Opinions Expressed in "Rants," while informed by Catholic doctrine, are merely the opinions of the author.

I’m Not Religious, I’m Spiritual

I hear lots of people say this: “I don’t consider myself religious, but I’m spiritual.”  Here’s another one: “I like Jesus, I just don’t like the Church.” Heard that one before?

And then I hear some of the of the reactions, from traditionalists, from “active” participants, from priests, SCOFFING, as dismissively and quickly as they can, what these “spiritual flakes” are proclaiming, so they call them.

What’s going on here?  Why do people say this in the first place? 

“I’m spiritual.” When people say this, they mean that they believe in God, although perhaps not by that name – that they seek a relationship with that which is beyond, the ultimate transcendent.  There’s something out there, they say.  And THEY ARE OPEN TO IT.

“But not religious.” They would mean a severing from institutions and organizations, that turn simple faith into doctrines and regulations, set up hierarchies, refuse to tolerate plurality, and so on. 

There are some people who blame religion ALTOGETHER for much of what ails humanity – holy wars, self-righteousness, legalism, intolerance, persecution and discrimination – crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, intifadas, witch hunts, burnings at the stake, etc.

Our “spiritual” friends, on the other hand, who differentiate “spiritual” from “religious,” in my view, are taking a step in the right direction by making their distinction.  It is not faith itself that creates strife, as it historically has so often, but the institutionalization of faith – for it is THERE that the hypocrisy – the separation of the doctrine from the God that gave it – usually creeps in.

Kinda like the “spiritual” Jesus vs. the “religious” Pharisees. 

The “spiritualist” remind us that our faith should be alive, because it’s about a God that is alive – not just a set of rules or doctrines.  The “spiritualists” are the ones who set us on fire, renew the old faith, and make it new once again.

So they have a point; I think, anyway.

So do the people who argue with them, mind you.  Truth is, we can’t have “spiritual” without eventually having “religious”.

The Franciscans are a great example.  They started off as charismatic followers of their charismatic “spiritual” leader, St. Francis of Assisi.  But as more and more followers came along, there became greater risks of people straying from Francis’ original intentions, making their own weird interpretations (although Francis was pretty weird himself), and there were lots of followers too – they needed to be fed, housed, organized.  After not too long, they needed a St. Bonaventure to come along, structure things, make sure they follow certain regulations, make sure they have beds, and make sure the original teachings of St. Francis remain intact.

And make sure their spiritual movement lasts past a few generations.  Make sure their movement lasts for centuries.

And make sure they still dress like Jedis.

In fact, it is because of “religion” that faith can continue to be passed on from one generation to the next.

Without “religion” we will have everybody deciding for themselves what they think God seems to be telling them – one person may believe God is telling them to feed the poor, another to abstain from pork, another to invade Iraq – this is what spirituality WITHOUT religion can yield – the worst kind of relativism, a relativism that is believed divinely ordained and inspired.  This is where FANATICS come from.

Nonetheless, “religious” types need to listen to the “spiritualists” too.  They are the ones who are able to separate doctrinal systematic formulations of the truth from the truth itself – refusing to regiment revealed truth into some human made construct, realizing that “THE TRUTH” is actually beyond human words or symbols, just as is the very name of God (Ex 3).

So, rather than dismiss “spiritual” types as a bunch of non-committal flakes, “religious” types would be smarter to listen to them, even heed their warning – they might have something to teach, to help correct “religious” from making some of their “human precepts” into “divine doctrines” (Mt 15:9), and to re-enliven the faith again, by bringing us back to the roots of what we believe – bringing us back to Jesus.

Here’s a good quote to finish off – apparently Einstein said this: “Religion without spirituality is lame; spirituality without religion is blind.”