Digging Deeper: Spiriligiosity
By Jonathan Fisk
Spiritual vs. Religious: a False Choice
Why do some people say they are "spiritual" but not "religious"? The short answer: They're lying. They have a religion. It's American Civic Deistic Therapeutic Moralistic Postmodern Philosophy. That's a mouthful! But it just means that your god is whatever you make it to be as long as it's helpful to you. In other words, when people say, "I'm spiritual, but not religious," they think they're being very original. Spiritualists think they've come up with this idea on their own. They really believe it’s a profound, new step forward in the evolution of religiosity.
It's silly, really. There’s no difference between "spirituality" and "religion." The words mean the same thing. But even though the words aren’t special, people use them as if they are. The sad part is, not only is the idea old, but it's about as profound as Hawaiian shirts are cool.
"I'm spiritual," means, "I have something supernatural-ishy that I believe." But this "belief" is entirely private. It’s individualistic. My private spirituality might be something I practice religiously, but it’s totally mine. That's what makes it "spiritual." You don't have to agree. You just can't disagree. Why? Because it's "private" and "up to me." When someone pipes up, "Well, I'm not religious, I'm just spiritual," you're supposed to respond, "Great! What's good for you is good for you!" Then you exchange pats on the back and think about how evolved and elite you are--not like those religious Pharisees.
"Religion" (said while making a nasty face) is different. It's public. That is, more than one person believes, teaches and confesses it. It's shared and external. External is not private, so spiritualizers think "religion" (public spirituality) is judgmental. It's shared, so it's not really all "mine." That makes it inauthentic. And that makes it false.
"My spirituality" means "my private religion that you can't judge." Meanwhile, "your religion" means "your external spirituality that I'm allowed to judge because it's not private, and that makes it fake."
So Where Did That Come From?
This boondoggle is the result of the Enlightenment, a philosophical movement which gifted western civilization with an overwhelming focus on individual persons. This grand reversal of thinking made the meaning of existence no longer God or country but "you." This "modern" world ran into trouble in the last century when two world wars caused philosophers to decide that, not only are you central, but you’re also totally isolated. Now, individuality goes even further. Modernism thought the universe could be understood by you. But now, postmodernism believes it can only be understood through you. There is one filter: private, individual, personal experience, which usually means something like, "I rock. You don't."
In postmodernism's selfish, judgmental worldview, a person is allowed to be spiritual about a religion, but religion always ruins spirituality. Religion isn't spiritual by itself. Spiritualizers fix religion by bringing private spirituality into it. You have to give it "meaning."
This is hopeless, lame and totally anti-Christian. Christianity is not about you! It's about public faith, public witness, public confession of the Truth, regardless of your personal experience, filters or feelings. Christianity is agreement, consensus, communion, participation, all in the same thing: the real, once-for-all death and resurrection of Christ, delivered to us in His Word and Sacraments. "Church" means people who assemble around this public delivery of spirituality--the same Words, the same Divine rites for all.
Americans shy away from such religiosity. It has boundaries, and our culture assumes that authority and boundaries are bad. Most Americans confess this "private" mythology even though no one can actually live it. For instance, you go at green lights, stop at red lights, and get angry at those who don't! If it's necessary to agree on something silly like which color to stop our cars, you would think we wouldn't want to be off in a private corner trying to figure out if God is real, or if it's okay for me to murder my neighbor and steal his stuff.
But "spirituality" and "my religion," we insist with a vengeance, must be all about "me." Therein lies the deception. "I'm spiritual, not religious," means, "I worship me." "Spirituality" is the religion of "what I think." Meanwhile, people like you and me, who have a religion, are told that kind of thing is only for closed-minded people. It’s funny. The one who worships "what I think" thinks he has an open mind, and tells the ones who worship "what others together confessed" that their minds are closed.
This Is True Spirituality
Christianity is a public religion received by the private faith of the individual. Individual hearts are regenerated by the proclamation of our Lord's forgiveness of our sins. Christian religion is the "free gift" of the private spirituality of the one Man, Jesus, publicly given to each individual as we come together to say what we have heard and believed. It is this external "religion" that makes the spirituality work. External is the root of the Good News. There is an objective, outside-of-you, eternal Man, who is the Son of God, who died and rose for our sins. It wasn't made up by, doesn't depend on, and can't be changed by us. Neither has it left us to our limited, private spiritualizing. Jesus has religiously sought after us, to save us. Private spiritual dreaming will die. The Christian religion is True Spirituality, which can boast of being an everlasting worldview.
This article was originally published in the fall 2010 issue of Higher Things Magazine.
Rev. Jonathan Fisk is the senior administrative pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Rockford, Illinois, as well as a podcaster and author.
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