Making sense of spirituality

February 22, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, Question of the Week, Spiritual or Religious?, Spotlight Answers by Ron McDonald

Spirituality is the personal, deeply felt experience of the Spirit of the Divine in our lives.  It is represented most often in single words like  “Wow!”, “Yes!”, and “No!”  As such, spiritual experience can happen daily, hourly, consecutively.  I see a beautiful sight (“Wow!); I feel compassion (“Oh”); I notice the nice weather (“Yes”); I see injustice (“No!”).

Religion is, at its best, an attempt to make sense of spirituality.  I think that when we use more than one word to describe our spiritual experiences, we are being religious.

Religion at its worst is about social control:  a way to scare people straight, make them feel guilty, set apart the damned from the saved.  When we say “I’m spiritual but not religious,” we are usually referring to our desire to stay away from fearful, judgmental, violent, or anxious religion.

We can, however, use religious or theological language to make better sense of our spirituality, and there are religious communities that truly offer religion that helps make our lives better by helping us name the Divine Spirit.


Spiritual or Religious?

January 17, 2013 in Spiritual or Religious?, The Question by David Waters

Are you spiritual or religious? Does it matter? What’s the difference?


Spiritual freedom

January 14, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, Question of the Week, Spiritual or Religious?, Spotlight Answers by Mitzi Minor

For some, claiming to “be spiritual but not religious” means they intentionally do not identify themselves with any particular tradition or set of beliefs or religious practices. Others indicate that their ultimate goal is deeper communion with God. One consequence of their chosen goal is the freedom to tweak, adapt, or even discard aspects of their tradition if those no longer aid their journey to God. This freedom can be disconcerting to the ones still devoted to those traditions. I hope I may count myself among this group of folks.


True spirit of religion

January 11, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, Question of the Week, Spiritual or Religious?, Spotlight Answers by Sonia Walker

I believe spirituality is a direct connection to the God spirit within. The late Lucie E. Campbell, Memphis hymn writer, penned it in her composition, “Something Within.”  I believe the last words of her refrain capture the essence of what the young are saying, “…Something within I cannot explain, All that I know there is something within.”

On the other hand, religion is external as a composite of rituals and traditions, sometimes inspired by God, and structured by humanity with more emphasis on how to worship God rather than participate in an intimate relationship with God and our spiritual siblings while journeying through life.


Spirituality+Tradition = Religion

January 11, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, Question of the Week, Spiritual or Religious?, Spotlight Answers by Joel Finkelstein

My first priority is to be religious. The discipline of following my religion guides me, it has me in conversation with G-d daily, it brings my family together to thank G-d, to pray to G-d. I hope that this makes me more spiritual, more connected to G-d. A Spirituality which is not connected to religion can become very selfish, about what I find moving or soothing. Religion is about doing the right thing, about creating a framework which works not just for me, but which is part of a community and which I can convey to my children. Spirituality is about what works for me.

I view myself as bearing obligation to do what is right, what G-d wants, and hopefully, doing the G-d driven thing rather than what I would otherwise do, brings me closer to G-d. Being close to G-d is a two-way street; I have to act on what He wants for me, and then I can hope He is close to me. Religion is classically doing what I learn G-d wants me to do. Sometimes spirituality can be doing what I want to do in order to get closer to G-d as I imagine Him. If by spirituality, we mean being close with G-d, ultimately, this should be the goal of religion as well. The difference can be in how we get there. If we want a framework for spirituality, a way to convey spirituality, and a tradition as to how to be spiritual, religion should be the best choice.


Blessed without distinction

January 11, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, Question of the Week, Spiritual or Religious?, Spotlight Answers by Harry K. Danziger

My wife and I say a blessing at every meal because we feel the need to give thanks for our blessings. Some might call that feeling “spiritual”. That we say the specific Hebrew blessing for food might be called “religious”. But the distinction may be of limited meaning.
My concern with the current use of the word “spiritual” is that it seems just to mean “I feel deeply”. My question is: what impact does it have on my actions, my relationships, and my world? In Judaism, we often say that we are what we do, not what we believe or feel. That, to me, is religion.


Words and Acts

January 11, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, Question of the Week, Spiritual or Religious?, Spotlight Answers by Noel Hutchinson

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word spiritual as “relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit”. It defines the word religious as “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity”. A secondary definition is “relating to, or devoted to religious beliefs or observances”.

In this era, the average person, as related to these definitions, sees being spiritual as the religion of his/her choice, and being religious as part of a system of belief. In a real sense, calling oneself ‘spiritual’ reveals a dissatisfaction with organized religion, while giving oneself a level of mystical depth real or imagined. As a Christian, I understand that I am spiritual yet my formation remains incomplete without grounding among other Christians. This would be considered being ‘religious’ for many.

The real issue is a level of dissatisfaction and disconnection from religious institutions. Bad experiences in one’s church, and the influence of polished presentations from powerful media created worship assist in aiding the separation of spirituality from religion when viewing it in this way. Many people use their disconnect to claim a spiritual life that exists merely in theory and absent of application.

Am I spiritual? Or am I religious? I choose to look at this issue another way. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” I believe that the Christian church is in the life transformation business, because the Christian is in a relationship with Jesus Christ. The labels ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’ therefore don’t apply. If the church, then, is a change agent, the pregnant question to be asked is, ‘is the church successful in doing its job’?


Church gathered and scattered

January 11, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, Question of the Week, Spiritual or Religious?, Spotlight Answers by Albert Kirk

Jesus could have created an individualized discipleship but He chose to create a community of disciples, what we know as the church. St. Paul realized at the moment of his conversion that Christ and His Body were inseparable. The great preachers and teachers of the early centuries loved to speak of “the whole Christ,” Head and members.

From a Catholic perspective, you cannot separate personal discipleship (spirituality) from membership in the church.

Yet, in reviewing church history, the Body of Christ has not always had as large an institutional presence as it does at present. It may be wise to hear the implicit critique of those who choose to absent themselves from the life of the church and concentrate on the essentials that bind us together.


Spirituality or substance?

January 11, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, Question of the Week, Spiritual or Religious?, Spotlight Answers by Rick Donlon

Claiming to be spiritual but not religious is like wearing a jogging suit and running shoes but never breaking a sweat. It’s appropriating the superficial aspects of faith without the messy, irreplaceable details. Being merely “spiritual” is lazy and selfish, like a man who would rather indulge in pornography than make love to his wife.

Evil, injustice, suffering and death beg for meaningful answers. Religions make scandalous truth claims about the nature of God, man, creation, and eternity. “Spirituality” offers air.

I’m broken and needy; give me religion with all its fearful weight and strength. I have far more in common with the Jew who affirms that the LORD spoke the Torah on Mt. Sinai or the Muslim who takes the writings of The Prophet seriously than I do with my fellow Protestants who are promoting “spirituality” over the hard truths of our religion.


Spiritual and gospel-centered

January 11, 2013 in Featured Question of the Week, Question of the Week, Spiritual or Religious?, Spotlight Answers by Cole Huffman

If asked whether I am spiritual or religious, I answer yes. I am spiritual where spirituality exults in the supremacy of Jesus as God over all. I am religious where religion emphasizes Jesus’ way, truth, and life as the be-all and end-all of human pursuit and experience before God.

I answer this way because I am also evangelical. Most evangelicals shy away from both designations unhinged from gospel doctrine. Even though Christianity is a world religion, evangelicals ambivalence with “religion/religious” as self-referential goes back 80 years or so to the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the twentieth century. As the Christian consensus of early eras began to atrophy in the American psyche, adjectives attempted greater precision—Bible-believing, soul-winning, creedal, socially-conscientious—but accomplished pigeonholing too. More recently, evangelicals have gone to calling ourselves “gospel-centered” in preference to religious.

Our cognitive dissonance with religion/religious is largely due to our experience of redemption. Because Jesus justifies us before God by grace through faith alone, according to His merits and works, apart from ours, we distance ourselves from what Paul called “self-made religion” (Col. 2:23)—systems and strategies whereby I try to earn my way with God by impressing Him with my good efforts or appeasing Him with Sunday rituals while living autonomously. This is what most evangelicals have come to regard as religion.

The word also has positive usage in Scripture (like James 1:27). But I still balk a little when someone refers to me as religious. I can’t help it given my pedigree, even though I know we evangelicals overreact to the term. “Religion” is a catch-all term in popular usage with connotations we can and cannot affirm. “Spiritual” even more so, although that too can be a perfectly fine word biblically (e.g. 1 Cor. 2:14-16 and Gal. 6:1). But many of the people who consider themselves “spiritual” are essentially just redrawing constellations according to their own “metaphysical dream of the world” (Richard Weaver). The phenomenon of “spiritual, not religious” was critiqued well here: