Posts

WHAT DOES BEING ‘SPIRITUAL NOT RELIGIOUS’ REALLY MEAN?

On March 19th, my blog post was entitled The Top Ten Religious Words that the Spin Doctors Doctored. Under #6 was the word ‘religion’, I wrote: “I don’t want to beat a dead horse here.  I mean, after all, hasn’t this word been bludgeoned enough.  But, this word, which has come to represent difference and divisiveness, was originally just a verb, religio, meaning ‘bringing together that which is separated.’ So, all I’m gonna say is, huh?”

My intention in this post is not to try to get you to go to church or not go to church, but to think about the implications involved in the personal belief statement of being “spiritual but not religious.”

When I’m at a party, the gym, at a school function…and I hear, “Oh, I’m spiritual not religious”, I always ask what the person means by that.  Usually, the answers are a combination of the following,  “I didn’t agree with a lot of what the xyz church that I grew up in believes”, “I don’t get anything out of going to church”, “Religion is a construct created by the powerful to appease the poor and downtrodden”, “They’re so hypocritical, the church leaders and so many people I know that go to church”, and so on. 

You know what, I agree with a lot of what they tell me.  There has been a lot of “unholy alliances” between individuals, governments, and church bodies.  Much of what they articulate about why they don’t go to church or practice a faith or why they feel disillusioned or skeptical about much of what is essentially dogma (a good working definition of dogma being, “a corpus of doctrines set forth in an authoritative manner by a church”), are all things I can give a hearty Amen to.

So when people say they are not religious, they mean they have chosen not to limit themselves to the reduced definition of religion as a particular church, synagogue, or mosque with its doctrines, its own definitions of sin, salvation, and exclusions.   

When they do express some of their spiritual practices or ways of experiencing the spiritual, there is also much to concur with. My Buddhist friends use a variety of meditations, both alone and in groups.  And while some will agree that using the original meaning of religion, they are indeed religious. While  others, on principle, still detest the idea. They prefer to call it a philosophy of thought. Here, again, semantics do indeed shape and inform our worldview. Whether it be early bad experiences with a “religion” that has scarred or the in-your- face fundamentalists whose fanatical zeal causes one to recoil…the result is the same.    

Some friends are in 12 step programs, recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, and their loved ones. One of the principles of these programs is that they are a spiritual not religious program.  Again, meaning they are asking you to discover for yourself “God as you understand Him or Her” and to turn your life and will over to the care of this “Higher Power”.  However, this is not done alone, but rather with the aid and support of the group.

When I get a vague answer about trying to be a good person, they often add how they don’t need a church to become one (agreed). Most of the people who say this, I know to be good people, caring and true.  So, when I ask them if they could be a bit more specific, they say things like they go weekly with their family to volunteer at a food bank or they are a part of quilting bee that creates blankets for those undergoing cancer treatments.    All of the above examples include a component of community as part of the individual spiritual framework.

“My own kind of prayer” and “being in nature” (responses I often get) are also spiritual experiences and are vital parts of the equation, but are not complete without the balance of others.  I too often find a  centering while walking in the woods, a wonderful “un-lonely” solitude, that feels a communion with God. Yet it also feeds me so that I can help, serve, and nurture others and that I am able to receive the same from them.

In closing, an excerpt from A House for Hope by John Buehrens and Rebecca Parker:  

“Is it really preferable (0r even possible) to be religious alone?  Or, is there an importance to religious community life that need to be claimed anew, while protecting against the liabilities and dangers that community life can pose?  I strongly believe the answer to the first question is no and the answer to the second is yes.  We need life together, and we would be wise to invest in rebuilding the walls of community.  My suspicion is that religious conservatism has grown not because its theology is more inspiring than that of liberal theology, but because conservatives in recent decades have been better at creating and sustaining religious communities that offer people meaningful connection with one another and support in enduring life’s trials and tribulations.”

 So…I am back, congregants of the blogosphere!…new job…yada yada.

Please follow and like us:

A UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST APOLOGETIC (Part II)

The Unitarian and Universalist movements are quintessentially American in their ideals.  In fact, Thomas Jefferson predicted that “Unitarianism, ere long, will be the religion of the majority from north to south, I have no doubt”. (Oops, Thomas.) In addition, during the late 17th and early 18th century, the Universalists were the 6th largest denomination in the U.S.  (Yet, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, neither of these faiths were focused on promoting their religion while many other denominations were primarily intent on building large numbers of  converts.)

Still, a great many important figures in American history were prominent members of the Unitarian and Universalist faiths. Before discussing them however, it is important to say a few words about what was  happening “across the pond” as a necessary preamble to placing the two movements (now one religion) into context.

The antitrinitarian Michael Servetus whose heretical ideas of the Unity of God was burned at the stake in Geneva in 1553.  In Transylvania, Francis David (a Catholic bishop) preached “Unitarian” ideals around 1560.  His words, “We need not think alike to love alike” are still spoken by Unitarians today. He was imprisoned for his beliefs and died there in 1579.  His contemporary, Faustus Socinus was an Italian scholar who developed a school of thought known as socinianism while in Poland and Transylvania. These ideas were the forerunners of  Unitarianism. 

 The English theologian and scientist Joseph Priestley, known for discovering the gas oxygen and inventing soda water (1733-1804)embraced socinian ideas, and developed a Unitarian congregation in England.  He was so persecuted for his beliefs, he left England for Pennsylvania, where he founded the first Unitarian church in Philadelphia in 1793.    

The American Universalists were initially from England, but after settling in Pennsylvania (a mecca of religious liberty), they added to their ranks a combination of immigrant Anabaptists from Germany, Moravians from the area of Czechoslovakia, and the Quakers of England and Holland.  While these variant Protestant denominations differed in certain beliefs, they all agreed on the universal salvation of every person after death…no eternal damnation.  Their first official church was in Philadelphia by Elhanan Winchester, who also printed the first German bible in America.  

So, some were mainline Protestants, others were progressively liberals, and all took an optimists’ view of God.

While I will (in some future post) go into more detail on the deeper history of on Unitarianism and Universalism and their somewhat recent union, here is the promised (not exhaustive) list of UU contributors to our country:

John Adams (2nd president of the US) /  Abigail Adams (“Remember the women”) /  John Quincy Adams (6th president of the US)/    Millard Filmore (13th president of the US)  / Dorothea Dix (a social reformer, activist for the mentally ill, instrumental in creating the first hospitals for the mentally ill, also Superintendent of Nurses during the Civil War)/ Susan B. Anthony (suffragette, allowing the women the vote) / Ralph Waldo Emerson (writer, minister, and philosopher)/Louisa May Alcott (writer, famous for Little Women) / Herman Melville (writer, famous for Moby Dick)/ Horace Mann (father of our public school education system) /  Thomas Jefferson (not officially, but in spirit) / William James (Father of American psychology)/  Nathaniel Hawthorne (writer, famous for The Scarlet Letter) / Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (prolific poet and writer) / Clara Barton (founder of the Red Cross) /  PT Barnum (Circus Fame and benefactor of Tufts University) / Alexander Graham Bell (inventor of the telephone)/Samuel Morse (inventor of Morse Code) / Walt Whitman (writer and poet, famous for Leaves of Grass) /      Fannie Farmer (cook and cookbook writer)/George Pullman (inventor of the railroad sleeping car)/ Paul Revere (patriot and silversmith)/ Linus Pauling (Chemist, Peace activist, winner of both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, considered the Father of Molecular Biology)/  Henry David Thoreau (naturalist, philosopher, writer of Walden Pond)/  William Ellery Channing (foremost early preacher of Unitarianism in the US, his approach was a gentle, loving relationship with God, grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence)

The common thread that ran through the lives of these writers, social reformers, politicians, scientists, ministers, inventors, business tycoons, and patriots, was the call to live out their convictions about justice, freedom, liberty, and love in action.  They did not just think about these lofty ideals, they used their talents and time in ways they made a difference.  Today’s Unitarian Universalists are called to the same task. 

Book of the Day, Lifecraft by Forrest Church

Quote from the Book of the Day: “I do my best to follow Jesus’ teachings, and sometimes (on my good days) I call myself a Christian, but given the manifold possibilities for discovering and creating meaning, I cannot embrace a dogmatic creed, even one established in Jesus’ name.”

Please follow and like us:

Ten Religious Words That The Spin Doctors Doctored

10. Gospel– This word almost always refers to writings about the life of Jesus, more specifically, the canonical writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  Its original meaning however is much more broad.  It literally means “good news”.  Now for many of us these writings of the New Testament are indeed good news.  Yet, for others, it could be the Hebrew Bible, the Quran, the works of Maria Rainer Rilke or the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous.  In other words, what is good news to you, that you use to build your life around.  What is your gospel?  

9. Heretic– The Roman Catholic church has, over the centuries, given this word a new definition.  Its current definition means those who hold unorthodox or controversial beliefs or opinions which differ from that of the official dogma of the Roman Catholic Church.  However, in its original form, the word, from its Greek roots “hairetikos” to its Latin and early English and French derivations, simply means “able to choose”.  So, a heretic, is one who is able to choose what he or she believes.  A wonderfully democratic term turned slander.      

8. Agnostic– one who believes that truth claims about the existence or non-existence of God are in fact unknowable.  They don’t know.  They doubt. While I am not an agnostic, I believe in God, I think that agnostics have been given a bad rap.  People scoff when they speak of a friend or co-worker that is agnostic, like there is something weak or deficient in such a stance.  Yet, I have faith, but sometimes I have doubt.  When I have doubt, I guess one could say I was feeling agnostic.  Lacking certainty is not always such a bad thing.  And it is certainly not a stagnant thing.    

7. Sin– OK, I could write a tome about this one.  I know some of my more evangelical brothers and sisters will get their panties in a bit of a twist here, sin looming large (I’m thinking of Jonathan Edwards dangling a spider over a boiling cauldron, like God dangling our souls over the pit fires of hell).  But I can berate myself just fine, perhaps too fine in fact and I don’t think God wants to get in on the fun.  Sin simply means “missing the mark”.  In most cases, in our day to day living, it’s simply means we are human. We can dust ourselves off, and continue to strive to do and be better (without shame and guilt).  Just like I don’t want somebody “shoulding” on me, I don’t want someone sinning me to death either.   

6. Religion- I don’t want to beat a dead horse.  I mean, after all, hasn’t this word been bludgeoned enough. But, this word, which has come to represent differences and divisiveness was originally just a verb, religio, meaning “bringing together that which is separated”.  So, all I’m gonna say is, huh?

5. Salvation– OK, first we’ve got all that hell stuff to contend with.  Eternal damnation sounds really scary and I don’t want it to happen to me.  A lot of folk want to give you a formula, words to recite, and then you’re good to go.  You’re saved.  Salvation is then nothing more than a deliverance from sin.  But salvation is  more beautiful and subtle than that, the etymological meaning of the word is health.  In early New Testament readings, it meant to restore you to spiritual good health, to make you whole.   

4. Righteous– This word mostly gets a negative connotation, as we tend to immediately think self-righteous, which obviously no one likes. Being righteous is characterized by virtue and moral soundness and sense of social justice.  A true righteous person is a wonder to behold.

3. Tolerance-Many religious leaders nowadays talk of tolerating those of other faiths, as if that is enough.  I’ve never met a deeply spiritual person who didn’t openly inquire about another’s faith, who looked to appreciate some aspect of it, or its encourage its blessings.

2. Evangelical-Unless you are an evangelical, you are very likely leery just hearing the word.  Yet the word is from the Greek “euangelos”, meaning a messenger or angel bringing good news.  It’s too bad, because I’m not too confident that we can bring this one back to its original, more open and joyous meaning.   

1. Liberal– The religious right, the political right, the conservative whatevers have suceeded in the last several decades in making the word liberal a dirty word.  It permeates all aspects of our public discourse. If you are a political or religious liberal, you are somehow bereft of moral values, ethics, or for that matter, common sense.  This is a terrible injustice. Liberal, liberalis (Latin) means to be free or to be free and let others be free.  It was the founding paradigm of our nation, Thomas Jefferson wrote a declaration about it. We the people need to take this word back and give it the honor it so rightly deserves.

Book of the Day: Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris 

Quote from the Book of the Day: “I find it sad to consider that belief has become a scary word, because at its Greek root, “to believe” simply means “to give one’s heart to”.  Thus, if we can determine what it is we give our hearts to, then we will know what it is we believe.”

Please follow and like us: