August 25, 2014

Spiritual but not religious is not enough

David Mills has a word for People Who Find God in Sunsets

It’s too vague, too hazy, too . . . pointless. It advertises itself as a steak when it’s really made of cotton candy, and sugar-free cotton candy to boot. It says “I’m a serious, grown-up faith,” but it’s not.

A serious, grown-up faith tells us “Thus says the Lord,” or at least “Thus says the universe.” It deals with the problem that we don’t seem to fit in this world very well. It calls us to some ideal we’re not reaching. It offers us a hope that our life and our world will be better. It gives us things to do to be better.

Buddhism, the religion closest to “spiritual but not religious,” is a serious, grown-up faith. It demands something of you. It’s hard work, being a serious Buddhist. Buddhist monks don’t stare at sunsets while drinking wine on the porch.

A serious religion is solid. You may think it completely wrong, but you can see it clearly and decide what you think about it. You can take its measure. This kind of “spirituality,” there’s just nothing there to see. It can be anything and nothing.
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That a beautiful sunset makes you feel good about everything doesn’t help you when you really need help. The sunset’s still beautiful when your wife has cancer, you’ve lost your job, and you have to be out of your home in a month, but so what? The same nature that produced the sunset is producing the cancer cells threatening to kill your wife.

The man wasting away from pancreatic cancer will, as I’ve written elsewhere, get no help nor comfort from the “spiritual,” which will abandon him when he feels pain morphine won’t suppress. He has no one to beg for help, no one to ask for comfort, no one to be with him, no one to meet when he crosses from this world to the next. He wants what religion promises.

He links to Lillian Daniel, author of When 'Spiritual But Not Religious' is Not Enough who writes

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Thank you for sharing, spiritual-but-not-religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community? Because when this flight gets choppy, that's who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.
Posted by Jill Fallon at August 25, 2014 10:50 AM | Permalink