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Spiritual but Not Religious
“Spiritual but not religious” has become the go-to posture for many Californians today. It’s a very appealing idea, one embraced by celebrities of many stripes.
Popular musicians like Bono work through spiritual and even Christian images and language as they wrestle with ultimate questions.
‘I’m not into religion. I am completely anti-religious. Religion is a term for a collection, a denomination. I am interested in personal experience of God’. N. McCormick, I Was Bono’s Doppleganger, Penguin 2004, p.114
Rowan Williams, former leader of the Anglican church highlights the appeal of this approach.
If we ask why exactly the religious is so unattractive in the eyes of many, including so many iconic and opinion-forming figures, the answers are not too difficult to work out. Bono’s remarks provide an obvious starting-point. Religion is a matter of the collective mentality, with all that this implies about having to take responsibility for corporately-held teaching and discipline; so religious allegiance can be seen as making over some aspect of myself to others in ways that may compromise both my liberty and my integrity. It may be seen as committing myself to practices that mean little to me, or subjecting myself to codes of conduct that don’t connect at all convincingly with my sense of who I am or what is creative and lifegiving for me. It may mean being obliged to profess belief in certain propositions that appear arbitrary and unconnected with the business of human flourishing. The spiritual, in contrast, is what opens up and resources personal integrity at a new depth, developing and not frustrating the sense of personal distinctiveness and allowing ordinary human activities to be understood afresh against a broader background of ‘sacred’ meaning. Such a vision doesn’t commit you to believing six impossible things before breakfast or signing away your liberty or becoming locked into a tribal mentality, hostile to other sorts of meaning and commitment.
How Evangelical Christians Live Out “Spiritual but not religious”
Evangelicals often turn up our noses at this fashion and this phrase, but it has deeply penetrated our relationships with churches and our assumptions about how we should relate to God. Have you every heard someone say “Jesus is a relationship not a religion”. Same idea.
We also see it in American Christian practices of church “grazing”. “I get podcasts from this church, I do Bible study at that church, I read this preachers books, I go to this preacher for this, etc. “
Now I do this to a degree. I listen to podcasts and other preachers and read the books of preachers and theologians. On one level there isn’t anything wrong with this. What we do need, however, is to have a base community, a set group of people that we are a committed part of.
In the promises that we make in church members we promise to “submit” to the leadership of the church that I am a member of. This is where the rubber hits the road and this is where we find the reason we want to be “spiritual but not religious.”
To be religious means that I give up, as Williams noted a degree of autonomy and even integrity. That sounds weird, but we are accustomed to this idea when it comes to marriage, family, or other relationships.
How Good Relationships ARE like Religion Continue reading
Believe it or not, Albert Camus understood that. In this amazing piece of writing, Camus says almost these exact words, “Christ, the God-man, suffers too. Evil and death can no longer be entirely imputed to him since he suffers and dies. The night on Golgotha is so important because the divinity ostensibly abandoned its traditional privilege and lived through to the end, despair included, the agony of death.”
Keller, T. J. (2013). The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church.