05 September 2011

Spiritual But Not Religious - Bring it on!


A number of my Facebook friends have been "liking" a post by The Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel entitled Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me. There is also a longer article posted here at The Christian Century website.

I'm actually a fan of Day1 ministries and, when I first saw the article, I didn't think too much of it. But there have been a number of "likes" and a number of comments about this article's honesty.

And I'm uncomfortable with all the positive comments and I'm trying to figure out why.

The first reason I'm uncomfortable is because of what I learned to call "parallel processing" in Clinical Pastoral Education.

The story in the longer article about the man who was born into a particular Christian denomination and felt hurt and injured by it is one that I can very much identify with.

I spent about ten years outside of the Church, as someone who was "spiritual but not religious", too afraid to seek out any Christian community lest I be told yet again that God loved me but didn't like me and that He (masculine gender with a capital H) expected my unquestioning subservience to men as a sign of my commitment to Him.

So I'm glad that, during that time, I didn't meet a clergyperson who said "Please stop boring me" in response to my spiritual struggles of that time. It was a time of genuine spiritual journeying for me. It turned out to be a period of genuine liberation back into the Christian community. And I might well have been completely done with Christianity altogether if someone had said that to me at the wrong time.

But my second niggle is this: I think a lot of the discussion I've seen is conflating "head religion" with "heart religion". (I realize these are awkward terms, but I'm using them deliberately right now in order to avoid more well-known terms over whose definitions we might be tempted to argue.)

On the level of "head religion", the Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniels makes lots of a very valid points. Theology seems to be one of the few areas where people who have never studied think that they know as much - or often think that they know more - than those who have studied. It's also ironically one of the few areas where it's actually difficult to come up with something that someone hasn't thought of already; and often that someone who thought of your brilliant insight before you did lived 1500, 2000 or 5000 years ago.

There is most certainly a type of liberal Christianity which seems uncomfortable standing inside the historic Christian tradition and which is embarrassed to own the truths, the tradition and the historic understanding of Christianity. A type of liberal Christian who tells someone "Well, your truth is as good as mine." And Daniels is correct, I think, in telling us to stop pandering to this point of view.

However, on the level of "heart religion", I believe that "spiritual but not religious" is often a genuine journey of searching for many, many people. And I'm uncomfortable with dissing that genuine search by telling someone to stop boring me.

I don't think that genuine "heart religion" - the kind of religion that ultimately locates us in a relationship with God and with other human beings - is something that we simply appropriate without some kind of struggle to make it our own. No human relationship is without its give-and-take and I don't believe a relationship with God is either.

Somewhere along the line, in order to have genuine "heart religion," we must question, listen, compromise, apologize and maybe even argue and forgive.

To the "Spiritual but not religious," I say: I'm happy to listen to you.

Don't expect me to pretend I'm not a Christian. Don't expect me to apologize for being a Christian. And, because I'm human, don't expect me to be able to tolerate forever being told how silly or stupid my faith is or how my theological education is worth nothing.

But I'm willing to listen to your story with respect if you are willing to listen to my story with respect - yes, even without trying to convert you. I trust in God that much that I don't need you to believe as I do.

11 comments:

Rev. Kathy Schmitz said...

Thanks for this. I, too, am trying to understand how so many people I love and respect are "liking" a piece I find troubling. I'm committed to staying in the conversation but am often feeling that we are talking past each other. I truly appreciate your words of respect for mutual engagement. Blessings!

pastorbecca said...

yes. exactly what you said.

J A Y B said...

How sad that a member of the clergy and also a disciple of Christ as all believers are would say to any one "stop boring me". That normally means they are not as sure of themselves as they think.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Pam,

Thanks for a thoughtful and balanced response to an article I really did like and still do.

There is no doubt that we should not casually dismiss those who are earnestly search and asking, etc. And if they refer to themselves as spiritual but not religious, so be it.

But my interest in the article is that in my experience, at least, such verbiage is all too often used by people who are not seeking, but are using such language as justification for not seeking and asking and searching. Now, if they do not want to seek and ask and search, that is fine. But then they use this language of spirituality to diss the rest of us who think these matters are important and who believe that faith is not only a heart thing, but a head thing, and an action thing, and that spirituality involves much more than looking at the autumn trees and getting a warm feeling. And, at the end of the day too much of this spiritual but not religious jargon really is not interesting (at least to me). It is not intellectually stimulating, it does not stir the heart, and neither does it offer a way of life with great purpose.

So, having said all that, yes, we need to be very careful not to generalize (something we all do) and misjudge someone whose journey is filled with searching and questions and thoughtful considerations. But neither am I going to continue to engage folks who use spiritual terminology in a way that spirituality is in actuality unimportant.

PamBG said...

I should probably say that I've now listened to the sermon and I think that the short article does the sermon injustice. In the sermon, she is saying something more like what you said.

However, people are nonetheless reacting to the article which I believe does give a different impression.

I guess that I simply take it as read that if this is someone's way of telling me that I'm silly, that I simply won't engage in a conversation with them.

When I was working in the UK in the pensions field and I started training to be a Local Preacher, I had a number of people say to me something along the lines of "I can't believe you're a Christian, you seem so sensible." In a lot of cases, this was a genuinely neutral comment. And I think I had more genuinely stimulating conversations about God during that time than I ever did in church ministry when people wanted to put on their Sunday best behavior for the pastor.

If I'd assumed that this folk were just trying to diss me, then those conversations would never have taken place. On the other hand, some people did think that believing in God was genuinely ridiculous and we quickly ended up at a place where we just agreed to disagree.

I tend to assume that when people say "I'm spiritual but not religious" they often mean "It would be interesting to have a conversation about spirituality, but my tolerance for being prosletized is low."

Casstranquility said...

Hi. :)

"There is most certainly a type of liberal Christianity which seems uncomfortable standing inside the historic Christian tradition and which is embarrassed to own the truths, the tradition and the historic understanding of Christianity. A type of liberal Christian who tells someone 'Well, your truth is as good as mine.'"

Being a liberal... Disciple of Christ/Pantheist, I do say that another person's truth is as good as mine. I do not do that to not own the truth, I say that because the truth is personal, the way we experience truth is personal, the way we approach truth is personal. What right have I to say their truth is not as good as mine? I've run into far too many Christians treating me, and others, with disrespect because my truth, what I see as the truth, wasn't good enough for them. I didn't believe the right things and therefore I wasn't going to heaven. Or I was stubborn, or I was delusional.
Telling someone that their view of truth is valid, too, is not a "yeah, who cares what you believe because we're all goody goody let's not talk about this anymore" dismissal of deep religious conversation. It is an invitation for sharing, for connecting, and even allowing each person to feel safe and heard.

Casstranquility said...

Hi. :)

"There is most certainly a type of liberal Christianity which seems uncomfortable standing inside the historic Christian tradition and which is embarrassed to own the truths, the tradition and the historic understanding of Christianity. A type of liberal Christian who tells someone 'Well, your truth is as good as mine.'"

Being a liberal... Disciple of Christ/Pantheist, I do say that another person's truth is as good as mine. I do not do that to not own the truth, I say that because the truth is personal, the way we experience truth is personal, the way we approach truth is personal. What right have I to say their truth is not as good as mine? I've run into far too many Christians treating me, and others, with disrespect because my truth, what I see as the truth, wasn't good enough for them. I didn't believe the right things and therefore I wasn't going to heaven. Or I was stubborn, or I was delusional.
Telling someone that their view of truth is valid, too, is not a "yeah, who cares what you believe because we're all goody goody let's not talk about this anymore" dismissal of deep religious conversation. It is an invitation for sharing, for connecting, and even allowing each person to feel safe and heard.

PamBG said...

Hi Casst:

I'm not sure what ti say to that other than that I hear you. Your position is not mine. I am happy to dialogue with other people's beliefs. However, I am a Christian which, to me, means I've chosen the path that I think expresses truth. If I thought all paths were true, I probably couldn't name myself with any name. That does not, however, mean I need you to believe as I do.

Allan R. Bevere said...

I tend to assume that when people say "I'm spiritual but not religious" they often mean "It would be interesting to have a conversation about spirituality, but my tolerance for being prosletized is low."

Agreed... we should initially assume a person is being genuine and sincere. That is how all of us want to be received.

WomanistNTProf said...

Enjoyed reading this. Esp like: "
Somewhere along the line, in order to have genuine "heart religion," we must question, listen, compromise, apologize and maybe even argue and forgive. "

PamBG said...

Thanks, Mitzi!