Sunday, December 29, 2013

Are You Spiritual or Religious?

When someone asks that question, they're usually of the opinion that being "Spiritual" is superior to being "Religious".  The actual difference between the two terms is largely dependent on how you define the two words. When someone says, "I'm spiritual rather than religious" they usually mean, "I don't like going to church - I find it too restrictive and if I say I'm spiritual I can take the moral high ground and not feel guilty for skipping services." Another of my favorites is, "I worship God in my head, not in a pew." It's very convenient to keep God in your head where no one can tell whether you are acting consistently with your 'spiritual' beliefs. That way you can change them if being consistent with your beliefs gets uncomfortable in any way. Being spiritual may be a religion of convenience and shifting values, but it's still a religion nonetheless.

According to Webster, religion is simply a set of beliefs or a belief system, if you will. Although the term "religion" usually applies to a system of worship of a supernatural being, it can apply to any organized or even disorganized system of beliefs. Technically atheism is a religion.  The twisted belief system of the KKK is religion at its worst. I've known soldiers whose military training left them with beliefs that were every bit as set in psychological stone as that of any religion going.

We all have a religion whether we want to or not. Even the determination not to have a "religion" is in itself the type of belief system that could be thought to constitute a religion. This makes militant atheists froth at the mouth when I say it, because it interferes with their efforts to cast "religion" as a pejorative term and to use it as the universal bugbear and the cause or all war and strife, conveniently ignoring the fact that it was completely nonreligious avowed atheists who were responsible for hundreds of millions of murders in the 20th century. Ultimately, the either/or choice with respect to being either spiritual or religious is a false choice. Any belief system can start wars or commit genocide including atheism or any other ism, if that is going to be your criteria for what constitutes a religion.

Spiritual people have a religion whether they like it or not, however loosey goosey it may be. A denomination is not strictly a religion. It's an organization with a set of religious beliefsn. You may dislike the organization. You may dislike the organization's set of beliefs (it's religion), but don't confuse the building and it's staff with the belief set any more than you'd confuse the United States with the doofuses that go to Washington DC to try and run things.

Beliefs act as a constant; a measuring stick if you will. The behavior of the denomination or individual church can be measured more or less against those beliefs. The misbehavior of the organization says nothing about the beliefs as to whether they are true or consistent. The blame for organizational misbehavior rests at the door of the individuals who claim the leadership or who are part of the membership who support the misbehavior.

There may be problems within any organization without its making the belief system invalid.  People are people, truth is truth. For those of you, for instance, who have left my church and claim to have gained peace and joy and all that good stuff without us, I have to wonder why you still seem so angry with the church you left and feel the need to trash us with such vehemence. We did not hold you in the church. We let you go with a free heart. Of course, we feel your decision was wrong. Of course, we aren't supportive of your new lifestyle where that lifestyle includes things we think are wrong. If you require us to approve of things we cannot approve of, you are going to be disappointed. We can love and accept you and still disagree with your behavior.

Here's where people who are "ex" anything always get their shorts in a bunch. They reject a belief system, almost always with some animosity, and then want those they left behind to either join them in rejecting their former religion or at least to violate our own consciences in some way in order to show we approve of your choice.

You people ask the impossible. Go with God. We think you made a mistake, sure. But then, don't you think we are wrong too?  For instance, my church believes the end of time is approaching and Christ will come soon. If you don't withdraw yourself from "the world", we believe it will take you down with it.  If you don't believe that, well and good. We'll see how it turns out for all of us. Till then, there's no need to snipe at one another. And by the way, you're welcome back whenever you feel the urge to hang with old friends.  Just don't come into our house to trash it. We don't do that to you.  If someone from my church does persecute you, just let me know and I'll let chastise them about it for you. God is the great judge, not us. That's as it ought to be.

Yours in Christ,

Tom King
A spiritual religious person
© 2013

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