In Theory: 'Spiritual but not religious' community is growing

LA Canada

The "I'm spiritual but not religious" community is growing, according to a blog post by CNN writer John Blake. It is growing so much, the blogger writes, one pastor has compared it to a "movement." In a 2009 survey by the research firm LifeWay Christian Resources, 72% of people 18 to 29 consider themselves "more spiritual than religious." Some say the phrase hints at egotism: "If it's just you and God in your room, and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?" asks one Jesuit priest. What do you think? What exactly does being "spiritual but not religious" mean, and could there be hidden dangers in living such a life?

I generally avoid CNN when looking for objective truth, regarding spiritual matters in particular. But I must say that John Blake's June 4 article was refreshing, candid and helpful. As I engage in spiritual conversations with the good people of Montrose, everyone, it seems, calls themselves — spiritual but not religious. I humbly confess I find this label increasingly irritating. That is why I am delighted this timely question has been posed.

As I understand it, the word "spiritual" has somehow come to be associated with a private realm of thought and experience, while the word "religious" has come to be connected with the public realm of membership in religious institutions, participation in formal rituals and adherence to official denominational doctrines.

I have only enough space to be uncharacteristically blunt. The spiritual but not religious folks I know are at least three things:

First, if those in the spiritual but not religious crowd are anything, they are alone. They have to be. The minute they unite with other like-minded irreligious people, they've created a church or perhaps an "un-church" and, hence, a new religion. A lone ranger approach to God is doomed from the start. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, the very first word he taught them was plural, our. "Our Father who art in heaven." Spirituality is something we do together. One of my favorite things about the Christian journey is that it forces me to walk with others. I am richer for it.

Second, how does a spiritual but not religious person measure his own spiritual progress? By what measure could this person ever be called successful or devout? The only measure is self. Most of us abhor self-righteous people. Self-righteousness has its own unmistakable scent. Jesus was blistering in his attack on the self-righteous of his day. God opposes the proud but exalts the humble.

Third, spiritual but not religious people are unaccountable. They bow the knee to no one except themselves or a god of their own making. Consider this: The goal of religion is spirituality, but the goal of spirituality is righteousness. Is your self-fulfilling private spiritual journey accomplishing anything noble, holy or sacrificial in your life or does it exist solely to make you feel better in a world created by the one to whom we must all give an account? Spiritual but not religious only makes sense to those with a self-made god.

The REV. JON T. KARN is pastor of Light on the Corner Church in Montrose. Reach him at (818) 249-4806.

Religions are distinguished as paths upon which one may encounter the transcendent — that which is greater than we (by whatever name it may be called).

Each religious path is paved with its own unique history, songs, values, prayers, rites of passage and rituals believed to facilitate such encounters, which are considered to be "spiritual" in nature.

For many, the religious path and spiritual journey are one and the same. But for those who have been excluded from their religious path or otherwise hurt by religion, who object to the proven or potential corruptions within religion, the spiritual journey may involve studying/walking the road map of many religions, or of secular wisdom; it may involve forging one's own path.

Since encountering the transcendent tends to inspire service to humanity and all of creation, those walking the path of religion are often well situated, if/when that actually happens, to join forces with those on the same path — in ways that foster accountability, are socially/environmentally necessary, deeply meaningful and personally transformational.

Those walking self-chosen paths and fortunate enough to meet the transcendent upon them can and usually choose to do likewise.

But it may take a little more work to identify how and with whom to best put their spiritual insights into action.

Unitarian Universalism's solution is to be a religion offering and encouraging a diverse range of paths for the spiritual journey, as well as many, many vital opportunities for service to that which is larger than we.

It is not uncommon to hear that such shared service is precisely where the transcendent is discovered.

The REV. STEFANIE ETZBACH-DALE is minister of Unitarian Universalist Church of Verdugo Hills in La Crescenta. Reach her at (818) 248-3954.

Jesus Christ came to establish a church, that is a community of people who hear his word, heed it and announce it to the world. Jesus said: "Go out to all the world, preaching my word and baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Paul said: "We are the Body of Christ. That means that we are baptized into Christ's Body and have the support of the entire community while at the same time offering ourselves and our talents for the benefit of the community."

In the Catholic faith we have just celebrated the feast of the Blessed Trinity. The Trinity, three persons in one God, is the ultimate model of unity in community.

We are called to a Trinitarian life, a spirituality that is intrinsically linked to others. All of us, many and diverse though we are, are one in Christ and celebrate our unity in Trinitarian community.

Christ also taught us that the way we treat one another is the way we treat him.

This shows us that he is present in community and is the foundation of community. "When I was hungry you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink " And he concluded that: "Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there in their midst."

It seems that a relationship with Christ outside of community is impossible. We are linked to one another in him.

Our spirituality is founded on this link that comes about through baptism and continues throughout our Trinitarian life together.

The REV. RICHARD ALBARANO is pastor of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Burbank. Reach him at (818) 504-4400. I believe there are many differences between being religious and spiritual.

While this particular article focuses on potential egotism and how spirituality alone may cut one off from the community of believers, which are biblically mandated, I do see a different side to this question.

Scripture does tell us not to abstain from meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). There is absolute truth in "doing life together" through organized religion. We were created for reciprocating relationships, and there is a health to having a support system within one's church community to share burdens with and help one another in times of stress and suffering.

My view on the difference between religion and spirituality has been more with the matter of: Does one practice a personal relationship with God, or do they practice legalistic, religious and ritualistic ceremonial practices? Religious practice or ceremonial acts, in and of themselves, can simply be going through the motions. This is the "religion" I find unhealthy.

People will take part in the Eucharist, confess sins to priests and perform other ritualistic acts that may have little to do with the condition of their heart — or how they live once they leave the church edifice. This type of "religion" can be unhealthy because it has little to do with repentance, personal relationship, the position of man's heart, or moral convictions or practices. Life can be lived in sin and set aside as one steps through church doors, only to be resumed as they step out. Religion can have no effect on one's heart and life. This is where the spirituality component comes in.

If spirituality means having a deep personal relationship with God that changes life and behavior — this is positive. But to take spirituality and turn it inward where it only includes you and God — and does not extend to helping or worshiping with our fellow man — discounts the very intent the Bible has placed before us. Spirituality and religion are not meant to be practiced alone, but within community, working life out in fellowship, accountability and support.

The spiritual piece is simply a worldview within those parameters.

The REV. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN is a marriage and family therapist at La Vie Counseling Center in Pasadena. Reach her at (626) 351-9616, Ext. 181, or by e-mail at kimberlie. At Unity Church of the Valley, we believe that "all paths lead to God the One Power and One Presence."

Every Sunday morning, in our opening prayer we pray for the success, well being and the highest good for all houses of worship, knowing that every path will lead to a greater realization of the One Power and Presence, by whatever name it is called.

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, in his book "The Revealing Word: A Dictionary of Metaphysical Terms," defines spirituality as: "The consciousness that relates man directly to his Father-God. It is quickened and grows through prayer and other forms of religious thought and worship. "It may appear that with the terms "spirituality" and "religious" we are splitting hairs. I believe that what people mean when they describe themselves as "spiritual" is that they are looking for a connection with their Higher Power or Divine Mind. They feel a part of the unity of all life, accepting the belief that the Life Force is God expressing through all forms of life: human, animal, plant, mineral, etc.

A "spiritual" approach to life is inclusive. It puts the responsibility upon the individual for their own spiritual growth and happiness. Spirituality holds to the belief that everyone is a spiritual being, that everyone is a child of God, that all humans are spiritual beings having an earthly experience.

The reference to a "religious" practice or community is one that is more structured, with the priest, nun, pastor or minister being the intermediary between the member of the church and God. In a traditional "religious" setting, confession, the sacrament (bread and wine, or bread and water) and the hymnal have a prominent role.

Can you be both "religious" and "spiritual"? Of course! In the Sunday morning service at Unity, we sing the Lord's Prayer and follow with a brief time of meditation before the lesson.

However you choose to define your practice of personal growth and spiritual enlightenment, know that Divine Love and Wisdom are your constant companions upon the path that leads to the One and that all paths (whether described as spiritual or as religious) have good in them.

The REV. JERI LINN is pastor of Unity Church of the Valley in Montrose. Reach her at (818) 249-4396.

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