By Luke Gooding
“I’m spiritual, but not religious.” I’ve heard this sentence uttered on countless occasions, particularly from the mouths of my youthful peers. The separation of spirituality from religion is a relatively modern phenomenon and has resulted in the redefinition of these terms.
Spirituality is an umbrella term that encompasses everything involving man’s relationship to a superior being, including existential perspectives on life, death, and the nature of reality.
Religions, on the other hand, are institutionalised subcategories of spirituality characterised by practices, rituals, and engagement with religious community members.
I find this categorisation curious, especially considering that every spiritual belief is based on a religious one and not vice versa. Furthermore, the word Religion comes from the Latin word ligare which means to join, or link, classically understood to mean the linking of human and divine, which is eerily similar to the definition of spirituality.
Regardless, this diminishing of religion as simply one of many options to develop a relationship with God has caused an exodus of people, not from one faith to another, but rather from faith to anywhere/nowhere.
A spiritual person is allowed to cherry-pick beliefs and practices from religions and spiritualities, both old and new. Some of the more popular ‘new age’ spiritual ideas include: the Law of Attraction, Karma, and horoscopes, but I am interested in a particular form of spirituality: Christian spirituality.
I am using this term to refer to Christians, and Catholics in particular, who no longer consider themselves a member of the faith, but have opted to keep certain aspects such as biblical reading and prayer synergised with any number of other spiritual practices.
I am not here to critique the spiritual life they have turned to, but rather question their rationale for leaving their religion.
What is religion?
A religion is not simply a combination of rituals, teachings, and prayers. These are surface practices based on an underlying foundation. However, these days, one can now simply disagree with one or two teachings (homosexual stance or monogamy for example) or rituals and use this to justify not only leaving the faith but hanging onto the teachings they find appealing.
This separation of the surface teachings and practices from the underlying foundation is one of the techniques of the spiritual movement and is akin to treating a religion like a grocery store where you can check out with the items you like.
A religion is a cohesive, substantive unit. It is a way of life, each has its own philosophical, psychological, and theological outlook on life and every single surface teaching and practice is based on this deep and complex foundation.
The reality is that most people who leave the faith have not reckoned with the foundation and have lazily thrown out the baby and kept the bathwater.
This is not to say that confronting the foundation is an easy task. I have been humbled by a faith that has outlasted civilisations, by its countless complex philosophical documents and by religious leaders (priests) who wield a minimum of seven years of philosophical and theological knowledge.
Despite such a foundation that has been formed over thousands of years, you can now discard it on a whim.
This is not to say that the faith is blameless even if it has a solid foundation. The reality is that humanity has built upon this foundation and with humanity comes imperfection and corruption.
Jesus is the example
The Church, frankly, is filled with hypocrites, which is another reason people have turned their backs on religion. In the case of the Catholic faith, people cannot understand how a religion that claims to know what is good and claims to model Christ could be involved in some of humanity’s most heinous crimes, for example the inquisition, slavery, and paedophilia.
To answer this apparent paradox, I will use Jesus because I will reiterate that I am speaking to Christian spirituals.
Jesus chose 12 apostles. One caused His death; one doubted His Resurrection and a third denied Him three times. Not only did Jesus choose to associate Himself with these people, but He also made Peter the first pope!
If Jesus gave them a shot, and Christianity is based on His example, should we not also give people the benefit of the doubt?
This doesn’t mean that we tolerate the hypocrisy. Jesus again shows us the way. When people were using the temple as a marketplace, He flew into a rage and drove them out. He seems to be telling us to channel our rage, to fix our own house instead of leaving it in disgust and despair.
That is what I am encouraging everyone to do. Question the Church. Not only is it natural, but it is beneficial for the whole. Even Jesus had doubts. He said, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).
While modern spirituality is providing an easy route to mould the world to address your doubts, and indeed many people have developed a deeper relationship to God through it, I implore you to give the Church and its foundation the courtesy of a deeper look.
What separates religion from spirituality is community. You were not intended to follow your faith alone. Community provides support and accountability and yes you can probably develop a spiritual connection alone, but do not be too quick to condemn religious communities. Maybe consider fixing the temple as Jesus did.
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