10 September 2020

Spirituality. Which leads to religion.

SPIRITUALITY spɪ.rɪ.tʃu'æl.ə.di noun. Being concerned with the human spirit, as opposed to material things or the material world.
2. [Christianity] Following the Holy Spirit.
[Spiritual 'spɪ.rɪ.tʃ(.u)əl adjective]

I regularly meet pagans who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” I sometimes like to poke back at ’em by describing myself as religious, not spiritual.

Of course pagans and Christians have very different definitions for these words. By spiritual they mean they’re trying to be mindful of their spirit. And they have some idea what a spirit is. They know it’s the immaterial part of themselves. Frequently they mix it up with the soul, and use those words interchangeably—and to be fair, so do many Christians who likewise don’t know the difference. If they believe in afterlife, they figure their spirit lives on when they die. Otherwise… they kinda associate everything in their heads, which they think is immaterial, with their spirits. Namely their thoughts. Particularly any thoughts which really make ’em feel good. The more emotional it makes ’em, the more “spiritual” they find it. Weddings, tear-jerking movies, a nice sunset, a happy occasion, an inspirational book: For your average pagan, spiritual is just a way to make their happy thoughts sound more metaphysical.

Likewise religion to pagans means “organized religion,” i.e. church, where supposedly a preacher is gonna order you what to think, and they prefer to think for themselves. Of course if they’ve ever visited a non-cultic church, they’d know preachers aren’t supposed to tell us what to think; only the Holy Spirit gets to do that. And it’s not like the people of the church obey the preacher anyway!

These pagan definitions have wormed their way into Christendom. So much so we now have Christians claiming they’re “spiritual, not religious.”

But y’might notice the way Christians practice our “spirituality”… is mighty religious. We pray. We read bible. We go to church. We tithe. We read Christian books, tune in to Christian radio, listen to Christian podcasts. We do good deeds. We share the gospel with others. We just won’t stop posting out-of-context bible quotes on Instagram. We might try to claim to our pagan friends we’re just as “spiritual, not religious” as they, but to pagans we’re totally religious.

Which stands to reason: When we read our bibles and we come across the words “spiritual” or “spiritually” (Greek πνευματικός/nefmatikós) it refers to following the Holy Spirit. Not our spirits. Not human spirits. Definitely not being led by our emotions, which can be influenced by all sorts of outside factors, including devilish ones.

And if we’re truly following the Holy Spirit—who of course is gonna encourage and empower us to follow Jesus—we’re easily gonna slide into a disciplined, structured life of doing what it takes to grow our relationship with God. Like prayer, bible, church, worship, service, goodness. Our spirituality becomes religion.

Yeah, even if you really don’t like to use the R-word.

Follow the correct Spirit.

As I said, the pagan definition has wormed its way into Christendom, and the product is Christians whose spirituality is not following the Spirit; it’s in doing whatever makes ’em feel good, and good about themselves. It’s in self-centered and self-justifying behavior. It’s in following a version of “Jesus” which is really just us projecting all our desires and wishes upon him, and bending the scriptures so we can live as we please without really following him. It’s not following the Spirit, but the flesh. It’s Christianism.

Galatians 5.16-17 NRSV
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

Paul went further to list the works of the flesh, and Christians who exhibit such things, no matter how spiritual they imagine themselves, clearly aren’t following the Holy Spirit.

Christians who are properly spiritual, who legitimately follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, produce his fruit. A fruity Christian is a spiritual Christian; a fruitless Christian (and they do exist) is practicing rubbish instead of spirituality. They’re indulging themselves, gratifying their desires, and because they feel good they imagine they are good. But they’re no different from ignorant pagans who haven’t a clue what they’re doing.

Thing is, one of the Spirit’s fruits is self-control. A proper Christian spirituality is gonna be a disciplined, temperate, structured one. It’s gonna take our time with God seriously. It’s gonna make time for prayer, for bible, for church, because it sees the value in committing to these things on a regular, frequent basis. It’s gonna get, dare I say, religious.

’Cause any Christian spirituality which doesn’t wind up getting religious, likely isn’t following the Holy Spirit very well. If at all.

Galatians 5.18 NRSV
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

Because you’re not gonna need any Law. You’re not gonna need external structures to keep you in check. You’re not gonna need some earthly guru to guide your spiritual growth; you’re not gonna need a timetable or timeline to structure your spiritual practices. You’re directly following God, and he’s gonna guide you into self-discipline and structure better than any rulebook or life coach could.

That’s what Christian spirituality leads to. Not touchy-feely but wishy-washy behavior.

  • Not a person who has to find mystical connections to everything.
  • Not a person who judges everything by how it personally makes ’em feel, and especially when it makes ’em feel “spiritual.”
  • Not a person whose Christianity looks like fandom; like instead of adoring a boy band, they’ve chosen Jesus, and they’ve got all his memorabilia.
  • Not a person whose Christianity looks like partisanship, where they’ve got all the Jesus stuff… and a growing collection of stuff to fight the opposition. Tons of apologetics works. stuff. Lotsa anti-cult, anti-atheist, anti-heresy, anti-other-religions stuff. Oh, and they’re plenty politically partisan too. They’re itching to fight somebody!
  • Not a “relationship, not religion” which looks as dysfunctional as all their other relationships.

Not chaos. Order.