How to Pretend to be Spiritual

One of the high-profile mantras of contemporary culture is to be “spiritual but not religious.” This announcement is delivered with serious humility and meekness, assuring the hearer that there will be no invitation, not even a subtle suggestion, to join in the quest. The speaker righteously disavows any intent to proselytize, choosing to leave everyone else to his own search for meaning, deliberately explaining that there is no “right or wrong” in anyone’s choices. This speaker is not like those religious fanatics who love God and invite everyone else to love Him, too. This speaker is no threat to anyone’s status quo.

Christians are taken aback by such a concept. It is hard to argue with someone about an idea so malleable. The discussion is a lot like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall. There is no core belief to dispute, no fundamental truth to refute. There is no substance to such an avowal.

Christians think that the person who takes this step might be on a quest for something meaningful, but to believe that “spiritual but not religious” is a quest for meaning would be a big mistake. To choose to be “spiritual but not religious” is to choose deliberately to avoid the complications of meaning or truth. This choice is, rather, a choice not to allow meaning or truth to interfere with self-worship. In other words, someone who is “spiritual but not religious” is engaged in a chiffon-like secularism. Its very softness confuses Christians who expect secularists to be hardened defenders of reason alone. This “spiritual” quest is the same thing as the secular search for truth; you know you have found it if it makes you feel good. It is Satan’s way of providing something for everyone.

Satan’s strategy is always to pander to the human ego. All the temptations to which human beings succumb are about choosing self over anything else. The temptations Christ is reported to have defused were all about self. I’m hungry—I’ll turn rocks into food. I want attention – I’ll jump off a tower without a parachute and float to the ground. I love power – I’ll do what it takes, even make a deal with the devil, to become the most powerful human being on earth. The temptation to become “spiritual but not religious” is no different.

How, you ask wonderingly, is it egotistical and self-serving to be “spiritual” when you are choosing not to be “religious” with all the ritual and hierarchy associated with religion?

The answer is that this choice is not about God or gods at all; it is entirely about personal gratification.

Those who choose “spirituality” alone most commonly reject Christianity. Often they are actually drawn to religions like Buddhism and Hinduism. (I know, I know. Buddhists claim it is a way of life, not a religion. Well, every religion either shapes a way of life or it is worthless. The rejection of Christianity is about rejecting the way a Christian is taught to live.)  They act as if to be vaguely “spiritual” is much more mature and sophisticated than to be soiled by participating in the life of the church. They cast aspersions on the whole idea that people who put their faith in Christ gather in groups, engage in shared worship, depend on the Bible, and organize in work and service. Most of all, they join in the secular outrage at Christians who believe that every moment of their lives is to be lived in submission to Christ. The idea of a relationship that permeates and transcends every moment of life is alien, and the idea of submission in that relationship is repugnant to those who want their own feelings to be more important than anything else. They cannot imagine deep happiness that is not about personal gratification.

Of course, the rejection of Christianity is justified by pointing to people who claim the name of Christ and live in complete denial of everything Christ taught. The rejection of Christ is excused because there are plenty of Christians who are not very Christ-like. Those who choose to be “spiritual but not religious” claim that they want purity, not hypocrisy, and they don’t want to associate with any hypocrites as part of their pure spiritual quest. The rejection of Christianity, or of any “religiousness” whatsoever is not rejection of anything that any religion actually stands for. It is rejection of people who don’t live up to their religious claims.

It sounds almost righteous to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”  The problem is that being “spiritual but not religious” is simply another way to be completely secular.  It sets up a life with “sacred” elements and “secular” elements. It makes for an interesting cultural phenomenon. A secularist completely scorns the idea of Christianity, because the secularist rejects anything not measurable in time and space. Which means, of course, that the secularist equally scorns the “spiritual but not religious.” He will, however, tolerate the “spiritual” ones more comfortably than the Christians, because the “spiritual but not religious” are completely willing to keep their spirituality in the spiritual part of their lives while keeping a high barrier between the sacred and the secular. Secular thinkers have no problem with someone who worships himself or herself, because the secular thinker understands that world view. The “spiritual but not religious” are more comfortable with secular thinkers than with Christians for the same reason. Both worship self, and both believe that spirituality is a private matter.

Christians are viewed like sand in the cultural cogs, because they bring their spirituality into everything. Why? A Christian is actually a little temple of the Holy Spirit, walking around carrying eternity and infinity wherever he goes. A Christian lives at the intersection of time and eternity, space and infinity. For the Christian, the notion of being “spiritual but not religious” has no meaning, because a Christian is the same in all settings. (Of course I know that we are all sinful saints as well as saintly sinners. So this statement must be understood as the teaching, not as a perfect reality. It is this teaching that drives Christians to assert that a business is only one of many ways the Christian serves Christ.) The standard for Christian behavior is set by eternal and infinite standards, not by how the Christian feels about something at some time. This is why a Christian engaged in commerce is not engaged in secular activity; such a thing is impossible for him. The Christian is a completely spiritual being.

Those who reject religion and claim to be “spiritual” without any real focus other than themselves are fooling only themselves. It is an empty enterprise to attempt to connect with something that is ultimately only oneself. To be spiritual without any spiritual identity is destructive, even if it does make someone feel good for a while. Incense, candles, and sacred rocks will be cold company when Satan unleashes evil in someone’s life. Long ago in a comic strip now defunct, a swamp possum named Pogo saw through the fakery of this kind of thinking. He said, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

2 thoughts on “How to Pretend to be Spiritual”

  1. I find it remarkable that you can think, on the one hand, secularists and spiritualists “worship themselves,” and are thus full of hubris and pride, and then, in the next sentence, proclaim that a Christian is “actually a little temple of the Holy Spirit, walking around carrying eternity and infinity wherever he goes … (who) lives at the intersection of time and eternity, space and infinity.” In terms of hubris, that vastly outweighs any claim that a secularist may make for himself. There is nothing humble in such cosmic self-realizations as those. Believing that you deserve to live forever for doing nothing more than accepting the tenets of the dominant religious faith of your culture requires an ego many times in magnitude than that of the secularist, however prideful he may be.


    1. I don’t call it hubris or pride when a secularist worships himself. I call it being his own god. That may lead to hubris and pride, but the real problem is who is worshiped. God is our creator, the one who made us and all things. We owe him our worship.
      As for calling ourselves temples of the Holy Spirit, nothing is so humbling as that realization. We don’t earn that privilege. Christ paid the price by suffering a cruel, bloody death on the cross and then by overcoming death at his resurrection. He bought us and paid for us, and then he chose to bless us with the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are not proud about that. It doesn’t make us better than anyone else, but it does make us different. We have something to share, Christ himself, that an atheist does not have. The atheist can share himself, but he is a created being as fragile and time-bound as all the other created things. The presence of the Holy Spirit in a human being connects that person with the eternal, infinite Christ in a relationship that calls for profound humility and a servant heart.
      As for what it takes to be a Christian, people do not become Christians by agreeing to a belief system. Christ meets people personally, and when people choose to receive the gift he gives, forgiveness of our sinful human nature and the blessing of eternal life in relationship with him, then they become Christians. You may have noticed that Christians don’t all agree about the belief system, but they do all agree about Christ. Christ is what makes someone a Christian.
      It is Christ who makes you so uncomfortable about Christians. We are nothing so special that you should even worry about us, but Christ confronts your worldview and dissolves it. He must do that in order for you to see truth. He loves you just as much as he loves me, and he really wants you to become all that you were created to be.
      Everything I write, I write in service to him, not to self. I write, because he loves you. That is what this blog is really about.

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