Spiritual Not Religious: Fact or Fiction?

One of the most popular posts on this blog is titled, “Religionless Christianity: Finding God Outside the Institutional Church.”  Many of the hits on that particular post are the result of people searching the web using these kinds of search criteria; “Leaving Christian religion finding God”, “Christianity outside the church,” and “finding God without a church.”  This tells me that many people out there are searching for something.

Over the past year, I have met an increasing number of individuals who are saying “yes” to God but “no” to the church.  Yesterday I got into an online discussion with my 33 year old cousin, Jack.  Since I am ten years older than Jack and went off to college when he was only eight, we were never really close.  However, through the magic of Facebook, Jack and I have gotten to know each other a bit more over the last year.  His facebook posts are often a bit nutty, on the edge of sanity, but lately shockingly profound.  Last night Jack blew me away with the following comments which he agreed that I could post on my blog.

“I am still quite uncertain on religion but I search for belief as fervently as I discredit it. I have a science mind and religious heart. The church as I have known it has projected an air of hypocrisy to a point where I think I snapped and became disenfranchised. I love Christian ideals but from what I’ve experienced, the churches seem to be all talk. I guess I’m just kind of stuck at Humanist.

A big part of my questioning demeanor lies with the fact that my birthplace played the biggest role in my spiritual upbringing. If I had been born in Jedda I could be Muslim and so forth. Should I believe that Christianity is the one and only worthy religion? Why should geography dictate my religious choice? I don’t want to believe my friends of eastern faiths are unworthy of heaven.

To be honest, I’m quite sold on God’s existence, it’s the prophet I’m not sure of (sorry for the blasphemy). I do however find that traditional Catholicism has an appeal that I can’t fully explain. What I can explain is somewhat superficial. I am a fan of a good ole gothic designed stone building with traditional hymns, ritualism, symbolism and the like. It says to me, this is a place I want to find my spirituality. It symbolizes “The Rock”, sturdiness and exudes a sense of safety and stability. I find comfort in the ritual and symbolism this particular style of church offers.

I can’t take a “Six Flags Over Jesus” seriously. Frankly I think that sort of display trivializes Jesus. If I were to attend church it would be solely for worship so appearance and demeanor are key for me. Fellowship doesn’t require a rec room and if I want a basketball court I’ll go to one. I hear Rock bands all the time and listening to a mediocre (at best) one sing about a sacred figure doesn’t sit right with me, only in church do I get a pipe organ and a choir that exude spirituality. Plus I feel Catholicism has the oldest Christian roots and although I feel that nobody will be judged on their particular flavor of Dogma, I think I’d be more comfortable with the original.

I think we are subconsciously starved for a sense of identity. I can’t think of a single thing I do that I can say, this is the way it’s always been done… it’s important we keep this going, even if only to remember. Communion is the only thing that comes to mind.

I would love to share my opinion on your blog. I’m always in search of answers and this type of dialogue promotes self actualization and that’s the only way I truly learn.

As I reflected on Jack’s insights, I realized Jack does not have an issue with the trappings of religion.  Communion, worship, and ritual all seem to point Jack to a God that never changes and the promise of God’s unending presence in our lives.  The two issues for Jack seem to be the “hypocrisy” as revealed it it’s perceived “all talk no action” stance and the “exclusivity” of the faith.

Over the past decade churches across the country have tweaked their worship services and tried to make their talk more relevant to the lives of the people in the pews.  However, we continue to see an increasing number of people abandon the church.  I think the issue is that Jack and millions of others like him do not want to be a part of something that requires them to disown their doubt. It is not that they are not “religious” but that they will not be a hypocrite.

I think he and others are searching for something deeply authentic.  Something they can believe in with all their heart, mind and soul.  Something that captures their imagination and draws them into a mystery so deep that their scientific minds simply surrender.  Something lived not just spoken.  Something incarnational not doctrinal.  I suspect that my cousin Jack would see all that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

What makes me sad is that Jack and others who are open about their doubts don’t have a place to wrestle with religious questions.  They are often shut down or have bible passages hurled at them.  They are accused of needing more faith or other insulting comments that cause them to retreat back into their own private spiritual world. They don’t feel loved, only judged.

My purpose in sharing Jack’s insights is not to try to convince him to change his mind about the church.  Instead I am hoping it might help those representing the church change their minds about the Jack’s of the world.  They are not people ignorant of the faith who selfishly follow the ways of sin.  They are simply people who have wrestled with what they have been taught and choose to disagree.  They are just as spiritual as the most die-hard church goer.  I think many would love to be a part of a gathering in which their views were respected.  As Jack says many are “starved for a sense of identity.”  My prayer is that Jack and others find their identity within the Christian faith but for that to happen something has to change.

What do you think of Jack’s insights? Can you relate to his honest questioning?

Would people who share Jacks doubts feel welcome in your church?  Would Jack see “talk” or “action” if he were to look at your church?

How can we help people like Jack find that sense of identity they are searching for?

Please avoid the temptation to “preach” at Jack through your comments.  He is well aware of all the bible passages that you can pull out to prove your point that “Jesus is the only way.”  Instead, try to connect to the core of Jack’s questioning and try to really hear his heart.

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8 Comments

Filed under missional church, Theology

8 responses to “Spiritual Not Religious: Fact or Fiction?

  1. “I am still quite uncertain on religion but I search for belief as fervently as I discredit it. I have a science mind and religious heart. The church as I have known it has projected an air of hypocrisy to a point where I think I snapped and became disenfranchised. I love Christian ideals but from what I’ve experienced, the churches seem to be all talk. I guess I’m just kind of stuck at Humanist”

    The hypocrisy is not really spelled out here, so I am left to presume it is on moral grounds of some fashion. I agree that Christian churches are filled with hypocrites, but then again so is any church, charity, school, etc. There is unfortunately a growing trend of the word faith movement creeping into churches. Basing your levels of success and happiness on your level of faith. That is just unbiblical, but it fills seats.

    There is nothing wrong with questioning, or having doubts. Anyone who tells you they have never done either is lying right to your face. The truth should never be afraid of questions, in fact it ought to invite it, and if true can survive the test. A good church will entertain your concerns, however being skeptical for skepticism’s sake is intellectually dishonest.

    “A big part of my questioning demeanor lies with the fact that my birthplace played the biggest role in my spiritual upbringing. If I had been born in Jedda I could be Muslim and so forth. Should I believe that Christianity is the one and only worthy religion? Why should geography dictate my religious choice? I don’t want to believe my friends of eastern faiths are unworthy of heaven.”

    Where you were born has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of Christianity…or anything else for that matter. Belief is not genetic. As cold as this may sound, what you want to believe is irrelevant to whether it is true. Same goes for me. The fact of the matter is, all religions cannot be correct. The can all be wrong, but not all right. The differ and oppose too sharply for that to be the case. Consider this, not every American is a Christian, not every Indian is Muslim, or Hindu. People convert. We learn all kinds of things based on where we are born, that is not the factor to consider when determining if something is true, consider the merits of the claims.

    “I can’t take a “Six Flags Over Jesus” seriously. Frankly I think that sort of display trivializes Jesus. If I were to attend church it would be solely for worship so appearance and demeanor are key for me. Fellowship doesn’t require a rec room and if I want a basketball court I’ll go to one. I hear Rock bands all the time and listening to a mediocre (at best) one sing about a sacred figure doesn’t sit right with me, only in church do I get a pipe organ and a choir that exude spirituality. Plus I feel Catholicism has the oldest Christian roots and although I feel that nobody will be judged on their particular flavor of Dogma, I think I’d be more comfortable with the original.”

    Here again you emphasize your feelings as your guide to what is true. However, I will not get into the merits of Catholicism, there are aspects of it’s official teachings which are contrary to what the Bible teaches. Oldest does not equal most correct, though earliest is best, even the RCC has changed over the years. And in so doing is not the same today as it was in the 1st, 5th, and 15th centuries. But I agree with the sentiment, church should not be a carnival. It should be reverent and respectful. As often as it is preached in the new Christian churches, God is not our buddy, our bro, or our wing man. He is the Creator and savior of mankind and ought to be addressed as such.

    That’s pretty much it, I hope it wasn’t preachy. I think a lot of obstacles skeptics encounter are from misconceptions. Atheists for example, have a tendency to rely on eachother for their characterizations of theism, and Christianity in general. By doing so they often have what Christianity actually is and believes wrong, and they reject the mischaracterization rather than the facts of it. The misrepresentations are so ingrained that even when presented with what Christianity is, it is still rejected.

  2. wmccaig

    John,

    Thank you for your respectful and thoughtful reply. I am wondering how we can embrace those with doubts within the Christian tradition. I have heard that Peter Rollins is one of the best at creating space for people to wrestle but I am still not sure how we do that. Any thoughts?

    • I think there is a long standing tradition in the Christian church that true belief requires no examination, after all if you truly believed why are you asking questions? Many, if not most Christians, I believe, are afraid to ask the questions, in fear that there is real evidence Christianity is false. Authers such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennet, and many others continue to top the NYT best sellers lists. These are very smart men. Smart men who believe Christianity is false. What do they know that I don’t know?

      We need to realize asking questions is just fine. God, and the Bible never describe faith as a blind leap. We need to embrace the idea that there is nothing wrong with being informed, to be ready to give a defense for the hope that is within us. The churh is taking a turn in the wrong direction, embracing ideas such as religious pluralism, that they are all basically the same. Jesus is the way…for me, but not necessarily for you. If He is not the Savior for all, he is the Savior for none. The church and Christians need a backbone. Do not be afraid to stand up and be mocked, ridiculed, called names, bigot, intolerant, and hateful. It’s going to happen, Jesus said to expect the world to hate us. If the world is not hating you for your Christianity, you may have watered it down and assimilated it down to just another worldly self help option.

      That’s how I see it anyway.

      • wmccaig

        Hi John,

        I choose to “walk humbly.” I honestly do not know the mind of God and I choose not to pretend that I do. I have experienced the power of Christ in my life and in the lives of others and that is what I share. I do not think we will ever create safe space for spiritual seekers with out a tremendous level of humility.

  3. Steph Rice

    I can definitely relate to Jack’s experience and feelings. In high school I put myself in a church environment that allowed for no questions and gave no real answers outside of scripture. I do believe Scripture is relevant to today, but how is a high school student supposed to know how to make those connections? Especially if when they ask questions, more Scripture is thrown at them.

    Now that I have gone through college and been in an environment that allows for questioning, I love it. Its even better now that I’m in seminary and am forced to ask the questions that shake my faith down to its very core. Writing papers on Scripture that require me to question the who, what, when, where and whys is exhilarating and I can’t get enough of it.

    Unfortunately that has not translated into a church experience for me yet. I was so entrenched in church in high school that I’ve swung to the other side of the pendulum. I don’t want anything to do with church and organized religion in general. But, I know there are places out there that allow for deep, honest questioning with sincere, sometimes unknown answers. There are also churches that simply provide a place to fellowship and worship and enjoy the presence of God and others.

    I don’t quite know the answers to Wendy’s last two questions, but I hope I find the answers and am able to worship with other Christians who are open and seeking, no matter what answers they may find.

    • wmccaig

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for sharing your insights. God is up to something but I still don’t see what it is. Hope you will join me on this journey of discovery.

  4. Katharine

    As someone who has been there and found that the truth of Christianity really is found in traditional Catholicism I can relate :). Now the problem has become looking at the Church through the eyes of someone who never really knew God, instead of someone who thought she did.

  5. Pingback: Jessica and Jack’s Journey – A Yearning for a Lived Theology | Wendy McCaig

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