A Good Spiritual Fight ~ BitterSweetLife

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Good Spiritual Fight

Can't We Just All Be 'Spiritual?'

Yesterday, when I was perusing the Kansas City Star during halftime of the latest KU road win, I exhausted the Sports pages and found myself skimming through the Faith section. To my surprise, I came across one of those editorial-style ‘debates’ that commonly occur, but this one was on a spiritual topic: What does it mean to be spiritual without following a particular faith?

When I read the topic, I was immediately interested because

  1. Spiritual questions are so rarely debated in the public square, and
  2. My invitation to join the conversation had obviously been lost in the mail.

However, when I started in and read the two ‘opposing’ viewpoints, I discovered they did not so much disagree as talk in completely different directions; I wondered if the two writers had put their heads together beforehand and sketched out a plan for editorial pacifism. The absence of significant discussion was disappointing.

People fight about everything of any worth, down to whether the Snickers bar was split fairly across the middle. So when everyone shrinks timidly away from spiritual debate, it looks more like a white elephant Christmas party than serious people fortifying vital positions.

So much for point a)—but point b) was thrown into even greater relief as a result. My omission from the discussion had left a clear polemical void. I felt the moral weight of this dilemma, and knew I would not be able to sleep until I’d done something about it. So, last night I considered what should be said - for about 30 seconds, anyway. Then I fell asleep.

:: The Short Answer ::

What does it mean to be spiritual without following a particular faith?

Being ‘spiritual’ in this sense may mean any number of things.
It may mean that you love trees.
Or that you walked outside one day, in the rain, and you felt the mud squish between your toes, and decided it was good to be alive.
Or that you simply know that part of you is invisible, and think this should be acknowledged.

Each of these outcomes is to be applauded—in the same way we cheer when a baby takes her first step. It is good to be able to walk.

Likewise, language is helpful, and we endorse the idea that everyone should be able to talk.

But ‘walking’ and ‘talking’ are meaningless without additional parameters, such as, Where are you going? What are you saying? Staggering across a six-lane highway after midnight doesn’t earn you the same level of approval as, say, walking briskly to work at 7 a.m. Cursing up a storm tends towards a different conclusion than a cordial, “Good night.”

Thus, a faithless spirituality is either babyish, or wishful thinking, or na├»ve. It blurs indelible lines, or is not sufficiently aware of them. Embracing a faith-neutered ‘spirituality’ is similar to saying we are in favor of edible objects—never mind that some of them can kill you.

:: Counter-Questions ::

In the KC Star article, the Reverend Duke Tufty, pastor of our local Unity Temple, noted that:
“Religion came into being to establish a moral conscience among the people…spirituality has evolved out of religion, bringing with it the ancient wisdom that can be considered absolute. It is an inner process of self-discovery and direction. It restores autonomy in regards to one’s relationship with God and encourages the individual to experience his/her higher power directly and freely without the confines of dogma.”

I was very sad at having being left out of the argument, because I wanted to put several questions to Mr. Tufty. Such as:
  1. How did religion “come into being?” Did it have a mind of its own? Or perhaps several?
  2. If spirituality “evolved,” in what way can it be “considered absolute?”
  3. If spirituality can be “considered absolute,” how can it be a purely “inner process of self-discovery?”
  4. If spirituality is the freedom to experience the higher power “without the confines of dogma,” how do you justify this paragraph? (Let alone your editorial.)
  5. In other words, how did you come by this special authoritative information?
  6. Did you expect to have your cake and eat it too?

This will be my last post for a few days, as I'm driving north to Minneapolis to attend a conference hosted by one of my favorite writers and thinkers, John Piper. Since I still haven't saved enough pennies for a notebook pc, there will be an inevitable media blackout, but I hope to come back inspired.

Peace, I'm out.

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Andrew Simone said...

Ah, a Piper lover...I smell them a mile away.

(Don't worry I like him too)

Will Robison said...

After all these years, you would think someone would have developed a good definition for religion - but nobody has. The first thing I learned about religion in Anthropology is that though every culture ever known has had one, nobody could really define what one was. It seems clear that human beings feel a need to have a religion, but in saying that, not everyone agrees what that is. Emile Durkheim suggested that religions were nothing more than a societal way of establishing a set of common rules that everyone agrees with by making them so obvious that they took on a supernatural quality. Sort of like saying, "Well everyone knows that you shouldn't eat pigs." Really? Says who? "God, of course." I don't really believe that.

I think that that is backwards. I think that humanity felt spirituality the first time they looked into the heavens and were awed by the stars, or the rain, or the lightning, or whatever... or maybe the first time they cried out for help when they were about to be eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger even though they knew there was nobody around to help them. That is such a part of human nature, that surely spirituality must be part of our make up, part of our being. I think religion comes after. I think religion comes after the fall of man. Before that, you don't need rules to be right with God. You just are.

Jeff Pioquinto,SJ said...

wow. nice blog. very inspiring. thanks


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife