy seems to be saying that personal struggles with sin trump doctrinal statements. But those statements tell us how to deal with sin -- how to identify it, confess it, and by God's grace, overcome it. These aren't us-vs.-them statements, although they've been used that way. But note that Andy isn't pointing to these doctrinal statements, only to those who have lived them out in ways that might be inappropriate.

It's important to acknowledge how people fail in their spiritual lives, but that's a failure of application of doctrine, not of doctrine itself. Unless he's blaming the doctrines, in which case, I'd like to know which ones he has a problem with. But that might be a topic for a different thread. It's a can of worms.

Edited by Christian, 17 August 2010 - 08:33 AM.


#28 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 8,931 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:40 AM

But to this day I'd much rather hang out with spiritual people than religious people

But would you necessarily rather hang out with people who say "I'm spiritual but not religious" than religious people?

#29 SDG

SDG

    Catholic deflector shield

  • Moderator
  • 8,931 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 08:55 AM

That would be my first stab at distinguishing between "religious" and "spiritual": To be "spiritual" means to seek fulfillment in relation to unseen or ultimate reality, or to supra-mundane ideas or values, apart from any authoritative guidance from a received system of tradition and religious hierarchy, while to be "religious" means to seek the same goods through the authoritative guidance of a received system of tradition and religious hierarchy.

Note that the "religious" ethos presupposes fidelity as a cardinal virtue: You will find the way above all by being faithful. The assumed cardinal virtue of the "spiritual" ethos is personal authenticity: You will find the way above all by being true to yourself.

To put a positive spin on "religion," and prescinding here from anything specifically Catholic or even Christian, it seems to me that a meaningful, sustained faith or spirituality of any form must find concrete expression in the regular practice of what I am going to call, with certain caveats, symbolic devotional acts.

Building on what I wrote in my first two posts above, I think it's a mistake to think of "religion" primarily in terms of "doctrinal distinctives." Doctrine, and belief in doctrine, has not historically been a defining component of religious adherence. The Judeo-Christian tradition has laid great stress on faith, but outside of that tradition faith is not nearly as important an idea. (Hindus have not historically been urged, I think, to believe in doctrines as a key part of being good Hindus.)

Rather, I think that the key distinction between being "religious" vs. being "spiritual" has to do with corporate adherence to a received tradition (which has as much or more to do with ritual and symbolic distinctives as any "doctrinal" distinctives) vs. individualistic pursuit of one's own path, often with little or nothing in the way of ritual and symbolic distinctives, or perhaps without any distinctives at all.

Edited by SDG, 17 August 2010 - 08:55 AM.


#30 Andy Whitman

Andy Whitman

    Member

  • Member
  • 3,238 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 09:58 AM

Tribalism is a big problem in our culture in general, not just in religious circles. But ultimately, people who make distinctions in what they believe are just that -- distinctive. That doesn't mean they're the problem. They can be problematic in how they live out those distinctives, but it's not a prerequisite that "religious" people who hold to doctrinal distinctives are inherently problematic.

I think Andy would agree with that statement, but I felt like I needed to make it.

Andy seems to be saying that personal struggles with sin trump doctrinal statements. But those statements tell us how to deal with sin -- how to identify it, confess it, and by God's grace, overcome it. These aren't us-vs.-them statements, although they've been used that way. But note that Andy isn't pointing to these doctrinal statements, only to those who have lived them out in ways that might be inappropriate.

It's important to acknowledge how people fail in their spiritual lives, but that's a failure of application of doctrine, not of doctrine itself. Unless he's blaming the doctrines, in which case, I'd like to know which ones he has a problem with. But that might be a topic for a different thread. It's a can of worms.

I agree with everything you've written, Christian. Certainly the doctrines aren't the problem, per se. But there is a species of Christian -- and I am part of this peculiar people -- that is prone to substitute knowing the right thing for doing the right thing. And certain configurations of Christian tribes seem to cater to that species. I need to avoid these places like the biblical plagues, of which I can name all ten.

You're absolutely correct that there is not a dichotomy here, and that doctrine, when rightly emphasized, can and should lead to sanctified lives. All I can tell you is that it didn't work that way for me, and my anecdotal evidence is that it doesn't work for many people. I also believe that the distinctives, when held lightly and in humility, can be wonderful and life-giving things. Again, sometimes that happens, sometimes not. My primary issue with a focus on doctrine and denominational distinctives is that it's not that difficult. The gospel is good news at least partly because it is simple enough for little children to grasp. It's just very, very hard to live out the implications. And I want and need to be in a church environment where that is the focus -- how to live it out, not what to believe. I've pretty much experienced the gamut of what to believe within Christianity and have been membered in Catholic, Jesus Freak non-denom, Protestant mainline, and crazy charismatic churches, not to mention a brief flirtation with Orthodoxy. They've all been good experiences at times and utterly insufficient. And they've all been focused on their own little idiosyncracies and somewhat out of touch with what it means to change from deep down inside, slowly, over a lifetime. Of course, I am to blame here too. I wanted quick change, or, more relevantly to this discussion, I wanted to get lost in all the distinctives and doctrinal hair-splitting and not really deal with the deeper issues that needed to be addressed.

Obviously people experience healing and wholeness and genuinely become more Christlike in any and every church tradition. More power to them all. God bless you, every one. Seriously. But my theological distinctives these days are fairly straightforward. God, help me to be less of a jerk, to love my family, to love all those with whom I come in contact, including asshole bosses, to trust you in those areas where my mind screams out that you're not in control and that I am, and to constantly surrender my life to you. That's about it.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 17 August 2010 - 09:59 AM.


#31 Ryan H.

Ryan H.

    Riding the crest of a wave breaking just west of Hollywood

  • Member
  • 5,370 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 10:12 AM

You're absolutely correct that there is not a dichotomy here, and that doctrine, when rightly emphasized, can and should lead to sanctified lives. All I can tell you is that it didn't work that way for me, and my anecdotal evidence is that it doesn't work for many people.

Good doctrine won't necessarily lead to sanctified lives. Good doctrine has to be fully believed. A half-hearted assent won't take us anywhere. But good doctrine is, nevertheless, quite necessary, if only to distinguish from bad doctrine, which, in my experience, leads to bad places.

And I want and need to be in a church environment where that is the focus -- how to live it out, not what to believe.

But what to believe and how we live it out are inextricably related. It's not an either/or. It's a both/and.

God, help me to be less of a jerk, to love my family, to love all those with whom I come in contact, including asshole bosses, to trust you in those areas where my mind screams out that you're not in control and that I am, and to constantly surrender my life to you. That's about it.

I wish I could cling to something as simple as that. Unfortunately, my life is rarely that simple.

Edited by Ryan H., 17 August 2010 - 10:13 AM.


#32 Andy Whitman

Andy Whitman

    Member

  • Member
  • 3,238 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 10:35 AM

You're absolutely correct that there is not a dichotomy here, and that doctrine, when rightly emphasized, can and should lead to sanctified lives. All I can tell you is that it didn't work that way for me, and my anecdotal evidence is that it doesn't work for many people.

Good doctrine won't necessarily lead to sanctified lives. Good doctrine has to be fully believed. A half-hearted assent won't take us anywhere. But good doctrine is, nevertheless, quite necessary, if only to distinguish from bad doctrine, which, in my experience, leads to bad places.

Oh, I fully believed it. But that was part of the problem. I don't know if I was consciously taught this, but I certainly came to believe that salvation was a matter of believing the right things. This was, in fact, how I defined faith. And I could go down the doctrinal checklist, align it with the Nicene, Apostles and Athanasian Creeds, and verify my orthodoxy. Whoopee. Anybody got any coke? One could question whether I really believed those doctrines if they didn't have any real impact on my life, but I would absolutely assert that I absolutely did. My beliefs were impeccable, and I made damn sure that they were, too. I would have punched you if you would have accused me of not believing the right things. That's how sure I was. God have mercy.

And I want and need to be in a church environment where that is the focus -- how to live it out, not what to believe.

But what to believe and how we live it out are inextricably related. It's not an either/or. It's a both/and.


You would think.

God, help me to be less of a jerk, to love my family, to love all those with whom I come in contact, including asshole bosses, to trust you in those areas where my mind screams out that you're not in control and that I am, and to constantly surrender my life to you. That's about it.

I wish I could cling to something as simple as that. Unfortunately, my life is rarely that simple.

I can make my life extremely complicated. I'm not imputing this tendency to you, Ryan, but typically when I do so it's a sign that I'm not loving and trusting God as I should.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 17 August 2010 - 10:37 AM.


#33 Ryan H.

Ryan H.

    Riding the crest of a wave breaking just west of Hollywood

  • Member
  • 5,370 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 10:44 AM

Oh, I fully believed it.

If it wasn't manifested in action, then it isn't full belief. Belief, Biblically understood, is not just intellectual assent, no matter how firm that intellectual assent may be. As James writes: "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?"

You would think.

I've seen the "both/and" I speak of in practice. I've known a great many Christian who don't have it together, but the Christians who do do tend to have concrete theological distinctives of their own (even if they're not distinctives that I would claim for myself).

I can make my life extremely complicated. I'm not imputing this tendency to you, Ryan, but typically when I do so it's a sign that I'm not loving and trusting God as I should.

The complications I speak of rarely have to do with my own choices. Of course, I often create problems for myself, but I am also frequently presented with difficult, challening situations that I hadn't the slightest hand in creating.

Edited by Ryan H., 17 August 2010 - 10:50 AM.


#34 Andy Whitman

Andy Whitman

    Member

  • Member
  • 3,238 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 10:51 AM

Oh, I fully believed it.

If it wasn't manifested in action, then it isn't full belief. Belief, Biblically understood, is not just intellectual assent, no matter how firm that intellectual assent may be. As James writes: "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?"

Sure. But welcome to one of the fun implications of Evangelicalism. Luther never liked that "right strawy book," by the way.

#35 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 29,300 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 10:53 AM

Andy Whitman wrote:
: The gospel is good news at least partly because it is simple enough for little children to grasp. It's just very, very hard to live out the implications. And I want and need to be in a church environment where that is the focus -- how to live it out, not what to believe.

I dunno. This sounds to me like the evangelical emphasis on Lowest Common Denominator Christianity -- and it seems to me that the "I'm spiritual but not religious" crowd has simply pushed that kind of thinking even further, to what they perceive as an even lower common denominator.

I'm also not convinced that "little children" can "grasp" the gospel. A few basic points, perhaps. But a lot of the stuff we teach our kids to get them through these early stages of cognitive development need to be unlearned at a later stage (do we teach our children about historical-critical scholarship, or do we just tell them the basic stories of Adam and Eve, or of Jesus and the apostles, and save the critical thinking for later?). And of course there are deeper mysteries, such as the Trinity, that they can only begin to plumb as they get older. As time goes on, we need to take our kids deeper into the faith, not keep things simple and superficial. And, as with our kids, so with us.

BTW, you may think my comment about Adam and Eve is a troll-ish tangent. But I've got three kids between the ages of 2 and 4 right now, and one of the things I'm dealing with right now is how to introduce them to the basic gospel narrative -- and "the Fall", whether understood literally or metaphorically, is a pretty big element in that story.

#36 Greg P

Greg P

    Episcopi Vagantes

  • Member
  • 1,739 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 10:59 AM

But what to believe and how we live it out are inextricably related. It's not an either/or. It's a both/and.

Not necessarily. Most denominational distinctives and niche religious beliefs have almost no real bearing on how we treat our neighbor. If anything, those distinctives have a tendency to magnify human weakness and obscure the more important matters of daily life.

Just to be clear: by distinctives i mean things like modes of baptism, contraception, predestination, speculation about details of the afterlife, perpetuity of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, eschatology and the like. Any discussion about being "religious" almost inevitably drag in one or more of these peripheral elements. And from my perspective, none of those distinctives have any behavioral impact on how one loves their neighbor.

I also believe that the distinctives, when held lightly and in humility, can be wonderful and life-giving things. Again, sometimes that happens, sometimes not...

I like that. I for one, am a conditionalist and annihilationist. I do not believe in the soul's natural state of immortality. I also believe hell will be the absolute cessation of being. SDG and I batted this one around several years ago. I think the traditional views on hell and judgment do violence to the scriptures and to some degree, the nature of God. I have been very passionate on the topic(s) in the past. But the fact is, ultimately, I don't think for one minute that God is concerned about how any of us view the issue... unless of course it causes us to become less charitable to our neighbor, in which case it has now become an obstruction to "true religion" (spirituality). I find that when I engage others on issues like this, I become less charitable to others and more focused on religious posturing.

Edited by Greg P, 17 August 2010 - 11:22 AM.


#37 Ryan H.

Ryan H.

    Riding the crest of a wave breaking just west of Hollywood

  • Member
  • 5,370 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 11:18 AM

Most denominational distinctives and niche religious beliefs have almost no real bearing on how we treat our neighbor. If anything, those distinctives have a tendency to magnify human weakness and obscure the more important matters of daily life.

For what it's worth, I wasn't necessarily speaking of denominational distinctives as much as I was thinking of the broader category of theology/doctrine, which is what I'd suspected the conversation had shifted towards. Even so, I can think of some denominational distinctives that do effect how I treat my neighbor. Such as the question, "Should I defend myself against an attacker?" And I'd offer that some of the denominational distinctions you specifically mention do have implications for how we behave towards our neighbor. They're not always direct or obvious, but they're there.

Edited by Ryan H., 17 August 2010 - 11:29 AM.


#38 Andy Whitman

Andy Whitman

    Member

  • Member
  • 3,238 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 11:37 AM

Andy Whitman wrote:
: The gospel is good news at least partly because it is simple enough for little children to grasp. It's just very, very hard to live out the implications. And I want and need to be in a church environment where that is the focus -- how to live it out, not what to believe.

I dunno. This sounds to me like the evangelical emphasis on Lowest Common Denominator Christianity -- and it seems to me that the "I'm spiritual but not religious" crowd has simply pushed that kind of thinking even further, to what they perceive as an even lower common denominator.

I'm also not convinced that "little children" can "grasp" the gospel. A few basic points, perhaps. But a lot of the stuff we teach our kids to get them through these early stages of cognitive development need to be unlearned at a later stage (do we teach our children about historical-critical scholarship, or do we just tell them the basic stories of Adam and Eve, or of Jesus and the apostles, and save the critical thinking for later?). And of course there are deeper mysteries, such as the Trinity, that they can only begin to plumb as they get older. As time goes on, we need to take our kids deeper into the faith, not keep things simple and superficial. And, as with our kids, so with us.

BTW, you may think my comment about Adam and Eve is a troll-ish tangent. But I've got three kids between the ages of 2 and 4 right now, and one of the things I'm dealing with right now is how to introduce them to the basic gospel narrative -- and "the Fall", whether understood literally or metaphorically, is a pretty big element in that story.

Loving God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves is deep Christianity. It doesn't get any more profound than that. Or any more difficult. I have known far too many Christians, myself included, who can dot their doctrinal i's and cross their doctrinal t's, and who are supremely selfish jerks, emotionally clueless about their impact on others, arrogant and judgmental, and consumed by culture wars that make them look spiteful, whiney, or both. Who wants to sign up for that tribe? Not me, and I'm sympathetic to the cause. I can't imagine why non-Christians would give them the time of day.

It's just not that difficult to understand. Die to yourself, and live for Christ. Love those with whom you come in contact. This isn't lowest-common-denominator Christianity. It is Christianity. And if it isn't happening then you're not much of a Christian, regardless of your (using "you" in a generic sense, and not in any way directed to the specific "you" who is Peter) understanding of doctrinal nuance and denominational tradition. Getting back to the original issue, this is the difference in many peoples' minds between religion and spirituality. I've had enough of religion.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 17 August 2010 - 11:39 AM.


#39 M. Leary

M. Leary

    Member

  • Member
  • 5,417 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 12:23 PM

I've had enough of religion.


I understand the sentiment. But the more I teach in the religious studies field, the more I realize that even on a case by case basis, spirituality will always be expressed in terms that can only be defined as religious. One may think that they are shedding the visible and traditional trappings of religion for a purer form of spirituality, but that never actually occurs. We can only really trade one form of religion for another. (Put differently, anything you are currently doing in the name of spirituality, someone else is doing in the name of religion.)

You say: "Die to yourself, and live for Christ. Love those with whom you come in contact. This isn't lowest-common-denominator Christianity. It is Christianity." And I think this is at the essence of what the New Testament teaches. But what you have proclaimed here is something intensely religious. It is steeped in the specificity of traditional Christian language. It is an injunction to behave a certain way based on the assumption of a given mythical/historical reality. It is an exclusive claim that other expressions of Christianity aren't as legitimate as the one that you have described. You were just doing religion in that very statement. And even worse, the very claim that what you describe is Christianity smacks of the inhospitable exclusivity of the Christian fundamentalism that I assume you would also reject.

I have no qualms with considering myself religious because I consciously and unconsciously do religious things on a daily basis. I practice the rituals, celebrate the rites of passage, and converse fluently in the social and doctrinal language that is characteristic of historic and contemporary Christianity. While I am aware that other people have sacred and spiritual experiences by means of different ritualistic practices and thought patterns, I can't divorce my own from the concrete forms they obtain in time and space - which are those of Christianity.

Edited by M. Leary, 17 August 2010 - 12:42 PM.


#40 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,018 posts

Posted 17 August 2010 - 12:33 PM

But within the Church, my experience has been that those who would label themselves as "spiritual" rather than "religious" are essentially equating "religious" with "Pharisaical"; obsessed with outward form and appearance, holding to the letter of the law while missing the spirit of the law, etc.

I'd say this what "religious" means to a large number of people, believer and nonbeliever alike. I think the apostle Paul would describe that (and did) as "false religion," but if you've had a bad experience in a church (over 90% of non-church-attending people?), then I understand why you frown on "organized religion." Thing is, if you read the gospels, Christ had a problem with the "organized religion" of his day. When your religion starts becoming about following a list of rules, you no longer have Christianity. 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.

Building on what I wrote in my first two posts above, I think it's a mistake to think of "religion" primarily in terms of "doctrinal distinctives." ... Rather, I think that the key distinction between being "religious" vs. being "spiritual" has to do with corporate adherence to a received tradition (which has as much or more to do with ritual and symbolic distinctives as any "doctrinal" distinctives) vs. individualistic pursuit of one's own path, often with little or nothing in the way of ritual and symbolic distinctives, or perhaps without any distinctives at all.

It was a revelatory moment for me when I realised this. SDG is right, religion does not mean having to follow rules or "doctrinal distinctives" but is instead associating yourself with a "corporate adherence to a received tradition." Again, I think it was Chesterton who said that ignoring tradition is flat out ignoring thousands of years of wisdom collected by fellow believers. Any ritual like baptism or communion is both based upon doctrine and actually affects you spiritually - it is impossible to divest yourself of that without losing Christianity altogether. Believers were given certain commands in the New Testament basically to practice certain traditions.

My primary issue with a focus on doctrine and denominational distinctives is that it's not that difficult. The gospel is good news at least partly because it is simple enough for little children to grasp. It's just very, very hard to live out the implications. And I want and need to be in a church environment where that is the focus -- how to live it out, not what to believe.

The main problem is simply that a church environment where living out the gospel is the focus is impossible without getting the essentials of doctrine right. Complaining about Christians fighting over doctrinal distinctions is tedious, not because there isn't a understandable reason to complain, but because distinctions in doctrine make or break Christianity. Tiny little things like whether Christ is God or god make a huge difference - essentially in how you are going to live out the gospel.

Most denominational distinctives and niche religious beliefs have almost no real bearing on how we treat our neighbor. If anything, those distinctives have a tendency to magnify human weakness and obscure the more important matters of daily life.

Just to be clear: by distinctives i mean things like modes of baptism, contraception, predestination, speculation about details of the afterlife, perpetuity of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, eschatology and the like. Any discussion about being "religious" almost inevitably drag in one or more of these peripheral elements. And from my perspective, none of those distinctives have any behavioral impact on how one loves their neighbor.

This seems to be one of the main points of contention here. On the contrary, little distinctions in doctrine have a powerful bearing on how we treat our neighbor. For example, the way I explain the gospel to someone is entirely affected by what I believe about predestination. The witness I give to nonbelievers is a night and day difference if I'm focused on using miraculous gifts like tongues or casting out demons to try and reach them, instead of the message of Christ. My confidence in the gospel is vastly affected if I believe even my chances for whether I believe in Christianity or not are actually affected by whether my parents sprinkled water over me as a baby. Sure, you can get what you believe about God wrong, and, without thinking your beliefs through to their logical conclusion, still actively love your neighbor. In fact, you can get important doctrine wrong and act better towards others than many of those who have their doctrine right. But that doesn't excuse not thinking about it - or saying that it doesn't really matter.

I know a large number of kindly, loving Christian people who, because they get, oh say a few theological distinctions on temporal government wrong, say and do things in the public square that I believe significantly hurt how many nonbelievers view the gospel. This doesn't mean that they aren't still kind and loving people. This also doesn't mean that their theological errors don't turn a large number of nonbelievers away from Christ. So, if it's possible to love your neighbor and believe the right things about God, there is no reason whatsoever not to do both. This is why I still call myself religious. Regardless of all my bad experiences in church, I affirm orthodox Christianity down it it's last trivial doctrine and tradition, because it all does really matter.