Alan Miller has written an article for the CNN Belief Blog called, My Take: ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ is a cop-out.
Miller makes many unfair generalizations. He paints those who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious as light-weights in the philosophical department. Too lazy to follow the clear cut paths of centuries old doctrine, they prefer to bask in feel-good exercises. Rejecting authoritarian structures, they flit like butterflies from one happy spiritual experience to another. They journey down a shallow, self-centred path, never stopping to drink deeply of the water from any one spiritual tradition. It’s not surprising that he considers choosing the spiritual over the religious as a cop out.
There are many good people who have turned from organized religion. While the reasons are varied, they often include anger, disappointment, disillusionment, or simply indifference towards the organizational structure and authoritarianism found in many religious communities today. Instead of judging others, religious communities need to judge themselves. Why are so many leaving? Why are we not meeting the spiritual needs of women and men?
Many who have turned from traditional religions have not turned away from a spiritual quest. They know, intrinsically, that there is a Divine being, a creative power. They also know, intrinsically, that humans are more than flesh and blood. Many have embraced an inclusive approach to spirituality that opens the windows of the mind and heart to seek wisdom in other spiritual traditions.
Ideally, the religious and the spiritual would be indivisible. As Catholics, we appreciate the rootedness of tradition, the sacred Word of God, sacramentality, communal and liturgical prayer, and a spiritual union not only with God but with each other and all the saints who have gone before us. But, as Catholics, we also know that religion can easily become focused on dogma, rules, regulations, and authoritative power structures. When this happens, the spiritual becomes hard to find.
There are many, self-professed religious people who seem to have turned their back on the spiritual or never really found it in the first place. They find comfort in black and white dogmas, hierarchical structures and unchanging liturgical practices. They wear their religiosity on their sleeves and around their necks. They vigorously defend the institutional church but show little joy or reason to follow them. They embrace and preach a religion of judgment and guilt. Their role in the church is to fortify her walls rather than open windows and doors.
Living a true spiritual life means acknowledging that you are not the center of the universe. God exists. And this divine, creative power calls us all into being not for our sakes alone. We are created for the other; to be in communion with each other. The glory of God is woman and man fully alive, and fullness of life is found in caring, compassion, love, and acts of service. Life is a gift freely given, but we must be accountable for our lives.
As with many things these days, it’s a matter of balance. The pendulum, perhaps, is swinging naturally from the extreme of religiosity without grounding in the spiritual life to the extreme of spirituality that is not grounded within a religious tradition.
May it settle into that wise in-between where religious tradition and the spiritual life exist in seamless harmony.