Monday, December 17, 2007

spirituality & religion

It's not uncommon these days for people to call themselves spiritual but not religious. It is easy to understand why when the connotations of religion are of tradition, repression and boredom. Hearing and seeing some of the things done by my denomination while we try and find a new minister to 'lead' us makes all of that much clearer to me.

However, I find the position a little trite and lacking coherence. What does it mean to be spiritual. It is a good thing, but altogether vague. Does it mean sampling from life's ala carte of world faiths, is it some vague sense of the transcendent? To be spiritual in the general sense is to realize that life does not reduce to the material only. Some philosophers (like the author of The Philosopher at the End of the Universe) would say that any sense of self, identity or meaning that we perceive internally is utterly at odds with the external evidence. This denies spirituality in any meaningful sense.

So to be spiritual is to identify a need in humanity for significance, meaning and contact with the other, and at the same time to suggest that this isn't epiphenomenal or some sort of illusion. So what is religion.

If you watch the same program faithfully every night, or you follow a music group, sporting team, political party or celebrity you are as religious as someone who attends mass every week. If you always put the left sock on first, or are a compulsive nose picker, you are as religious as the the one who genuflects.

If you always want to hear the same old story of how you were born, how your parents met, how the big bang happened or when Australopithecus left the trees, you are as religious as those who listen to sermons.

Religion is ritual, story, rite, pattern. Our lives are shaped and molded by symbols and stories. We are creatures of habit. The question is: do the habits promote religious growth or stunt it, lead us somewhere good or bad, reflect reality in some way or run from it.

To sum: spirituality without religion is narcissistic and mis-guided; religion without spirituality is dead.

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