Monday, July 19, 2010

Excuse Number Six

When I watch TV, I enjoy some forensic science shows and medical dramas. I suppose I've watched enough of them now that I could easily hang out my shingle and perform delicate brain surgery.  Would you be willing to be a candidate for my first try?

Only a fool would answer "yes" to that question.  Watching McDreamy on Grey's Anatomy hardly qualifies me to cut into someone's scalp and do a delicate dissection (nor does it qualify McDreamy, for that matter).  Yet, there is not much difference in me doing this than in the statement I hear so often that constitutes Excuse Number Six for ignoring times of gathered worship:  "I'm spiritual but not religious."

What fascinating hogwash.  Such hubris dismisses years and years of scholarship with a simple, "I know more than you do."  It says, "My feelings about God, however vague and unformed, do not need the discipline of examination, study, and exposure to different ideas in order to develop and grow healthily." 

I am, as those who know me best are aware, an avid reader. I love it when someone recommends a book or website to me that contains accessible scholarship and well-reasoned arguments--even when I disagree with the major premises. I'm facinated by Stalin's Soviet Union, and India's quest for and achievement of independence from Great Britain.  I find the science of nutrition intriguing, the off-beat books on behavioral economics insightful, and the study and implementation of family systems theory to be enlightening.  I know a little about all of those areas, but I am not an expert, even after years of reading, on a single one of them. Trust me on this:  don't trust me to do brain surgery. 

I have often seen these "spiritual but not religious people" with their unformed spirituality get caught up in cults led by charismatic personalities because they have not taken the time to examine the presuppositions informing the so-called spiritual activities taking place.  We've all heard about them--suicide cults, the fundamentalist polygamous groups, mind-control organizations that empty pocketbooks in the name of gaining secret knowledge.  These are full of spiritual people who are scarily ignorant about the nature of their faith.

Sadly, the word "religious" has become pejorative for many sophisticated people.  They see those who identify themselves as religious as little-minded, backward, uninformed, and unthinking.  The term "organized religion" is even worse--as though there is something wrong with organization, and utter chaos is preferred. 

Yet, I, too, have my problems with institutionalized religion.  I define institutional religion as a religous body whose energies are primarily devoted to keeping that particular institution alive.  The focus on a holy and wholly other God who seeks good, not evil, for the world has been lost.   

We are all spiritual beings.  Even those who have decided that God cannot possibly exist and the physical life is all there is often have a sense of spiritual connection with other people or with something in nature. 

This spirituality provides meaning and transcendence.  An exploration of that intrinsic spirituality by engaging in the historic disciplines of religious formation will test it and prove it and discover its strengths and weaknesses.  Those disciplines include prayer, study of the Holy Scriptures, and gathering with others in corporate worship where we can learn from others and teach them as well.  

The isolated "spiritual but not religious" person cannot develop that sense fully any more than a baby, isolated from birth from human contact, will grow into a well-developed and socially adept adult.  We need each other for this. 

It is frightening how much people just don't know about religion.  Yet, religious beliefs underlie many world decisions, some of which mean life or death to hundred and thousands.  Developing one's spirituality in the context of an open, questioning, worshipping group of people is an act that could easily change the entire world.  Ignorance hurts and destroys. 

1 comment:

Steve Frazee said...

Studies show that people that identify as SBNR (spiritual but not religious) have higher levels of education than their religious counterparts. Many have devout personal spiritual practices including daily prayer and meditation. New virtual communities, like the Facebook page at provide a place for SBNR people to have community and share ideas, some of which are references to scripture.

While it might be the case that saying, “I’m SBNR” is an excuse for opting out of your sermons, it is not opting out of a life of study and community. Typically it is an expansive exploration that arises when a person realizes that while all religions hold some truth, no religion holds all truth.

Steve Frazee
Executive Director