A lot of people put this division between ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’. I’m not sure when it started, but these days is now a pretty annoying, and trite cliché to inform anyone who has ears, “I’m like, spiritual but not religious.”
Of all the annoying 1960s-nostalgic clichés that make up the furniture of slightly-tipsy dinner party conversation, this one really sticks in my craw. I swear, my jaw visibly twitches and hapless guest unleashes a very pointed discussion about why this statement is not only stupid, but usually, completely hypocritical.
So, we have a hypothetical dinner party, a bottle of wine has been emptied, the last of the main course is being scraped off the plate and conversation takes on a deeper tone that only emerges after the usual inhibitions have been drawn down by mild intoxication and a full belly.
Faith, religion and spirituality come up and at least one person will offer the aforementioned cliché which then takes the conversation down a decidedly more combative route.
First of all, what is the bloody difference between the two? It is quite amazing, that when pressed, the definitions typically provided are flimsier than a straw house and fail accurately describe their perceptions of the meaning of these terms.
I’ll start with ‘spiritual’. Most people would agree to be ‘spiritual’ is to have acknowledge the existence of some form of ‘higher power’, ‘transcendent being’, ‘God’, ‘Jesus’ etc. etc. etc. and *maybe* engage in some form of contemplative/meditative practice that (as defined by the individual) allows them to commune with said deity/force/universe.
‘Religious’ according to people attempting to define it is going to Church on Sunday (or Synagogue on Saturday or Mosque on Friday etc. etc.), praying regular, set prayer’s like the Rosary and working yourself into a lather over [insert any number of right-wing political issues].
If you disagree, tell me in the comments.
Essentially, ‘spiritual’ = human, benign, free-loving and tolerant acknowledgment of a bigger picture. ‘religious’ = dogmatic, dry, intolerant and imposing ritualism.
Well. I call these definitions rubbish. Religion and spirituality are not really separate concepts. If you really wanted to split hairs, you could argue that by ‘spiritual’ you mean the innate, internal desire for transcendent meaning, and by ‘religious’ you mean the physical embodiment in rituals and behaviours that seek to live out this transcendent meaning.
But to my mind, this introduces a completely unnecessary complexity into this discussion. To be spiritual is to be religious, to be religious is to be spiritual.
This “spiritual-but-not-religious” mode is quite detrimentally dualistic. It’s detrimental because it’s ultimately selfish.
Now. Before you click out of here planning to tweet something like “What a judgemental upstart!” (my twitter handle is @Kiara_Caterina FYI). A disclaimer:
I was once this person. I was a stupid teenager that went through a rebellious phase. Since my rebellious phase coincided with me being severely bullied at school and having no friends to do the usual rebellious stuff (like drinking, riding skateboards and swimming at night in salty, tidal environments), I rebelled against my family’s Catholicism. Because I was too smart for EVERYONE WHO EVER LIVED.
I was ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ for a good while. I was a lot happier than being a nihilistic atheist.
But when push came to shove, I was fundamentally a hypocrite. I didn’t practice what I preached. The whole ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ is actually a pretty in-authentic way to live and nurture your soul because it is selfish. It is completely self-centred and lacks any kind of accountability at all. It’s driven by a deep-seated fear of not being in control. “Look, I read every ‘spiritual’ book Oprah has ever recommended and I’m not a murderer, so yeah, I’m good. Urgh, if only these bums would read The Secret, we’d solve homelessness!” (I know, I exaggerate to prove a point).
I am human, I’m flawed and broken. I am not capable of saving my soul from myself. When I tentatively and gradually found my way Catholicism, I not only had high standards to live up to, (1 Corinthians 13 anyone?) but I was incapable of living up to them without A LOT of help. Mercifully, I don’t have to do it on my own. Not only do I have Jesus, I have his physical body in both the Eucharist and in the Church, a community of other flawed and broken human beings to keep me accountable, to pray for me and show you that God loves me when I can’t love myself.
No self-help book can give you that.
I would wager a lot dough that most people who are ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ actually have fairly set rituals. From when and where they pray, meditate or commune to specific texts one must read, to regular, say weekly places they visit to refresh themselves. Yeah… guess what, they are just as religious as ‘those’ people being herded into Sunday Mass (look, we know we’re sheep (see Matthew 18:12-14) so we freaking own it!)).
I joined the Church because I knew ‘being spiritual’ was not enough. The funny thing was, as I got to know more religious people outside my family, I found that the most ‘religious’ people I know, are also among the most profoundly spiritual. They have a deep and loving relationship with God that can actually be seen in the flesh by their actions. They go to Church, not because they love every minute of it, week after week, but because they know their beloved likes to spend quality time with them. Even when their fellow parishioners are dysfunctional and hurtful, they still see their God at work.
Being religious is to be spiritual. You can’t really separate them. Trying to do so will leave a big, fat, and hollow hypocrisy that you will have to square with sometime. But do it sooner rather than later. Don’t wait to find the ‘perfect’ religion, Church, Synagogue, Mosque or Temple. They don’t exist in this life. Find one and try it. Listen to God. He will not lead you astray, even if it takes fifty churches.
I got lucky in I found my home in Catholicism fairly quickly. Actually, I spent most of my spiritual awakening trying to find enough things wrong with Catholicism to justify moving on. But, I couldn’t.
Bottom line is, ‘being spiritual’ is a statement of the fact that you are human. If you want to actually grow in your spirituality, you need religion and you need a religious community to love you, challenge you, drive you crazy, make you laugh and show you how much God love you.
Go and be both, you’re only short-changing your life when you separate the two.