Spiritual or Just Religious?

July 29, 2008
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Is your spiritual journey the same as your religious journey, or is religion just one of the facets of your spiritual life?

In breaking through the typologies of the past, Mormonism’s restoration was initially one way to pick up an individual spiritual path again without the cumbersome mores of organized religion.  But over time, as the religion has grown and become more bureaucratic, have members abandoned being spiritual for merely being religious?

For the last few decades, Westerners have embraced Eastern thought as a way to regain spirituality that they felt was stifled by organized religion. Based on their observations, spirituality includes:

  • the search for personal meaning in life
  • the search to understand one’s own nature and place in the universe
  • meditations on the nature of God
  • understanding the good in humanity and personal connections

According to Wikipedia:  An important distinction exists between spirituality in religion and spirituality as opposed to religion.

  • Spirituality in religion.  In recent years, spirituality in religion often carries connotations of a believer having a faith more personal, less dogmatic, more open to new ideas and myriad influences, and more pluralistic than the doctrinal/dogmatic faiths of mature religions. It also can connote the nature of believers’ personal relationship or “connection” with their god(s) or belief-system(s), as opposed to the general relationship with a Deity as shared by all members of a given faith. To Christians, referring to one’s self as “more spiritual than religious” implies relative deprecation of rules, rituals, and tradition while preferring an intimate relationship with God and/or talking to Him as one’s best friend. Their basis for this belief is that Jesus Christ came to free man from those rules, rituals, and traditions, giving them the ability to “walk in the spirit” thus maintaining a “Christian” lifestyle through that one-to-one relationship with God.
  • Spirituality as opposed to religion.  Those who speak of spirituality as opposed to religion generally meta-religiously believe in the existence of many “spiritual paths” and deny any objective truth about the best path to follow. Rather, adherents of this definition of the term emphasize the importance of finding one’s own path to whatever-god-there-is, rather than following what others say works. In summary: the path which makes the most coherent sense becomes the correct one (for oneself).  Many adherents of orthodox religions who regard spirituality as an aspect of their religious experience tend to contrast spirituality with secular “worldliness” rather than with the ritual expression of their religion.
  • New Age Thought.  People of a more New-Age disposition tend to regard spirituality not as religion per se, but as the active and vital connection to a force/power/energy, spirit, or sense of the deep self. As cultural historian and yogi William Irwin Thompson (1938 – ) put it, “Religion is not identical with spirituality; rather religion is the form spirituality takes in civilization.”

So, are Mormons on the whole “Spirituality in Religion” or “Spirituality opposed to Religion” people?  What does spirituality mean to you?  Does religion help you find your spiritual path or is it a separate but parallel path for you?  Do you see purely spiritual pursuits as being in opposition to Mormonism as a religion?  Are there elements of religion that stifle your spiritual path?  How do you reconcile the two?  Discuss.

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24 Responses to Spiritual or Just Religious?

  1. JustforQuix
    July 29, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    As I pursued spirituality it became a personal and too community-detached and intellectually weighted pursuit. Finding my heart more in my faith has involved seeking and embracing more about religion — about people, humanity and community. Finding my need for and authentic identity within faith community has helped me see that I couldn’t fully separate the two to feel fully human yet still personally immersed and connected with faith.

  2. Jeff Spector
    July 29, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    There is spirituality and then there is spirituality! Many people I have known used the phrase, “I am a very spiritual person” as a code phrase for not be committed to the practice of a religious faith. However, truly spiritual people who are earnestly strive to live a life pleasing to God, no matter what context that takes, have no need for such a declaration.

    Following a religion solely because it is the family tradition generally yield a religious person from a practice standpoint, but not necessarily a spiritual one.

  3. Howard
    July 29, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Mormonism is the most spiritual religion I have been exposed to. But, there are narrow limits to the form of spirituality will be accepted or even tolerated. It has been my experience that there are many spiritual paths but unless they are a part of your past you won’t find broad acceptance for them as a member.

    Tobias Wolff: “Perhaps the greatest problem with this word is the line it seems to imply between spirit and flesh…” This is not a problem for Mormons, they understand and accept the interface of spirit and flesh and they understand some of the great questions like; where we came from, why we are here and where we are going. But, one of the big weaknesses is that many only know these answers intellectually, they haven’t experienced gnosis or “knowing” them spiritually.

    Another great spiritual strength is revelation.

    McConkie:
    “As a people, we are in the habit of saying that we believe in latter-day revelation. We announce that the heavens have been opened, that God has spoken in our day, that angels have ministered to men, that there have been visions and revelations, and that no gift possessed by the ancients has been withheld.

    But usually, when we talk in this way, we are thinking of the examples of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, or Spencer W. Kimball. We are thinking of apostles and prophets. We are thinking of them and of the Church itself operating on the principle of revelation.

    But revelation is not restricted to the prophet of God on earth. The visions of eternity are not reserved for General Authorities. Revelation is something that should be received by every individual. For the Lord said in D&C 1:35 “… I am no respecter of persons …” and every soul is just as precious to him as the souls of those who are called to positions of leadership. Because he operates on principles of eternal, universal law, any individual who obeys the law that entitles him to get revelation can know exactly what President Kimball knows, can speak with angels just as well as Joseph Smith spoke with them, and can be in tune with all things spiritual.

    Now I say that we are entitled to revelation. Every member of the Church is entitled to get revelation from the Holy Ghost; he is entitled to have angels visit; he is entitled to view the visions of eternity; and he is entitled to see God the same way that any prophet in reality has seen him.”

    When it comes to personal revelation of this magnitude, many (probably most?) do not actually believe it exists.

  4. DavidH
    July 29, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    In my view, spirituality means our relationship (with or without organized religion) with the numinous, with God, and with our fellow beings, and even all of nature. Religious spirituality, including LDS spirituality, to me, is a subset of spirituality, and means our relationship to God and His creations mediated primarily through a religion’s teachings or its structure and rituals (including ordinances).

  5. Valoel
    July 29, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    I think spirituality is personal. Religion is generally communal.

    Science is the tool to explore nature. Religion is the tool to explore the spiritual. That’s why talking spiritual with a science crowd results in all kinds of arguments about what can be proven or not. Science is not the tool. Religion is the tool for the job.

    When someone says they are spiritual and not religious, I think they don’t understand religion. I don’t blame them. There are lots of bad examples of religion to give someone the conclusion that organized religion is all bad. It’s not. It works really great for a lot of people, at whatever level those people are at in their faith. Religion is the practice of spirituality.

  6. Ray
    July 29, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    I care more for “righteousness” than “spirituality” – since righteousness denotes action (the marriage of real faith with the fruits it produces) whereas spirituality denotes feelings only (the kind of “faith” that often means nothing to true conversion of the soul).

    Also, I don’t believe we were created to be saved individually in isolation, so communal religion is a no-brainer to me. (“Where two or three are gathered in my name . . .”) I believe that anyone who gathers with others to worship believes that, as well.

  7. July 29, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    “Spirituality” is a really fuzzy term. You can find the scriptures of major world religions in the spirituality sections of bookstores right alongside the musings of Madonna and Jane Fonda.

    Religion usually refers more precisely to well established institutions.

  8. July 29, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    My spirituality requires religion. You can say “I love the feeling of going really fast,” but you still need a car, train, bus, plane, whatever… and how to use it. I guess I agree with #6, then, because I believe true communion with God requires righteous action.

    Anyone who claims that their spirituality exists in a vacuum, apart from any other theological systems, is deluding themselves. Our perception of God is based on what we see around us. Even those who claim otherworldly revelation seem to acknowledge that God tended to speak to them according to their own language (Joseph Smith, Mohammed, Moses), and in a way they could understand, meaning God works through the constructs a person has built up over their lives. Therefore I say find your spirituality through your religion, whatever it may be, and if it’s not working for you, try a different one.

  9. Ray
    July 29, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    Just as an interesting tidbit:

    “Spirituality” is not recorded in our canon anywhere. A person is described as **being** spiritual (someone “is spiritual” or people “are spiritual”) only twice in the entire canon – both instances by Paul.

    I find that fascinating.

  10. DavidH
    July 29, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    I think a person can be “spiritual”, “communal” and “righteous” without belonging to an organized religion. In fact, if James is right in his definition of “religion” in the New Testament, one can be even be “religious” without belonging to an organized religion.

  11. July 29, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    I consider the terms ‘spiritual’ and ‘righteous’ as ways to express our desire for a ‘relationship’ with our Master. Our spiritual quest is to know God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Religion, such as restored Mormonism, was intended to help us learn how to approach God, to ‘come unto Him.’ As soon as a religion begins to be an end unto itself, it becomes an impediment to the development of this relationship with Christ.

    My wife once had a dream where she was on a bus that took her and the other passengers to the bottom of a great mountain. Once there, they had to put their hiking boots on and continue the journey up the mountain by foot. The church can only take us so far before be must walk on our own two feet by faith to reach our destination.

  12. Howard
    July 29, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Ray,
    Please reconcile your statement; “spirituality denotes feelings only (the kind of “faith” that often means nothing to true conversion of the soul)” with BoM conversions via. Moroni’s challenge and the power of the Holy Ghost.

  13. Howard
    July 29, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    One cannot become any more righteous that being fully repentant. But one’s spirituality is capable of growing and growing until you become one with God.

  14. Ray
    July 29, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Howard: Again, since “spirituality” does not appear in own canon, all we can take from it **in and of itself** is being in tune with spirit(s) – being “spiritual”. That does not intuitively have anything to do with actions, once you divorce interpretations of the word that have been added over time. The word itself has nothing to do with “conversion”.

    Let me give a specific example:

    We teach that there are various “spirits” a person can decide to follow. I met a man on my mission who was very much “in tune with spirits”. Strictly speaking, he was a very “spiritual” man. He also was one of the scariest, most evil people I have ever met in my life.

    Likewise, one can feel “The Spirit” and not act on it – not make any changes whatsoever in practical matters. “Faith” also is interpreted by some (quite a few, actually) as something you feel, divorced completely from actions. “Conversion”, otoh, requires a change of action. Therefore, “spirituality” may connote action to some, but it only denotes feeling – being in touch with some spirit.

    Finally, “righteous” means “being right” – in this case, being right with God. It is the actual fulfillment of “good spirituality” – proper spirituality in action. The Beatitudes don’t say, “Blessed are the spiritual;” they say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” There is a lesson in that distinction, imo.

  15. July 29, 2008 at 9:20 pm

    Interestingly, during one of my many conversations with fellow grad. students about Mormonism, he was surprised that I was even calling Mormonism an “ism” by the time we were through. “It sounds more like spirituality to me.”

    I must say though given some of our sacred ordinances, the term “religion” should be used with a fair dose of trepidation. Frankly, I have engaged Protestant Christianity, Buddhism, and even Islam…and I find Mormonism to be the most flexible (a faith must have a structure to be truly called flexible…otherwise, it’s just this nebulous essence of ideas) and more conducive to intellectual thought than any other religion. Most religious traditions disparage that itching feeling of incompleteness that continuing revelation implies. As one scholar noted on anti-intellectualism in the LDS faith, early Latter Day Saints did not really conceive of their being “secular” knowledge…all was spiritual.

    Let’s face it…Christ isn’t just our Savior…he’s our teacher as well…and Joseph Smith introduced us to a Christ who proposes to save us, in part, by taking a walk with us through the woods of our own ignorance…doing his best to light the way provided that we stay loyal to him.

  16. Howard
    July 29, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Ray,
    Spiritual death is separation from God. So, spiritual (life) is being with or connected to God. This requires action; one must both feel and follow the Spirit. Conversion takes occurs when one moves from feeling to following.

  17. Ray
    July 29, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    “Conversion occurs when one moves from feeling to following.”

    Then I think we agree; we’re just saying it differently. :)

  18. July 30, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    I think the distinction Hawk is making the post is that “religion” is the practical application of “spirituality”, but it is still possible to appear to be doing religion correctly while lacking/neglecting the spirituality aspect. If we start marginalizing spirituality as just feelings and that the actions are what really matter, we are dipping our toes in Pharasaical waters.

    I think that being religious in the sense of the original post is possible to do in a hollow non-spiritual way, but I believe the real definition of spirituality is that if you are connected with God’s spirit you will be naturally moved to action, thus it can’t be separated from “righteousness”.

  19. Ray
    July 30, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    I agree with that, Clay – as long as we define “spirituality” only in positive terms. I’m just saying that “spirituality” is a modern term and too easily can become focused on feelings or emotions only.

  20. Hawkgrrrl
    July 30, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    Well said, Clay.

  21. JustforQuix
    July 30, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    I also think it helpful to nuance “righteousness.” Paul did something revolutionary for his time, he defined Christ-followers by the term: “believers” — people who are defined by their faith and belief, not primarily by their ways of practicing. Therefore, there is the matter of being justified in holiness before one’s faith community by exactness and obedience, which was the old way, the Law. This is not righteousness that saves. There is also the matter that within holiness there are “doubtful disputations” and can lead to unrighteous judgment (Romans 14).

    The only righteousness of ultimate salvation is to to be declared righteous and unseparated before God. This righteousness (justification) only comes by faith in God through Jesus Christ. (Romans 3) Obedience does not make us righteous, but it is a holy, righteous and genuine response coming from our faith and gratitude for the mercy, grace and righteousness of Jesus Christ offered in exchange for our sinfulness and separation. Religious observance, obedience and exactness to the Law that is performed as a course to justification is not righteousness; nevertheless it is not sin as it teaches us the ways of God, the avoidance of sin, and can lead us to faith (Romans 7). The righteousness of the law becomes revealed and fulfilled in those who don’t walk after the manner of religiosity and externality, but after the guidance of the Spiritual (Romans 8).

    Christian religion — the way, the path, the commandments, the law, the church, the community — is fulfilled, made alive, vibrant and effective in faith and (capital-S) Spirituality. That doesn’t make all religious exercise “pure” or “true”. (James is helpful in illuminating what action defines pure religion, though it still leaves a lot of responsibility on us to seek the Spirit in discerning pure religion from the doubtful and disputed.) A fulfilled law and righteousness by faith is not an excuse to sin (Romans 6, 13) nor can we avoid the call to community with our fellow believers (Romans 15). Like others have cautioned, to remove the symbiotic relationship that the Spirit has with pure religion is to take the capital-S out of spirituality, making it dead.

  22. Deedee
    July 30, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    Though I am no longer a member of any church at this point, I do consider myself to be spiritual. I, even when attending church every time the doors were open, didn’t call myself religious. I hope that I don’t sound offensive when I say this, but being religious, to me, implies that someone is more dogmatic about rituals than a true relationship with the Savior. Even Jesus had a problem with those who were religious. I do have to agree that spirituality can be (and in my opinion is) pretty focused on feelings/emotions; however, it’s those feelings/emotions that can lead one to have more Christ-like behavior. Sometimes being religious can tie a persons hand because something/someone doesn’t fit in with the church to which he/she belongs. To me, being Christian is more a state of what Jesus does in someone’s life/heart/spirit. The outward evidence always shows what’s happening on the inside.

    example: While I was attending a Christian church, I became friends with a couple of women who are self proclaimed witches. I do know that our belief systems were on opposite ends of the spectrum. One day, one of them turned to me and told me that I was more Christian than any other person she’d met. I was just being myself. Not showing disdain for her belief. NOT showing disdain for her. She didn’t change her ways, but who know what may happen in the future. All I know is this, seeds were planted that day because I was not being religious towards her.

  23. hawkgrrrl
    July 31, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Deedee: “One day, one of them turned to me and told me that I was more Christian than any other person she’d met.”

    That brings up a thought – Jesus didn’t really go to church or even found a “church” in the conventional sense at that point, at least not based on the written record. The apostles organized on his behalf I suppose, but the record is nebulous about how Christ-contemporary Saints gathered to worship. It seemed a lot more casual, like in the earliest days in the restoration. People coming together in someone’s house, having a meal, and talking about things of God.

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