Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Taking on the "Spiritual but Not Religious" Mindset

The Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel is the senior minister of the First Congregational Church (UCC) in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. In a recent reflection entitled "Spiritual but Not Religious? Stop Boring Me," Daniel takes on the flight from commitment to anything or anyone in particular other than one's own subjective preferences and desires that passes for "spirituality" among many in our culture. My response is to exclaim: "Hammer hits nail on head!"

On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is "spiritual but not religious." Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.

Next thing you know, he's telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets. And in walks on the beach. Sometimes I think these people never leave the beach or the mountains, what with all the communing with God they do on hilltops, hiking trails and . . . did I mention the beach at sunset yet?

Like people who go to church don't see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building. How lucky we are to have these geniuses inform us that God is in nature. As if we don’t hear that in the psalms, the creation stories and throughout our deep tradition.

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that's who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.


Joe said...

Father Owen,

I have often thought that it was a cop out to claim to be "spiritual" and yet claim that you have no use for "religion." However, the more I think about it, I suppose that there is some merit in finding organized "religion" to be problematic at times and particularly when the "religion" loses sight of the reason for its existence: affirming faith in Almighty God and His Son and our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the Christ. So, for me, the mindset to take on is "Spiritual but NOT FAITHFUL (or not a believer). God's peace, and thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking posts.

Joe Roberts (Cotton Country Anglican)

Bryan Owen said...

I think you raise good points, Joe.

I've been thinking about Kierkegaard lately. Even though I think he went a bit overboard with it, I'm reminded of how much I admire the stance that Kierkegaard took in his day towards a church that he believed had lost sight of its reason for existence. But, of course, the label "spiritual but not religious" doesn't apply to the Kierkegaards of the world, because it's precisely the fact that they are so deeply religious that drives them to protest against a church that is no longer faithful to the Gospel.

C. Wingate said...

It is sometimes all I can do not to response to the "spiritual but not religious" proclamation by repeating the beginning of the last line of a certain hymn "The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod."