To be perfectly honest, this phrase has always smacked of copping out to me. Yes, I’m aware a lot of that is rooted in my own prejudice. And, yes, I know there are plenty of people adhere to other beliefs, things like Buddhism or other eastern faiths. I know that some people don’t really have a specific belief system and pull from a multitude of disciplines. And, of course, I know there are still some New Agers hanging about (my dad among them). But, I also know there are Christians who call themselves “spiritual, but not religious” and those are the people I’m really talking to now. I want to talk about why you say you’re “spiritual, but not religious” and what, if anything, can be done to change that.
Why Would a Christian Say This?
A lot of people s say it to show that they believe in God, just not the God those people believe in. You know who I mean by those people, so I’m not saying anything more. The problem is we do believe in the same God, even if it doesn’t sound like it. As interesting a conversation as it would be, discussing people’s differing images of God isn’t what I’m on about; right now, I’m more interested in why a Christian would reject religion in favor of spirituality, which sounds rather amorphous to me. On the surface, it looks like there are a lot of reasons for it; things like social and economic differences, feeling like the church’s focus is in the wrong place or issues with language and doctrine. In the end, I think it comes down to one thing: people outside the faith perceive Christians as assholes and who wants to thought of as an asshole? I get it; hell, I even sympathize. But, drawing a line between ourselves and those people isn’t the answer.
You’re Probably Not Going to Like This
That’s because what I’m about to say doesn’t make us progressive Christians look very good. When we draw lines, we’re doing the very thing those people do that pisses us off. When fundamentalists say that everyone who hasn’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior is going to Hell, they’re drawing a line not only between believers and non-believers, but between themselves and Christians of other, less evangelical traditions. When anti-abortion activists refer to doctors and nurses as murderers and “baby-killers” and go so far as to advocate violence against them, they’re drawing a line between themselves and anyone who believes that a woman has the right to ultimately decide what happens to her own body. And, when we say we’re spiritual, but not religious because we don’t want to be lumped in with those non-Christians call assholes, we’re drawing a line between ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s not good. It’s arrogant and prideful and treats people as “others”. Even if you’re not doing it to show you’re different from those people, it still comes off that way and perception is 9/10ths of the law. (Yeah, I know that’s not how it goes, I paraphrased. Sue me)
So, What is the Answer?
We need to show the world that being religious doesn’t mean being a rigid, contentious, judgmental asshole. We need to show them that, in our case, being religious means following the way of Jesus, i.e. loving our neighbor at least as well as we love ourselves. We need to show the world that everyone is our neighbor, be they radical Muslims, undocumented immigrants or those people. We need to show the world, through the abolition of the death penalty and ending our overseas adventures, that all lives are sacred, not just those that haven’t been born yet. We need to show the world that people are more important to us than our stuff. Finally, we need to show the world that the object of Christianity is not about a select group having a better life after they die, but about everyone havinng a better life right here and right now. And, then we need to get started on making it happen.