I’ve spent a lot of time paying attention to the habits and practices of people who claim to be “Spiritual but not Religious” in one form or another; members of New Thought and people who don’t attend a traditional church but claim to believe in God.
If there’s anything I’ve noticed more often than not, and this may be painful for some to hear, is that there seems to be a distinct rejection of any form of accountability to their spiritual practice.
I know… I know… I know…
I’ve heard all the complaints before. If I tried to list them all here it would take forever but here’s a small sampling for you:
“I don’t need someone else deciding if my spiritual practices are good enough.”
“My spirituality isn’t anyone else’s business so long as I know God and I are good.”
“I don’t need someone judging me based on how often I pray or meditate every day.”
“Religion is just another way to control the way people think and experience their higher power.”
…and the list could go on and on.
I get all of these complaints, I really do. No one wants to feel like they’re responsible to someone else or feel like they’re being judged. Especially when someone is saying we’re not doing it the right way, often enough or any other critique we associate as being judgmental.
To compound that idea, the ones holding us accountable are usually other people like spiritual leaders and other community members, so it can feel like we have to be subject to the judgments of those people. Even more importantly, when the concept of God is one of a “Personality” it feels like we’re actually trying to avoid being judged by that “Person”.
That said, I don’t think these are issues with religiosity. I’m pretty sure these are trust issues.
One of the most challenging things about spiritual practices happens to be the same thing that’s at the root of many different human behavioral endeavors. Discipline, or more poignantly, a lack of discipline, tends to undermine our greatest intentions. What if a church were just a place that like-minded spiritual people held each other accountable and inspired one another to practice more?
All we really need to do is look at some other examples of where we build structures to promote healthy human behavior and we’ll see the same thing. People on diets do better when they have a group of people to share the process with. People recovering from addiction tend to do much better when they do it with a group of other recovering addicts.
It doesn’t take long before we can see that perhaps, in spite of all the grievances we may have about antiquated ideas and religions, that coming together around our spirituality is actually an extremely valuable and effective way to help develop good spiritual habits.
I know it’s not the ONLY influence… but religiosity sure has been the most effective way to bring about social and cultural agreements for a very long time. When humans didn’t know what we now call “right from wrong” religion was teaching them. It did such a good job that now we can say we already know right from wrong because those lessons pervade our culture and society. They worked so well that many of us feel like we no longer need a religion to teach them anymore.
It did its job and did it so well it’s no longer needed. So why are there a rising number of people rejecting the notion of religiosity all together rather than just applying religiosity to teach an even more contemporary and rich set of principles? In my opinion it’s both of the things I’ve mentioned here; a lack of trust and an aversion to accountability.
Imagine spiritual community that’s built around more contemporary spiritual ideas. Should we reject the approach of religiosity, with all its proven viability, because we want something with more modern ideas? Imagine a world where these emergent ideas were as popular and widely accepted as traditional religions. Doesn’t sound like a bad place to live does it?
I think when we come together and practice our spirituality as a community it affords us the structural strength to avoid the pitfalls that plague other areas of our lives. Going it alone is fine… but for most of us we tend to do better when we work with others. It’s a powerful thing to let others hold you accountable and to trust that everyone involved is genuinely interested in your highest good. It also enlists you! You’re part of the accountability for others and you must work to be trustworthy yourself.
Let’s stop telling ourselves that organized spirituality and religion is inherently bad or that the idea of “church” is dying.…