Being Spiritual Without Being Religious

A couple of weeks ago, I read an editorial piece written by Alan Miller: “My Take: ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ is a cop-out.” Miller, though describing himself as not particularly religious, is bothered by the mindset among many in our culture who believe that they can experience more oneness with God (whoever that may be) on their own rather than as part of a religious organization. Miller doesn’t differentiate between any of the world’s religions or sects but sees this trend toward personalized, non-organizational spirituality as a popular way of thinking spiritually.

Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by Miller’s observation. I see this mindset all the time. This doesn’t mean, however, that I’m not disturbed by it.

Now, I understand the arguments for being spiritual without being religious. The organizational church has not represented itself well in the public eye. The church has covered up heinous crimes. The church has been manipulative. In the political arena, too many in the church have given the impression that the world will be transformed through legislation or the right legislator. The church has ignited firestorms of opposition against those who oppose her. And all of this has been done as the church calls society and culture to purity and holiness. Let’s be honest, we can wring our hands about the prevalence of opposition to the church, but we have to bear significant responsibility for creating the atmosphere in which the opposition has grown and taken root.

Nevertheless, to a culture that claims to be better Christians without organized religion than with it, my greatest concern is that Jesus disagrees. I find it fascinating and revealing that Jesus, who knows more than anyone about the hypocrisy and evil of organized religion, continues to connect himself with the synagogue, continues to contribute to the synagogue, continues to tell those he heals to show themselves to the priests in the synagogue as prescribed by Levitical law. Jesus doesn’t give up on organized religion because he knows that we all need something bigger than we for accountability, support, discipleship, service.

One of the primary arguments for participating in the church and even embracing the church as central to our journey of faith is that we are connecting with others who are selfish, greedy, hurtful, struggling…just like we. It’s in the context of our commitment to each other that we face our most difficult challenges, but it’s those very challenges that mature us, teach us, strengthen us. Without those challenges, we just keep doing our thing, living in mediocrity, unwilling to let others make us better people in Christ—even if the process of becoming better people in Christ means struggling with people and relationships in the church that disappoint us or worse.

There’s no doubt that a life that focuses on me is a life that is less challenging, less stressful, less of a struggle, but it’s also a life that has less potential for growth, less potential for impact on the world, less potential to truly experience the fullness of life for which we were created. I’m not saying that it’s difficult to be a Christian without the church; I’m saying that it’s almost impossible to be a Christian without the church.