This video Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus has been making the rounds on facebook. For the most part, I see what the guy is saying, and while I think he's wrong on a lot of things, this isn't about pointing those out. Others have done a better job than I could anyway. Normally I just wouldn’t pay much attention to this video. But then, there came the responses like this(which I loved) and the counter-responses, and the counter-counter-responses and it stirred up a phrase that has always bothered me: “I’m spiritual but not religious.”
The phrase usually said to imply that those who are religious are just mean, cold, rule-makers. I’ve heard it said with the same arrogant tone atheists use, implying that truly intelligent people would choose individualism over religion, that a truly spiritual person doesn’t need religion. The real problem with the phrase “spiritual but not religious” is that it implies it’s an either/or situation, when in reality, the two are intertwined.
If you are spiritual but not religious, what foundation do you have? You don’t pray (prayer is a ritual), you don’t read scripture (that was compiled by a religion), you don’t fast (another ritual), you don’t participate in a community of believers. How is your faith expressed without a definition of God/gods/Being or a way to interact with Him? At best, you pick and choose from dozens of religions. If you like it, you practice it, if not, you don’t. The problem with that is that you take rituals or beliefs out of the contexts of its religion and culture and form some Frankenstein monster of faith.
Along the same lines as “spiritual but not religious,” some evangelicals like to say, “It’s not a religion. It’s a relationship.” Besides the fact that I gag a little every time I hear that, I agree in part. Yes, relationship is important. But Christianity is still a religion too. The word religion even comes from the Latin “bind again” or “reconnect.” Why is religion such a bad word that even believers don’t want to use it? That’s what makes me think that it’s mainly an American phenomenon; Americans don’t like to be told what to do. We see any authority as an imperial Red Coat.
Authority isn’t a bad thing. Following the rules isn’t a bad thing. The Church exists to help people develop their relationship with Jesus. A relationship with Him requires a lot more work than a “once-saved-always-saved” statement and reading the Bible. It requires constant work at avoiding sin and asking for forgiveness when you mess up. It requires time put into establishing a prayer life, one where you talk to God and one where you don’t say anything and let Him talk. It requires spreading the faith in actions. It requires understanding the context of the sacraments, the scriptures and the Church. A relationship with Jesus requires a relationship His Bride.
The Church isn’t a democracy, but there’s a good reason for that. A democracy bends to the will of the people, whether the people are right or wrong. The Church has authority (given by Christ) to guide the people. There’s a reason Jesus used the imagery of sheep; people are stupid and like to do things (and believe things) that aren’t good for them. A good shepherd gives his flock enough room to roam and feed themselves, but he also gives his flock confinements to keep them safe.
I’m spiritual. I’ve had deeply personal experiences with God. I’m also religious. I believe God wants a community of individual believers working together, rather than a bunch of individualists. I believe God has given us confinements that help keep us safe. He’s given us tools to better understand and interact with Him. It would be foolish to reject these gifts. It would be disastrous to reject His authority.
Are there people who are spiritual but not religious? Yes, but I think their faith lacks a strong foundation. Are there people who are religious but not spiritual? Yes, but I think their faith lacks enlightenment. And they represent the stereotype the “spiritual, but not religious” rebel against.
Christianity has lots of dualism. Jesus is both God and man. We are earthly creatures but spiritual ones as well. Spirituality and religiousness should not be opposing sides; they coexist. They are two expressions of the same thing: connecting with God.