Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Religion is for those who don’t want to go to hell. Spirituality is for those who have already been there.”

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Fr John Bauer
Rector, Basilica St. Mary

An acquaintance, who is involved in a 12 step program, often quotes these words whenever the topic of religion/church comes up. Now I am not naïve enough to believe that organized religion is everyone’s cup of tea. I say this because studies show there has been a dramatic decline in membership and/or attendance at most mainline Christian Churches. At the same time there has been an increase in the number of people who are joining various groups/activities that could loosely be gathered under the heading of “spiritual.” I believe, though, that it is a mistake to set up a dichotomy between religion and spirituality, as though a person can be one or the other, but not both. They both have an important place and serve an important need.

One of the things that religion does best is to give us a perspective and a creed by which to live. It also offers a community that both supports and corrects us. Certainly these things can be found outside of organized religion, but organized religion has been doing them well for centuries. At its worst, religion can become a hollow and sterile set of rubrics and rules that doesn’t engage or involve the individual at a deep level or help them to grow in their relationship with God.

Spirituality on the other hand, offers a direction/stance toward life, and often an intentional way to live. Spirituality invites people to look beyond the surface to a deeper level of life and living. At its best, spirituality encourages people to take their relationship with God seriously and challenges them to make it a priority in their life. (Of course, religion also offers these things, but sometimes they get lost amidst the conventions of a particular religion.) At its worst, spirituality can be reduced to the latest trend that focuses exclusively on the self, with no reference to a higher power.

I believe we need both religion and spirituality in our lives. We need religion to provide the underpinnings and the superstructure for our spiritual lives. We need it to keep us from going off the rails and thinking only of ourselves. Most importantly, though, we need religion because it offers us those things that we can’t provide for ourselves, e.g., formal worship, a community of faith and a tradition of service. On the other hand, we need spirituality because it helps personalize religion and our relationship with God. It reminds us that we need to take seriously our responsibility to develop our relationship with God. Ideally, religion and spirituality work together to help us develop as persons as well as to grow in our relationship with God.

Perhaps the reason there has been a decline in mainline Christian Churches is that they have lost focus on the important and necessary fact that we are all called to a personal and intimate relationship with God. This is what the spiritual life is all about. To the extent that any religion isn’t working to foster the spiritual growth of its members, it shouldn’t be surprising that that religion is losing both members and vitality. Weekly Musings


Comment:

I just heard this on the radio. There are two kinds of church members. The Pillars. We all know them. They join, contribute and support all the ministries of the parish.

Then there are the "Caterpillars." They slither in and out each week and nobody ever knows their name.

They obey the bare minimum of the Third Comandment and only some of the Six Commandments (Precepts) of the Church. (I see they slipped a seventh one in there. Betcha you didn't know that either!).


Which one are you?
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