Posts Tagged “spiritual”

The Stupid It Burns / plognarkThis is a topic I’ve covered before, but it seems I have to address it again. The recent Pew Forum study about America’s religious lanscape … which media outlets have misrepresented … has renewed repetition of a phrase that ought to have died out long ago. And that is, “spiritual but not religious.” As but one example, this illogical phrase is the focus of this piece on CNN’s Belief blog (WebCite cached article).

I simply can’t put this any other way: There is no such thing as “spiritual but not religious.” This statement is a contradiction in terms. The reason I say that, is because everything one can call “spiritual” also happens to fit the definition of “religion.” There’s no meaingful difference between the two. People think there is one, but really, if you look at the definitions involved, you’ll see they refer to the very same things. Here are some definitions of “religion”:

  • Merriam-Webster (cached)
    2 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
  • Oxford US English Dictionary (cached)
    the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods
  • American Heritage Dictionary (cached)
    1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
    2. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
  • Wiktionary (cached)
    1. The belief in and worship of a supernatural controlling power, especially a personal god or gods.
    2. A particular system of faith and worship.

Now, compare all of these with the definitions of “spiritual”:

  • Merriam-Webster (cached)
    1 : of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit : incorporeal <spiritual needs>
    2 a : of or relating to sacred matters <spiritual songs>
    b : ecclesiastical rather than lay or temporal <spiritual authority> <lords spiritual>
    3 : concerned with religious values
    4 : related or joined in spirit <our spiritual home> <his spiritual heir>
    5 a : of or relating to supernatural beings or phenomena
  • Oxford US English Dictionary (cached)
    1 of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things
    2 of or relating to religion or religious belief
  • American Heritage Dictionary (cached)
    1. Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material.
    2. Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul.
    3. Of, from, or relating to God; deific.
    4. Of or belonging to a church or religion; sacred.
    5. Relating to or having the nature of spirits or a spirit; supernatural.
  • Wiktionary (cached)
    1. Of or pertaining to the spirit or the soul
    2. Of or pertaining to the God or a Church; sacred
    3. Of or pertaining to spirits; supernatural

You see from all of these that “spiritual” includes beliefs about the supernatural, deities, the soul, spirits, the sacred, the incorporeal, etc. But the word “religion” also involves the very same things, as well. Believing the universe was created by a an almighty deity, is just as much a “spiritual” belief as it is a “religious” one. Believing in guardian angels is just as much a “spiritual” belief as it is a “religious” one. Believing in karma is just as much a “spiritual” belief as it is a “religious” one. Belief in hauntings is just as much a “spiritual” belief as it is a “religious” one. Reincarnation, astral projection, and channeling are all just as “spiritual” as they are “religious.” I could go on and on … but why should I? By now you should already have gotten the point. “Spiritual” and “religious” are equivalent words, because they all relate to the same referents.

Look, I get that a lot of people associate “religion” and “religious” with “religious institutions” or “organizations,” but the fact is that “organization” is not a requirement for any of the above definitions of “religion.” In fact, the M-W and AH definitions explicitly state that “religion” can be either individualized or institutionalized. One need not belong to a religious organization in order to have religious beliefs.

It’s time for people to stop claiming to be something they aren’t by trotting out non sequiturs like “spiritual but not religious.” If you are spiritual, then by the above definitions, you are also religious — and vice versa. There’s no effective difference between the two. None. Just fucking stop already with that gibberish. OK?

Editor’s note: I’ve repurposed and slightly edited this blog post, as a static page on this blog. So if you think I’m repeating myself … well, I guess I am!

Photo credit: Plognark.

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Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov (1887)To date I’ve blogged many times on the many Roman Catholic clerical-abuse scandals that have popped up around the world over the last decade or so, and especially the past few months. In January I blogged about an abuse victim’s personal observation that the priest who had viewed his actions as the result of a kind of spiritual contest between himself and the Devil, whom the priest had viewed as somehow being present in his child-victims, “tempting” him, and thus “forcing” the priest to abuse him. While this is a subjective account, it does neatly explain the Church’s reticence to deal with the matter of abusive priests, historically; according to this model, it’s the abusive priest — not the child he abuses — who’s the true “victim” in these crimes.

It’s rare that I see any suggestion of this “scandal-as-a-spiritual-contest” model mentioned in mass media reports, but it does come up here and there. It appeared, for example, in this (UK) Guardian article on the scandal and the Vatican’s reaction to it (WebCite cached article):

Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said on his Facebook site that the pope was being subjected to “scandalous and disgraceful” attacks. One churchman, Antonio Riboldi, the emeritus bishop of Acerra, declared that it marked the start of a war “between the church and the world; between Satan and God”.

Note: Apparently the government of Italy is actively defending the Roman Catholic Church, even though there are new allegations of wrongdoing by priests at schools for the deaf in that country (cached article). I guess Italy doesn’t plan to investigate those, unlike other countries’ governments, which either have investigated abuse allegations (e.g. Ireland) or are working toward doing so (e.g. Germany).

The Vatican views itself as being “under attack” by the brutal and ruthless forces of “wicked secularism” and the Devil, which have long been bent on destroying the Catholic Church. This is reflected in this same article, in the words of Italian government officials:

Maurizio Ronconi, a leading Italian Christian Democrat, said: “For years, a masonic-secularist offensive against Catholics has been under way.”

A centre-left opposition MP, Pierluigi Castagnetti, said: “It is now quite clear that the campaign against the pope and the secretary of state of the holy see by certain great foreign newspapers is not fortuitous, nor does it stem from any journalistic right or duty, but is rather a precise design intended to strike the Catholic church at the top.”

Why, obviously! All these allegations are fabricated by “masonic secularists” and by “certain great foreign newspapers.” We all know the abuse never occurred. The masonic secularists and the newspapers paid folks all around the world to make up stories about how they were mistreated. They found hundreds, or thousands, of people to weave fantastic tales of abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy.

Yeah yeah that’s it! By the way, I have several thousand acres of Arizona swampland that’s going cheap; you’d better buy it quick before it’s all gone!

It’s become increasingly apparent that the Church and its defenders view this scandal, overall, in the same way that the abusive priests themselves may view their own behavior … as a diabolical attack within a larger cosmic spiritual war. This is why they are so quick to defend themselves and deny everything; to admit any wrongdoing or fault within their organization would be to grant the Devil, and the “masonic secularists,” a “win” in this larger spiritual conflict. And they don’t want that.

If I am correct — and this is the mindset the Catholic Church and its defenders adhere to — then there is no way this will ever be resolved. Any evidence of clerical wrongdoing or hierarchical cover-ups will be viewed as being diabolical in origin, and will be rejected and fought off. Investigations by secular governments, and any internal or external pressure to “change,” will also be viewed as diabolical assaults on the eternal and “godly” Church, and likewise be actively resisted.

Lastly … does anyone know what a “masonic secularist” is? As far as I know, this phrase is a contradiction in terms, because in order to become a Freemason, a man must also believe in some deity. Thus, a mason literally cannot be a “secularist” in the strictest sense.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Sistine Chapel ceiling, VaticanIf you search the Internet for the phrase “spiritual but not religious,” you’ll get thousands of hits. (Try it on Bing, Yahoo, and Google, if you want.) Here is but one example of many I might offer, from the Louisville Courier-Journal:

About a dozen people huddled at a Poplar Level Road coffeehouse on a recent evening, drawn by the discussion topic, “I’m Not Religious … I’m Spiritual.”

They spoke of their alienation from clergy, creeds, congregations and sermons of condemnation.

They spoke of connection to the divine through laughter and nature, of mystic connections with deceased love ones, of the awe of a newborn baby or the Milky Way on a clear winter night.

People widely assume this phrase has some meaning … but in reality, it’s a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing as “spiritual but not religious.”

This may appear an extreme statement, but it’s not. I base it on standard dictionary definitions of the word “religious.” Have a look at the following such definitions:

Source Definition

Dictionary.Com

a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Encarta Dictionary

people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life

American Heritage Dictionary

Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe

Merriam-Webster

a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices (with religious meaning “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity”)

Compact Oxford English Dictionary

the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods

All of these definitions of “religion” — along with others that I might offer — also cover the meaning of the term “spiritual.” Ultimately, everything “spiritual” is also — again, according to the above definitions — “religious.”

I understand there are folks who object to the trappings of “organized religion.” The Courier-Journal article I cited makes that clear. The truth, however, is that “religion” need not be “organized” in order to be “religion.” Three of these definitions explicitly state that “religion” can be either “personal” or “institutional” — meaning that “organization” is specifically not a criterion for “religion.” It is, therefore, quite possible to have a “non-organized religion” in addition to an “organized religion.”

It’s time for believers in non-institutional or non-standard religious notions — including all the varieties of “New Agers,” neopagans, adherents of Wicca, witchcraft, even Buddhism and other metaphysical philosophies, etc. — to stop misrepresenting themselves and admit what they are: Religious. Honest, it won’t hurt you to ‘fess up to the truth. You might not want to connect yourself to the negative connotations that are usually associated with the word “religion”; but the metaphorical shoe fits, so wear it. If other “religious” folk are making you look bad, then do something about it, instead of trying to divest yourself from them.

Photo credit: Richard Carter.

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Glenn BeckThe nation’s current most famous paranoid schizophrenic, Glenn Beck, has (no surprise!) shoved his foot into his mouth. The Intertubes have been alive with discussion of this, and I’d planned to avoid the matter, but since it’s become so well known, I thought I should weigh in on it anyway.

On his radio show this March 2, Beck railed ignorantly — and stupidly — against churches that promote “social justice.” Christianity Today transcribed his comments as follows (screen shot of page):

I beg you, look for the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I’m going to Jeremiah’s Wright’s church? Yes! Leave your church. Social justice and economic justice. They are code words. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, “Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?” I don’t care what the church is. If it’s my church, I’m alerting the church authorities: “Excuse me, what’s this social justice thing?” And if they say, “Yeah, we’re all in that social justice thing,” I’m in the wrong place.

Beck, of course, has no idea what he’s talking about … but his raging paranoia prevents him from understanding that. What he’s doing is to connect several things which are not, in the end, connected at all. Let’s tease them apart so that this matter can be truly understood.

First, it is incontrovertible that Christianity and “social justice” are interconnected, and this is the case from almost the beginning of the movement. Jesus himself preached against the common social mores and presumptions of his time; he promoted charity — true charity, not mere “charity for appearance’s sake,” which he condemned utterly; he associated with outcasts and undesirables, actually preferring their company; he taught compassion for others as one of the cardinal rules of spiritual life; he condemned wealth and promoted giving everything to the poor; and much more. Also, scripture itself suggests early Christian communities lived according to a very egalitarian, “one for all and all for one” ideal, thus exhibiting a strong sense of “social justice” among themselves.

Second, this message has not been completely lost on Christians themselves. The themes of compassion and — yes, Glenn! — “social justice” have been continually picked up and expounded upon by Christians, throughout the religion’s history. Classical-era Christians, for example, maintained funds to support orphans and widows. During the Middle Ages, some religious orders funded and ran infirmaries for the care of the sick, even when plagues were raging, thus exposing themselves to disease. Early strong proponents of the Abolition movement — such as William Wilberforce — were devout Christians whose motivation to free slaves was primarily a religious impulse they believed to be part of Jesus’ own message. Later — especially as it arrived in the United States in the 19th century — Abolition became more of a humanist movement, no longer innately connected to religion … however, Abolition’s origins clearly had at least some religious inspiration. Beck’s reasoning, had it been followed in the early 19th century, would have ground Abolition to a halt, and the U.S. would still have slavery.

Third, Beck is correct that, at one time, phrases like “social justice” were, in fact, code-words used by Communists and Marxists. However, that was mostly true only during the Communist revolutions of the early and middle 20th century, and later during the Cold War. The fact is that this type of “coded” rhetoric has faded away since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Thus, any truthful basis Beck may have had for his comments are — at best — anachronistic. They make no sense today, since many different people, of many different ideologies, appeal to their own individual senses of “social justice.” One can no longer safely assume that any proponent of “social justice” is a Marxist.

Fourth, Beck’s objection appears to be rooted in the Jeremiah Wright controversy. By referring to Wright in his comments, Beck betrays his own childish hang-up on Barack Obama’s former pastor. Beckie, let me help you out here: Jeremiah Wright is now a dead issue. Obama has jettisoned him, and Wright is also done with Obama. This particular battle is over, Glenn, and has been for more than a year … at the very least, Obama’s election in November 2008 obviated it.

This idiocy reveals several things about Glenn Beck. Most importantly, he envisions Christianity as being linked to politics — his own personal, extreme-Right-wing, give-everything-there-is-to-the-wealthy-and-take-every-penny-from-the-poor politics. He cannot, or will not, conceive of Christianity as not being related to politics. Any church which — in his mind — does not march in lockstep with his own ideology, is not a “true” Christian church. He does not realize that Jesus himself was apolitical and did not, at any point during his ministry, ever concern himself with politics or statecraft. If anything, he rather clearly stated the opposite … that not only was he unconcerned with statecraft, that his followers also should not be. Beck also reveals that he is still stuck in the past, still thinking in terms of the Cold War and still consumed with scandals which are now obsolete.

Of note is the fact that a lot of Christians, and especially some of the Religious Right variety, have spoken out against Beck’s comments. For some examples, see this story by ABC News (WebCite cached article). Even the ferocious, fire-&-brimstone Religious Right theologian Albert Mohler has said Beck is wrong (cached article).

This criticism — from within Christianity and even from within the Religious Right — has not been lost on Beckie boy. He has responded: By fighting back, and insisting — in spite of the facts — that he is still correct. He has declared “social justice” to be “a perversion of the gospel,” and justifies his (strange) view of Jesus’ message as being about the individual, not the group. This twisted rationale has, itself, been condemned by the same people who first criticized him (cached article). I will leave the debate about that up to those critics, who as Christian “insiders” have more to say on it than I do.

Beck’s claim that “true” Christianity — as he sees it — has nothing to do with “social justice,” places him squarely in my “lying liars for Jesus” club.

The bottom line is that Beck’s initial condemnation of “social justice” in Christian churches — and his insistence, in spite of criticism by various Christian authorities — that he is still correct, as well as his refusal to let go of the Jeremiah Wright controversy show Beckie-boy to be a raging paranoid child. I suggest it’s long past time for the Beckster to grow up, and address his paranoia … there are good treatments for it, and given the millions he makes, he can more than afford the very best psychiatric care available.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore.

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That venerable Sunday morning publication, Parade magazine, has released a poll on religiosity in the US. In addition to telling us what we already know … i.e. that a large majority of Americans are religious … the Parade article makes a big deal out of how many Americans call themselves “spiritual but not religious”:

America is generally thought to be among the most religious nations in the Western world. We Americans are often portrayed as people who believe in God, pray often, and teach our children to do the same. All true, confirms PARADE’s new national poll on spirituality. …

More than a quarter (27%) of respondents said they don’t practice any kind of religion. As books with titles like God Is Not Great and The God Delusion have climbed the best-seller lists in recent years, sociologists have speculated about a new atheism in the U.S. No such thing, according to PARADE’s survey—only 5% of respondents didn’t believe in God, 7% weren’t sure about the existence of God, and 12% didn’t believe in an afterlife. …

What Americans are doing today is separating spirituality from religion, with many people disavowing organized practice altogether while privately maintaining some form of worship. The old terms—“atheist” and “agnostic”—are no longer catch-alls for everyone outside traditional belief. In fact, 24% of respondents put themselves into a whole new category: “spiritual but not religious.”

That phrase means different things to different people. Some may be members of traditional religions but want to signal that they aren’t legalistic or rigid. At the other end of the spectrum, “spiritual but not religious” can apply to someone who has combined diverse beliefs and practices into a personal faith that fits no standard definition.

The problem here is that the phrase “spiritual but not religious” is nonsensical. There is no such thing! Everything one can call “spiritual,” also meets the definition of “religious.” Here are several dictionary definitions of “religious” for your perusal:

Source Definition

Dictionary.Com

a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

Encarta Dictionary

people’s beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life

American Heritage Dictionary

Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe

Merriam-Webster

a personal set or institutionalized system of religious
attitudes, beliefs, and practices (with religious meaning “relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity”)

Compact Oxford English Dictionary

the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods

People appear to associate “religion” with “organization,” however, none of these definitions indicates that an organization is required for a “religion.” The M-W definition, moreover, explicitly says that “religion” can be either “personal” or “institutional.” In other words, it’s possible to have both an “organized religion” and a “non-organized religion.” The latter is not automatically excluded.

The bottom line, then, is that if you are “spiritual,” then you must also be “religious.” That’s just the way it is.

The Parade poll comes up with an odd measure of American religious sentiment; it asked respondents to pick their favorite from a brief list of religion-related movies:

Spirituality also plays a role in our entertainment choices. There, too, Americans veered away from the mystical and weird. When asked to pick their favorite of these films involving spirituality—The Da Vinci Code, The Exorcist, The Omen, The Sixth Sense, The Ten Commandments, Ghost, and It’s a Wonderful Life—one out of every four people selectedThe Ten Commandments. It was the hands-down winner, showing us that old-time religion still rules supreme and unchallenged—at least at the movies.

I’m not sure that a preference, out of that restrictive list, for Cecile B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments really means anything. It’s a great epic movie (I admit liking it myself, if only for its majestic production), of the sort that Hollywood likely will never recreate, making this an unfair comparison. Some of the other movies on that list, like The Omen, are not really “spiritual” movies so much as “horror” movies involving spiritual forces; people who aren’t big fans of horror movies are going to write it off immediately. Also, there are other obvious “spiritual” or “religious” films I could think of which are not on this list, such as The Passion of the Christ. I wouldn’t, therefore, place any significance on this poll question.

Finally, the poll results page reports that this was an online poll:

The PARADE Spirituality Poll was conducted by Insight Express among a national online panel of adults ages 18 and over. Surveys were completed by 1,051 respondents from May 8-12, 2009.

While a sample size of 1,051 is enough to be meaningful, even if it sounds like a small number, that it included only online respondents definitely skews the results. It leaves out anyone without ready Internet access.

P.S. In the fine mass-media tradition known as “make-news,” this “poll” — which is not very scientific, doesn’t tell us anything new, and delves deeply into a non-existent distinction — has been shoveled out to additional outlets … it was featured on today’s CBS Sunday Morning. What a waste of time and effort … a waste which was essentially duplicated.

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