Spiritual AND Religious

The fastest growing religious group in America is “none.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that people are en masse losing their faith in God. What it means is that people are choosing to become more private in their faith—they believe in God, but not the church. The way that this is most often expressed is someone will say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Of course, being “spiritual” can mean anything from believing in a mystic oneness with the life-force in nature (as in Avatar) or it can mean holding fairly orthodox beliefs about Jesus sans any connection to a church or faith group. Spiritual, but not religious. Kinda catchy, isn’t it?

It is also very postmodern. And very self-centered. One with spiritual beliefs that are uninformed by an external authority (Bible) or spiritual family (the church) is basically free to pick and choose the religious concepts that fit him or her at the moment. There is no obedience or discipline. There is only what makes me feel good right now, a Burger King religion that lets me have it my own way. The “organized religion” that we know as “church” has indeed spent too much time in the past arguing over intramural issues that really don’t amount to much. But at its best, the church encourages and emboldens us to be better than we would be if left free to choose to do what we want. As Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life at Smith College in Massachusetts, puts it--

Hymn-singing, forms of prayer and worship, teachings about social justice and forgiveness-- all these things are valuable elements of religious wisdom. Piecing it together by yourself can be done, but with great difficulty.

We need the church to teach, inform and encourage us. Or as Paul put it, “Reprove, rebuke and exhort.” Has it been true that many Christians in the past have settled for a religiosity of external rituals without a true focus on God or serving others? Sure, they were wrong. But what about the (post)modern spiritual guru who wants picks and choose religious concepts a la carte based on what best seems to fit at the moment? Well, they are wrong too. Amos condemned the Jews who pointed to their external religion without any life commitment. But Malachi condemned the Jews who had no problem at all with hearts mixed with idolatry but who didn’t show proper respect to God in offering their tithes and offerings.

It seems that God wants us to be both spiritual and religious.