‘I’m spiritual but not religious.’ Have you ever heard this being said? Perhaps you’ve said it yourself. What exactly does this mean to you? Broadly, it means that one does not subscribe to the tenets of any one faith or religious belief system. There are those who use it to mean the pursuit of God independently of the teachings of a religious group, seeking God in God’s fullness.
This is a significant topic today, diffusing among young people, in particular. Why, because they have seen the actions in religion of those who have gone before them and question what they see. Let me take it a step further to say, they challenge what they see. What do they see? They see segregation, condemnation, perversion and corruption, malice, hate, envy and greed. They see superficiality. Perhaps, most crushingly, they see duplicity. Without proper guidance, our young people have mistakenly accepted that this is what ‘religion’ is. And what has been offered to them, in many respects, has offended, injured and scandalised.
But, notwithstanding the fallenness that has crept into religion (remember, it is humanity that practices religion, therefore, there is space for brokenness to enter), is religion any less worthy? Let me draw from my Church’s readings for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, Proper 17. I choose the first reading, Jeremiah 2:4-13. In this reading from the Prophet Jeremiah which, in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, is strikingly entitled God Pleads with Israel to Repent, God asks through Jeremiah, ‘What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?’ (Jeremiah 2:5)
So, here we have a people rescued from slavery in Egypt after more than 400 years, sustained in the wilderness by God for just about 40 years, led to overcome their enemies in battle and made to settle in a ‘plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things’ (verse 7) who have now turned against the One who was responsible for their prosperity. As God expresses it, ‘when you entered you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination’ (verse 7). Yet, for all this defilement, God did not disown Israel. He continued to call them. In the New Testament, hundreds of years after Jeremiah had spoken, Jesus was sent, as He said to the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, ‘only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’. Of course, this scope was expanded by the time He had completed His earthly ministry when he commissioned the disciples in Matthew 28:19 to ‘go therefore and make disciples of all nations’. Returning to the Iraelites, the point is this: notwithstanding the centuries of brokenness and corruption among them, God did not cease to offer salvation to them.
Let us now link this to the ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’ movement. Do the sins of those within religion make religion any less worthy? Do the extreme positions taken by some within all major religions warrant a discrediting of religion? If your answer to this is yes, then, I thank God that He is my judge. For, by that line of reasoning, I should never have been born with all of humanity never having had an opportunity at eternity through salvation.
Now, I accept that we have all sinned, and fall short of the glory of God. However, let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. At the end of the day, there is nothing within religion that the Almighty has not already erased through the redemptive power of the Blood of the Lamb. Does this mean that we remain silent on the transgressions of the Body of Christ? No! What it does mean, however, is that, like God, in whose image and likeness we have been created, we continue to call the Body to true religion: to worship God ‘in spirit and truth’ (John 4:24) and to seek His face as we ‘let mutual love continue’ (Hebrews 13:1).
The sins of those who practice religion are not the essence of religion. Religion is a gift from God. Religion cannot exist without spirituality, for it is God, who is spirit, who sanctifies religion. As such, we must be careful of two things when we claim to be Spiritual But Not Religious
- the sin of rejecting a gift from God and
- the unintended sin of calling profane what the Lord has called holy when we scoff at religion.
Am I discouraging spirituality? As I have already said, it is not possible to be religious without being spiritual. The two are inseparable. Religion is a path to spirituality, for in the body of religion, is the work of those who have gone before us and done their part in helping us find greater communion with God. Our role is to continue in that tradition individually and in community for the honour and glory of God.
As I leave you to ponder this message, I encourage you not to neglect the work that we have been assigned by the Master and to ‘pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding’ (Romans 14:19) and in so doing, may we all attain