Religious CAN be Spiritual

I’m reading the latest issue of “Family Therapy” magazine and there’s an article on the importance of spirituality, especially in recovery. It makes two claims I either find questionable or straight-out disagree with.

1) “Spirituality is not interchangeable with religion” and 2) “Spirituality is not a commodity that is present or absent, or one that is possessed in amount”. Mostly, I dislike the first, but the second is still ripe for discussion, so I want to weigh in on that…

So, first things first. There was a debate recently about a pastor who is sick of the phrase, “spiritual, not religious” because, she said, it didn’t denote or mean anything — other than, perhaps, “I don’t go to church”. Also, in the same category, it seems to me, is a book with a great subtitle. The book is called “Kissing Fish: Christianity for those who don’t like Christianity. I understand both statements and agree with the underlying theme: There are ways to be both religious and spiritual.  Yes, one can seem to be veeeerrrryyyy religious (pious), but not be spiritual (read “nice, loving”) at all. We all know people like that. Unfortunately, they seem to have the biggest TV shows, churches, and egos. One of the reasons I started writing this blog is to combat those people, as I believe Jesus calls us to do. There’s a whole subsection of pieces I’ve written called “Do Your Own Theology” because I believe people can and should know what they believe and why. Further, I trust that they can, even if their church has said otherwise. You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. I think people can and should take the time to do that. That’s what makes good people “spiritual”, it seems to me and it can be true for any church/religion that you might be a member of (Cathi…).

But — and here’s where it bothers me — for centuries now — people have been using religion to find their spirituality. It’s not my cup of tea, but saying the rosary as many times as you can in a day works for many people. I know people who love the Book of Common Prayer and use it as their model of worship. It wasn;t until seminary that my bias against rote prayers went away, not because I like them — I still don’t — but because it clearly does seem beautiful and holy and — dare I say it — spiritual for some people. Saying Zen mantras and sitting under trees for days or months isn’t my practice either, but it works for people. Being saved by Christ isn’t where I put the emphasis in my faith, but it is a part of my faith. In short, because spirituality is a part of all religions that I know of, it can be found using whatever techniques best work for you, and the introduction to spirituality has been — for centuries — through the church. Not going to church, any more than going to church, doesn’t make you a better, kinder person. It doesn’t. If that’s what you mean when you say “I’m spiritual, not religious”, then ok, but I’m not impressed. It just seems to me that you puff yourself up by contrasting yourself with others. That doesn’t work for me, whether you are in the church or not.  I could get into a lengthy discussion of the need for a “community of faith”, but that’s another matter for another time.

Next up is “Spirituality is not a commodity that is present or absent, or one that is possessed in amount”. If, by that, you mean “no one person is more valuable in God’s eyes than another”, I totally agree with you. But that’s a different question than whether or not one has spirituality or not. To say that “some people aren’t more spiritual than others” is like saying “some people aren’t more emotional than others” or “some people aren’t smarter than others”. There are people for whom spirituality just makes sense and others for whom it requires a great deal of work. While Moses saw the burning bush, there are people who would have just thrown water on it and walked away. There are people for whom it wouldn’t speak, and there are people who wouldn’t care if it did.

This is not to say that people who are spiritual or do spirituality for a living(aka clergy) can take credit for that. God is God and the gift is given by God. The burning bush( metaphorically) was there for anybody to see and spiritual people pay attention to it, but they don’t make The Spirit or the spiritual realm exist. They can use spiritual practices to be more focused on it, and they can possess more of it in that sense. Alternatively, God could just come shwack some people on the side of the head and they then possess spirituality.

Clergy are, I believe, qualitatively different than other people. They, through nothing they did, can see and feel that spectrum of life. There are plumbers who have the natural talent to do plumbing and just ‘get it’. This is why I don’t build houses or clean drains. I don’t have any interest in, or sensitivity to, plumbing or any number of skilled trades. My point here is that — just as you should respect anyone else — you should respect clergy and give them their props. They worked hard to get where they are, and they do know God, in my experience.

That doesn’t mean they’re always moral, or always right or that they should be followed blindly. What it does mean is that — on their best days and their worst — they are more aware of the Spirit than your average person.

The “old ways” do work and they do often. They are not the only ways, by any means, but they shouldn’t be  disrespected or judged either.                     







2 thoughts on “Religious CAN be Spiritual

  1. I’ve found that people who call themselves “spiritual” are typically moral relativists. Also, the ones I’ve talked to seem naive- when asked pretty basic religious questions their answers seem to indicate that they really haven’t thought about it much. (And to me, why label yourself as anything at all if you haven’t thought through your position?)

  2. Bob: I agree. It’s not so much “thinking through your position” for me, though. It’s not about “proper” theology, It’s about *believing* in something that makes your life have meaning. If you don’t have that, I agree, why label yourself anything.



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