Spirituality Is for Wusses

 

Today it’s fashionable for a person to say he is spiritual but not religious. That comment is intended to suggest that the person is above the primitive practices he assumes religious people follow. Only superior people wear the mantle of spirituality, rather than taking on the dogma and rituals of ancient religions.

Only no one really knows what it means to be spiritual. And perhaps, no one cares.

From my perspective, I think people choose to take the easy road to a relationship with the—divine?—because practicing a religion can be demanding, if you follow it, well, religiously. But if you only see the downside of practicing a religious faith, you deprive yourself of what may become a deeply moving and fulfilling lifestyle that no level of spirituality can match.

Why do I celebrate religion? The moral tenets (which many people see as restrictive and limiting) are meant to be the guideposts for living a generous, righteous, and ethical life. But in these times, who cares about following all those rules? The fact that life continually presents us with the challenge of making wise choices is irrelevant; we can just rely on what feels good to us, repercussions be damned.

More than the moral reasons, though, is that religion, from my perspective, teaches us how to relate to the world and everyone around us. It teaches us what not to do, those actions that can cause harm or pain to others. Even more, it teaches us how to be a blessing to the world, how to relate to others in loving and caring ways. It gives us the road signs for when we are getting lost, and the rewards for making an effort to develop solid relationships and to benefit our families and communities and the world.

People who practice spirituality will tell you that they want to save the world, but their actions may demonstrate otherwise. They focus on what they think the rules should be, and act accordingly. Factors such as right or wrong, good or bad, helpful or harmful are irrelevant, because their activities are coming from a “spiritual perspective.” They have the freedom to make their own rules, and are not bound to, or responsible for, the consequences of their actions.

This mindset is a self-centered, narcissistic way to live.

*     *     *     *

Periodically I ask myself about my own religious faith. This time I was motivated to reflect on my observance before and during the Ricochet Meetup in Sarasota. The practices I observe on the Sabbath are minimal, but I try to maintain them and therefore rarely travel. Lighting Sabbath candles, turning off the phone, avoiding TV viewing, staying off the computer, reading Torah commentaries, praying and abstaining from anything that can be called work describes my usual Sabbath observance. It is a very minimal practice, but I have maintained it pretty consistently.

Until I didn’t.

I was determined to have a Florida Meetup, but for a number of reasons, my original plan of a dinner meet-up expanded to a two-day gathering, including Saturday. Nobody twisted my arm. One person asked me about the decision and its effect on my Sabbath practice, but I avoided the question. And it was a lovely time.

But I felt a certain sadness. I was sad that I was willing to sacrifice my simple practices for a time of pleasure. I missed the opportunity to connect with G-d. I have to admit that I also felt guilty, not only for dismissing G-d but disappointing myself.

I won’t spend a lot of time beating myself up about my decision. I know that G-d was present even if I wasn’t. But my Sabbath observance is the one commitment I want to maintain.

From now on, I aim to do it.

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  1. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    @susanquinn, your post really struck me. Am I “spiritual but not religious”? I am agnostic with an openness to the reality of G-d while not persuaded as to the specific nature and intention of G-d. I am certainly not “religious” in the way I understand your meaning. I do not have a faith with specific rituals to perform or unique to the faith rules to follow. Nor do I count myself as “spiritual” in the way I understand you to mean as well.  I do not have a personal relationship with G-d and I am not performing any acts (other than thinking about and considering the human condition) to connect me with the metaphysical.

    I take your point that spiritual is “religion lite” — a free form faith without discipline. An athlete is religious; a hobo (can we even use that term anymore?) is spiritual. They may both be slim; but for one the muscles are hard and toned by training, while the other is due to happenstance.

    • #1
  2. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    In Goethe’s Faust, the title character is trying to seduce the innocent Gretchen…but there is an obstacle–Grechen is concerned that Faust is not a believing Christian.  He says a bunch of things like:

    “The all-embracing, the all-sustaining…eternal stars…each other’s eyes…timeless mystery…I do not have a name for this.  Feeling is all. Names are but sound and smoke Befogging heaven’s blazes”

    Spiritual but not religious!

     

    • #2
  3. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Susan Quinn:

    They focus on what they think the rules should be, and act accordingly. Factors such as right or wrong, good or bad, helpful or harmful are irrelevant, because their activities are coming from a “spiritual perspective.” They have the freedom to make their own rules, and are not bound to, or responsible for, the consequences of their actions.

    This mindset is a self-centered, narcissistic way to live.

    Yup.

    An interview with Barack Obama in 2004, by Cathleen Falsani :

    FALSANI: “Do you believe in sin?”

    OBAMA: “Yes.”

    FALSANI: “What is sin?”

    OBAMA: “Being out of alignment with my values.”

    FALSANI: “What happens if you have sin in your life?”

    OBAMA: “I think it’s the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I’m true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward; when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.”

    Edit: I lost all my internet bookmarks some time ago, and had to search for this interview again.  I didn’t get many hits.  It’s going to disappear before long.

    Here is the source transcript.

    • #3
  4. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot) Member
    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patriot)
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Susan, great post.

    My impression is that “spiritual” people tend to have New Age beliefs, which are quite vague.  They seem to worship a god made in their own image, and often to think that they’re the only one whose figured out the true nature of God, or the Universe, or whatever.

    They do tend to draw a lot on Buddhism, Hinduism, and American Indian religions, for some reason.  These actually strike me as rather primitive belief systems, though Hinduism is quite complex.  My recollection is that C.S. Lewis claimed that Hinduism is, for practical purposes, the only real competition with Christianity, as he seemed to think that it was the most sophisticated polytheistic belief system.  Buddhism is something like a Hindu heresy; Judaism is a proto-Christianity; and Islam is fundamentally a Christian heresy.  (According to Lewis, as I recall, though I think that he has a good point about this.)

    I wonder, Susan, if you’d be willing to tell us about your own past in this regard.  My recollection is that you were involved in Buddhism for quite a while, before “returning” — sort of — to Judaism.  I’d be very interested in the details.  I put “returning” in quotes because it is my impression that you are ethnically Jewish, but didn’t practice Judaism in your youth.  My impression is that you returned to the faith of your ancestors, not the faith of your youth.  I don’t know the details, though, and may be wrong about that.  I think it would be very interesting to know, if you don’t mind sharing.

    I’d also be very curious about your thoughts about your own beliefs, when you were Buddhist (or something like it).  Did you consider yourself “spiritual” at the time, or was it something different?

    • #4
  5. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"
    @danok1

    Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is what I take “spiritual but not religious,” is an abomination:

    A G-d exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
    G-d wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
    The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
    G-d does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when G-d is needed to resolve a problem.
    Good people go to heaven when they die.

    Blech! 

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):

    FALSANI: “Do you believe in sin?”

    OBAMA: “Yes.”

    FALSANI: “What is sin?”

    OBAMA: “Being out of alignment with my values.”

    Boy, that’s convenient. Just imagine how awkward it would be if it turned out that his moral sense wasn’t so finely tuned to what is Truth. If circumstances dictate a change in course, it’s okay because his values can change as well.

    • #6
  7. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    “Spiritual” is taken as a synonym for “higher” or “better”, but as G.K. Chesterton noted, demons as well as angels are spirits.

    • #7
  8. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    I wonder if the labels “spiritual” and “religious” have become tribal identities in the culture wars.  Meaning “progressives are spiritual” (and I’m sure some of them are) while “conservatives are religious” (and I’m sure that some of them are).  Full disclosure: I am neither spiritual nor religious.

    • #8
  9. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Zafar (View Comment):

    I wonder if the labels “spiritual” and “religious” have become tribal identities in the culture wars. Meaning “progressives are spiritual” (and I’m sure some of them are) while “conservatives are religious” (and I’m sure that some of them are). Full disclosure: I am neither spiritual nor religious.

    Tribal identities?  You don’t pick your tribe. Your tribe picks you.  

    • #9
  10. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    I wonder if the labels “spiritual” and “religious” have become tribal identities in the culture wars. Meaning “progressives are spiritual” (and I’m sure some of them are) while “conservatives are religious” (and I’m sure that some of them are). Full disclosure: I am neither spiritual nor religious.

    Tribal identities? You don’t pick your tribe. Your tribe picks you.

    Did you pick conservatives or did conservatives pick you?

    • #10
  11. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Zafar (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Zafar (View Comment):

    I wonder if the labels “spiritual” and “religious” have become tribal identities in the culture wars. Meaning “progressives are spiritual” (and I’m sure some of them are) while “conservatives are religious” (and I’m sure that some of them are). Full disclosure: I am neither spiritual nor religious.

    Tribal identities? You don’t pick your tribe. Your tribe picks you.

    Did you pick conservatives or did conservatives pick you?

    That’s factionalism, not tribal. 

    • #11
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Mad Gerald (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn:

    They focus on what they think the rules should be, and act accordingly. Factors such as right or wrong, good or bad, helpful or harmful are irrelevant, because their activities are coming from a “spiritual perspective.” They have the freedom to make their own rules, and are not bound to, or responsible for, the consequences of their actions.

    This mindset is a self-centered, narcissistic way to live.

    Yup.

    An interview with Barack Obama in 2004, by Cathleen Falsani :

    FALSANI: “Do you believe in sin?”

    OBAMA: “Yes.”

    FALSANI: “What is sin?”

    OBAMA: “Being out of alignment with my values.”

    FALSANI: “What happens if you have sin in your life?”

    OBAMA: “I think it’s the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I’m true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward; when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.”

    Edit: I lost all my internet bookmarks some time ago, and had to search for this interview again. I didn’t get many hits. It’s going to disappear before long.

    Here is the source transcript.

    Thank you, MG. Based on Barack’s behavior, I seriously question his commitment to Christianity. The article didn’t change my mind, but I appreciate your sharing it.

    • #12
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    MWD B612 "Dawg" (View Comment):
    Blech! 

    I agree!

    • #13
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Zafar (View Comment):

    I wonder if the labels “spiritual” and “religious” have become tribal identities in the culture wars. Meaning “progressives are spiritual” (and I’m sure some of them are) while “conservatives are religious” (and I’m sure that some of them are). Full disclosure: I am neither spiritual nor religious.

    I’d say that’s pretty accurate for the most part, Zafar.

    • #14
  15. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jerry, I’ll give the Cliff Notes version. Your description is pretty accurate. Not raised in a Jewish religious home, but did some periodic observances such as a modified seder and at Hanukah, and a token attendance of the High Holidays at synagogue. As an adult, I discovered Buddhism, and especially appreciated the meditation practice. I was engaged with Zen Buddhism for 20 years, but left because of issues with a dogmatic teacher, and the overall practice was blatantly progressive; ironically meditation helped me deepen my relationship with G-d. When I left, and in the meantime discovered Ricochet, I was inspired by the writing of @iwe. I felt adrift, wanting to participate in a faith practice and thought it made sense to dig more deeply into Judaism. Long story, short, iwe encouraged me to explore further, and here I am.

    • #15
  16. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Susan, great post.

    My impression is that “spiritual” people tend to have New Age beliefs, which are quite vague. They seem to worship a god made in their own image, and often to think that they’re the only one whose figured out the true nature of God, or the Universe, or whatever.

    They do tend to draw a lot on Buddhism, Hinduism, and American Indian religions, for some reason. These actually strike me as rather primitive belief systems, though Hinduism is quite complex. My recollection is that C.S. Lewis claimed that Hinduism is, for practical purposes, the only real competition with Christianity, as he seemed to think that it was the most sophisticated polytheistic belief system. Buddhism is something like a Hindu heresy; Judaism is a proto-Christianity; and Islam is fundamentally a Christian heresy. (According to Lewis, as I recall, though I think that he has a good point about this.)

    I wonder, Susan, if you’d be willing to tell us about your own past in this regard. My recollection is that you were involved in Buddhism for quite a while, before “returning” — sort of — to Judaism. I’d be very interested in the details. I put “returning” in quotes because it is my impression that you are ethnically Jewish, but didn’t practice Judaism in your youth. My impression is that you returned to the faith of your ancestors, not the faith of your youth. I don’t know the details, though, and may be wrong about that. I think it would be very interesting to know, if you don’t mind sharing.

    I’d also be very curious about your thoughts about your own beliefs, when you were Buddhist (or something like it). Did you consider yourself “spiritual” at the time, or was it something different?

    A very enlightening response to Susan’s post; you raise some intriguing questions.

    • #16
  17. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    As a Protestant Christian, my faith is the anchor of my life. I study the Scriptures and pray each morning before breakfast, and am led to pray often throughout the day.

    Recently, this prayer/hymn has been running through my mind:

    Make Me a Channel of Your Peace (Hymn)

    Make me a channel of your peace
    Where there is hatred let me bring your love
    Where there is injury, your pardon Lord
    And where there’s doubt, true faith in you

    Make me a channel of your peace
    Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope
    Where there is darkness, only light
    And where there’s sadness ever joy

    Oh, master grant that I may never seek
    So much to be consoled as to console
    To be understood as to understand
    To be loved as to love with all my soul

    Oh, master grant that I may never seek
    So much to be consoled as to console
    To be understood as to understand
    To be loved as to love with all my soul

    Make me a channel of your peace
    Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope
    Where there is darkness, only light
    And where there’s sadness ever joy.

                                        (Prayer of St. Francis)

    Living in a retirement community, as I do, there are frequent opportunities to exercise the virtues sought in the above. Living in close proximity to, and sharing meals within a closed community, some personality conflicts arise that seem to require Divine intervention.

     

     

    • #17
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Jim McConnell (View Comment):

    As a Protestant Christian, my faith is the anchor of my life. I study the Scriptures and pray each morning before breakfast, and am led to pray often throughout the day.

    Recently, this prayer/hymn has been running through my mind:

    Make Me a Channel of Your Peace (Hymn)

    Make me a channel of your peace
    Where there is hatred let me bring your love
    Where there is injury, your pardon Lord
    And where there’s doubt, true faith in you

    Make me a channel of your peace
    Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope
    Where there is darkness, only light
    And where there’s sadness ever joy

    Oh, master grant that I may never seek
    So much to be consoled as to console
    To be understood as to understand
    To be loved as to love with all my soul

    Oh, master grant that I may never seek
    So much to be consoled as to console
    To be understood as to understand
    To be loved as to love with all my soul

    Make me a channel of your peace
    Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope
    Where there is darkness, only light
    And where there’s sadness ever joy.

    (Prayer of St. Francis)

    Living in a retirement community, as I do, there are frequent opportunities to exercise the virtues sought in the above. Living in close proximity to, and sharing meals within a closed community, some personality conflicts arise that seem to require Divine intervention.

     

     

    What a truly beautiful prayer, Jim! Thank you for sharing it.

    • #18
  19. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Susan Quinn:

    But my Sabbath observance is the one commitment I want to maintain.

    From now on, I aim to do it.

    A very noble goal – I’ll pray you maintain it. It is our duty to give glory and honor to God. For us Catholics, it is a mortal sin to deliberately miss Sunday mass – although I doubt a majority of Catholics know this or care about it. 

    I found this definition of “spiritual but not religious” from Carl Olson:

    The spiritual but not religious man denies authority through the exercise of his personal authority; he rejects truth in name of his personal “truth,” and he insists on freedom, but without a basis or a goal.

    • #19
  20. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Anecdotal evidence only, but I observe that the ‘spiritual but not religious’ self-definition is employed mostly by women.

    • #20
  21. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Scott Wilmot (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn:

    But my Sabbath observance is the one commitment I want to maintain.

    From now on, I aim to do it.

    A very noble goal – I’ll pray you maintain it. It is our duty to give glory and honor to God. For us Catholics, it is a mortal sin to deliberately miss Sunday mass – although I doubt a majority of Catholics know this or care about it.

    I found this definition of “spiritual but not religious” from Carl Olson:

    The spiritual but not religious man denies authority through the exercise of his personal authority; he rejects truth in name of his personal “truth,” and he insists on freedom, but without a basis or a goal.

    Well said, Scott.

    • #21
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Anecdotal evidence only, but I observe that the ‘spiritual but not religious’ self-definition is employed mostly by women.

    True! I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man say it.

    • #22
  23. E. Kent Golding Member
    E. Kent Golding
    @EKentGolding

    I am a practicing,  believing Christian.   Practicing, because I certainly do not have it down.   I am miserable at it.   However,  I attend worship services,   pray probably 3 days a week,  and read the Bible probably twice a week.    I truly believe there is an actual real God,   and I think I have seen his hand in my life.

    • #23
  24. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    I think a distinction could be made between people who adhere to a high demand religion and those who do not.  

    For example, in some religious circles, including among Jehovah’s Witnesses, one must disassociate oneself from family members who leave the faith.  

    One man left the Jehovah’s Witness and his father refused to speak to him ever again, even denying himself the opportunity to see his grandchildren.  

    Clearly, most people who describe themselves as “religious” do not take things that far.  

    As a non-religious person, I am not sure I would use the word “spiritual” to describe myself, since I don’t necessarily believe that “spirits” exist.  Perhaps this is hair-splitting.  

    I do think that quite often religious people and non-religious people end up engaging in similar activities.  For example, one summer I learned that my wife’s youngest niece went on a Christian mission to Africa to help an impoverished community.  That same summer one of my cousins, an atheist, volunteered to be part of a humanitarian mission in Africa.  

    Also, even among religious people there are varied ways that religious texts can be interpreted.  During the American Civil War, you had Bible believing Christians on one side thinking that slavery was un-Christian and you had Bible believing Christians on the other side thinking that slavery was endorsed by the Hebrew Bible.  

    For the religious and the non-religious, intuitions seem to matter quite a lot.  If a religious teaching seems to violate one’s moral sensibilities, usually people will disobey that particular religious teaching.  

    • #24
  25. Painter Jean Moderator
    Painter Jean
    @PainterJean

    Adhering to a demanding religious tradition  means that one is formed or molded by that tradition.  The process of adhering to a demanding moral code means that one will have to examine one’s own behavior in the light of that code, and change what needs to be changed. The process is continuous and fosters  humility as well as other virtues. The “spiritual but not religious” person undergoes no such formation, and is far more likely to find that their God is, conveniently,  perfectly fine with whatever they do. It’s shallow but with a pretense of sophistication.

    I am embarrassed, Susan, and now quite ashamed because while I made a point of getting to Mass, I didn’t give much thought to your observance of the Sabbath. It’s ignorance on my part, unfamiliarity with Jewish observances. My sincere apologies!

    • #25
  26. HeavyWater Reagan
    HeavyWater
    @HeavyWater

    Painter Jean (View Comment):

    Adhering to a demanding religious tradition means that one is formed or molded by that tradition. The process of adhering to a demanding moral code means that one will have to examine one’s own behavior in the light of that code, and change what needs to be changed. The process is continuous and fosters humility as well as other virtues. 

    For some religious people, believing that they know what God thinks and commands doesn’t lead to humility.  The example I gave of the Jehovah’s Witness father who disassociated himself from his son when his son left the faith and refused to ever meet his grandchildren, I think, is one such example.  

    So, I think it all depends on the content of the specific religious faith that one subscribes to.  

    Sometimes religious belief results in humility while in other situations it results in a “I know what God said; you either don’t know or don’t care,” attitude.  

    • #26
  27. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    For example, in some religious circles, including among Jehovah’s Witnesses, one must disassociate oneself from family members who leave the faith.  

    I’ve heard of Jewish folks treating their children as dead if they leave the religion, but I’d like to think it’s rare. It’s also true that people can differ in their understanding within the same religion. There are several divisions in Judaism who accept the Torah, but differ in ways they practice certain holidays and rituals. They are often tolerant of each other, simply taking a different path in some ways.

    When we live in a free society, there are many ways we can simply be good human beings. Religion helps us meet that aspiration, but it’s not the only way.

    • #27
  28. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Painter Jean (View Comment):
    I am embarrassed, Susan, and now quite ashamed because while I made a point of getting to Mass, I didn’t give much thought to your observance of the Sabbath. It’s ignorance on my part, unfamiliarity with Jewish observances. My sincere apologies!

    My goodness, Jean, you have nothing to apologize for! I could have made time for some of my practice, but chose not to. The key is devote the day, not just a service, to the observance. We are imitating G-d in His taking the day of rest. I was actually delighted to see a couple of you decide to go to church; I admire your not letting our adventures get in the way of worship!

    • #28
  29. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    If anyone is curious, I also have a daily practice. I pray the Shemah, then the Amidah, which is a series of prayers, and love to do it in Hebrew. There is something almost musical about it, although it’s not a series of songs. And I follow it with silent meditation to pray for the wellbeing of others. Including my Ricochet friends.

    • #29
  30. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    I think a distinction could be made between people who adhere to a high demand religion and those who do not.

    For example, in some religious circles, including among Jehovah’s Witnesses, one must disassociate oneself from family members who leave the faith.

    One man left the Jehovah’s Witness and his father refused to speak to him ever again, even denying himself the opportunity to see his grandchildren.

    Clearly, most people who describe themselves as “religious” do not take things that far.

    As a non-religious person, I am not sure I would use the word “spiritual” to describe myself, since I don’t necessarily believe that “spirits” exist. Perhaps this is hair-splitting.

    I do think that quite often religious people and non-religious people end up engaging in similar activities. For example, one summer I learned that my wife’s youngest niece went on a Christian mission to Africa to help an impoverished community. That same summer one of my cousins, an atheist, volunteered to be part of a humanitarian mission in Africa.

    Also, even among religious people there are varied ways that religious texts can be interpreted. During the American Civil War, you had Bible believing Christians on one side thinking that slavery was un-Christian and you had Bible believing Christians on the other side thinking that slavery was endorsed by the Hebrew Bible.

    For the religious and the non-religious, intuitions seem to matter quite a lot. If a religious teaching seems to violate one’s moral sensibilities, usually people will disobey that particular religious teaching.

    “Since different things are different, I don’t have to think about it.”

    • #30
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