Religious or Spiritual or What?

Religious or Spiritual or What?

By Blaney Pridgen

All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.

In previous contributions to the Advertiser, I have made brief reference to the popular distinction of one being spiritual-but-not-religious.  I want to address this in more detail and not just spiritual-but-not-religious.  Let’s also consider being religious-but-not-spiritual, actually being both religious and spiritual, and being none of the three.  

Most individuals believe in a god of some sort, especially when they are under dire circumstances over which they have little or no control.  This is not my concern.  Religious people are different.  They speak of (G)od with an intelligible structure.  Their lives are formed by a community of stated faith, well-defined worship, and sacred literature.  They might be spiritual,or they might not.  More about that later.  The key is that their life is formed.  Their religion tells them about life and tells them how to act and what to expect if they do.  Spiritual people are different.  They may or may not have a clearly stated faith.  They may or may not belong to anything like a community of similar affections.  Their worship tends to be very subjective and elusive and not tied to any particular form.  They are uneasy with established religion, which they regard with either benign respect or envious skepticism or something in between.  Yet, the spiritual individuals do think about God a lot, even when they are not in some kind of trouble and things are going well.  They cast about for something to believe in and experiences of whatever that may be.  

I am not here to state that either a religious orientation or a spiritual one is the best.  I do believe that being strictly of one orientation or the other is impoverished.  Being either spiritual or religious, and keeping the other at arm’s length or even condemning it, is a pathway to silly, sentimental beliefs which will ultimately be unsatisfying in facing the challenges of life.  I believe it is good to be both religious and spiritual, as I have described them.  That’s not easy.  It requires faith and reason.  It requires a willingness to search and question and also to settle into a definable structure which feeds and nurtures the soul.  

I worry about people who tout being spiritual without being particularly religious.  Speaking as a child of the sixties, there is a lot of spiritual mumbo-jumbo out there which is alluring and redefines reality but can also be dangerous and even demonic.  I also worry about the people who are religious in outward practice and supposed faith without any sense of the spiritual quest beyond the forms of established religions.  Both can be given to a lot of foolishness and can become victims of ultimately cruel teachings and practices.  However we balance reasonable religion and tested spirituality, we must remember that both religion and spirituality are subject to corrupt practices, superstitions, and unreasonable assumptions.  In the end, God is God, and we are not, and we might do well to speak of such with fear and trembling, which simply amounts to respect.  

Now to the individuals who are neither religious nor spiritual nor anything in between.  They make up more of us than I once thought.  They do not belong to any religious establishment in any meaningful way, such that it gives them strength and hope.  They don’t really have any spiritual stirrings or aspirations beyond pleasure and security in a strictly material sense.  They respect power more than love and you can tell it by their actions.  True religion and true spirituality in their adherence and practitioners seek to save them for a genuinely meaningful life.  Saving someone for the truly good things of life is much more important than saving someone from the bad things like sin and death.  Impotent religion and bogus spirituality tend to emphasize the latter.  Love is where you find it, but I don’t believe you find much of it when true religion and true spirituality are absent. 

Finally, to a modern fable…there was a kid who loved zombie movies.  In his mind they were thrilling and entertaining and not particularly scary.  Then he discovered that zombies were all around him and real.  They were the spiritually dead wandering about with nowhere to go and nothing to do but to make life miserable for everyone else.  The kid grew up in this reality and built himself a beautiful and strong fortress in which to reside away from the zombies.  Every now and then, he made a quest from his fortress into zombie land, where he gained more knowledge.  Sometimes he would take a zombie home and introduce it to light and food.  The result was good for the both of them.