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Religious or Spiritual?

Sermon for Oct. 18th 2009

I Corinthians 15:46-49 John 4:23-24

Doctrine of Life 13

Recently we were told that our church would be featured on television1, and I
tuned in to see what was toward. It turned out to deal mostly with a survey of Americans’
beliefs by PARADE Magazine.2 When we were informed that it showed how many
people proclaim that they are “spiritual, not religious”, something snapped… I had heard
this phrase one time too many.

Indeed, when I consulted Google, “spiritual not religious” returned 10,800,000


references.3 By contrast, “religious not spiritual” turned up… far fewer.

So we may well wonder exactly what this means. One of the first things I noticed
is that while many claim to be “spiritual not religious”, hardly anyone is ready to say he
is “religious not spiritual” – apart from the 600 Facebookers who joined the group of that
name, probably for the same reason I did.

Rather, it is usually Somebody Else who is described as “religious not spiritual”.


This is something I have learned to treat as a warning signal, as with labels like “cult”,
“ultra-“ or “fundamentalist”.

Searching further, I found that the author of Spiritual Marketplace: Baby


Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion4 employs a taxonomy where the
“Spiritual and Religious” are "Mainstream Believers (Christian and not) with
institutional traditions and liberal theologies”, and the “Religious, NOT Spiritual” are
“Dogmatists (Christian and not) with reactionary theologies and fundamentalist agendas.”
The imposition of labels like “liberal” and “reactionary” suggests that being “spiritual” is
a matter of having the right kind of politics. Er, I don’t think so.
As I continue searching for clues, it seems that the “spiritual not religious”
commonly engage in unfavorable assessments of something called “organized religion”.
Besides sometimes provoking the question of why they think anarchic religion is so good,
I find it difficult to connect with our actual, everyday experience. “The Church” says
Father Capon5, “—anybody’s version of it — may look fearsomely organized from the
outside, but once you’re in it, you have to be deaf, dumb and blind to avoid the
conclusion that it is the most disorganized venture ever launched. Its public image may
be that of a might lion on the prowl; what is really is, in this day and age at least, is a
clowder of not too well co-ordinated pussycats falling all over each other.”6

When we make another attempt to find out just what “spiritual not religious”
means, we often run into complaints about “religion” troubling us with what are labeled
“dogmas”. Apparently “spirituality” means that we should stop at generalities about how
it would be if we would only just be nice to each other, and not bother with a lot of
complicated specifics.

I would suggest, on the contrary, that the content of our faith means paying some
attention to what it is that we believe and why. (And this is one of the things I have found
most satisfying about the New Church). I find it hard to improve on the treatment given
by Dorothy Sayers7, in dealing with an expostulation by a don who dismissed all such
matters are solely “interesting to theologians”.

…. we must unite with Athanasius to assure Tommy Atkins


and John Brown that the God who lived and died in the
world was the same God who made the world, and that,
therefore, God himself has the best possible reasons for
understanding and sympathizing with Tommy’s and John’s
personal troubles.
“But,” Tommy Atkins and John Brown will
instantly object, it can’t have mattered very much to him if
he was God. A god can’t really suffer like you and me.
Besides, the parson says we are to try and be like Christ;
but that is all nonsense -- we can’t be God and it’s silly to
ask us to try.” This able exposition of the Eutychian heresy
can scarcely be dismissed as merely “interesting to
theologians”; it appears to interest Atkins and Brown to the
point of irritation.

Well, perhaps being “spiritual not religious” means not going to the trouble of
coming together to engage in all sorts of repetitious practices which are, after all, only
“rituals”. They can’t be important to being “spiritual”, can they?
The next part of my thesis is that once we know what our faith’s content is, it
should obviously follow that we go about expressing it through a form or forms. That is
what we are doing when “two or three are gathered together.”

And arriving in Heaven does not mean being done with this kind of “religion”.
For Mr. Swedenborg assures us that in Heaven, all the preachers are from the Lord’s
spiritual kingdom, and are readily received by audiences from His celestial kingdom.8

Indeed, it would seem that we could hardly help being “spiritual”. For each and
every one of us is a spirit!
Is there any reason to think that this means we should eschew being “religious”.
Rather, hark back to our reading which tells us that anyone who leads a spiritual life will
as a matter of course lead a moral and a civil one. I think that if Swedenborg were among
us today, he would write that there are those who exhibit a religious life without a
spiritual one; but anyone who leads a spiritual life will as a matter of course have a
religious life. And if we guide ourselves by these principles, we will have no need to
worry about being “religious not spiritual”.
William Linden
1
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/10/02/sunday/main5358799.shtml
2
http://www.parade.com/news/2009/10/04-how-spiritual-are-we.html
3
And yes, I used quotation marks so as to retrieve the whole phrase, not just anything with all the words.
4
By Wayne Clark Roof. http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Marketplace-Remaking-American-Religion/dp/0691089965/ref=sr_1_1?
ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1255751255&sr=8-1
5
The Third Peacock, Image 1972, p. 100 http://www.amazon.com/Third-Peacock-Robert-Capon/dp/B000HMWYWI/ref=sr_1_8?
ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1255751545&sr=8-8
6
That must be why they keep referring to “herding cats”.
7
Creed or Chaos? (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute
Press, 1995), 36-41.
8
Heaven and Hell 225