Tuesday, November 13, 2007

what I miss (a critical self-reflection?)

OK, so having set out my reasoning for why I am increasingly seeing myself as "spiritual but not religious" (though I agree with natalie's concern about how the word "spiritual" has come to be misused), I think it important for me to think somewhat critically about such a choice.

For there is clearly a downside. Perhaps several of them.

One downside, it seems to me, is the loss of a sense of community, a sense of togetherness in worship. One of my favorite parts of college was attending mass with friends, holding hands together during the "Our Father" and feeling that sense of community. I miss that. And certainly a choice to be "spiritual but not religious" is, in some sense, a choice not to pursue such experiences.

Somewhat tangentially, I also worry that a choice to be "spiritual but not religious" is simply going along with my natural inclination towards introversion, even isolation to some degree. Would it not be better to challenge myself? To experience God as part of a community as well as within the depths of my own experience?

Third, there is the risk mentioned of self-deception -- and the role of community in clarifying what insights might be "from God" and which are the result a kind of narrowness of vision, of my own sinfulness, etc. Would not a community allow for a kind of feedback? A kind of challenge? A potential for growth? (Parenthetically, I was musing about how communities themselves are not perfect in this regard. Community wide beliefs can endorse sexism, racism, and bigotry in various forms.) Still...

All this is to say that, as usual, I have no easy answers to such conundrums. (Actually, I don't think that this is a situation where there is a "right" or "wrong" answer, but rather one in which our hearts might validly choose between several paths.) But I do believe in questioning, in looking at things from various perspectives.

Thanks to you all for the generosity of your time and insights in responding to my previous post.


Wyldth1ng said...

I agree with most of what you say here.

Granted the first part, with mass in college, the closest for was boot camp (Whole other world.), but can reflect on the same ideas. If that makes sense to you.

steve said...


I would imagine that the sense of togetherness from boot camp would be powerful indeed -- from having gone through such an experience together, from having to pull together, etc. I spent some time working at a VAMC in the past, and caught some glimpses of that in working with the veterans.

Thanks for your comments.

Gannet Girl said...

I would argue -- probably in a lengthy fashion presently precluded by the four exams I have to take over the next three days -- that community is an integral and essential and probably foundational aspect of spirituality, and that any authentic spirituality has at its heart community practice, community exploration, community support, and the giving of oneself in community.

That is not to say that spirituality does not incorporate individuality and indvidual practice and committment. Those aspects are also essential. And it is not to insist that a church (or other faith's) community is a requisite to a spiritual life. (Although I do think they are essential to growth in spirituality. Another topic.)

But a spirituality that does not ultimately bring one into community in some fashion is nothing more than a self-involved fascination with and longing for the "something out there" (I would call it God) that calls to us. I would argue that that impetus explains your sense of being impelled toward justice, kindness, and goodness as part of your spirituality.

I know that my argument is essentially counter-cultural in today's world. But there is a lot out there masquerading as spirituality, and the personal isolation that much of it enables is a sure sign that it is not what it claims to be.

Katherine E. said...

Yes, with GG, the tension between our individuality and our relationality is near the center of the spiritual life, I think.

You're good, Steve. Great reflective post.

Diane said...

this is another good reflection. "community" is so essential to my faith... corporate worship is part of it (for me, anyway) but as you said, it can be so powerful...hard to know where to find "authentic" community sometimes, though.