(For part I of this series please click here.)
Last week, I addressed how personal spirituality cannot replace organized religion for Christians because Christianity demands that we gather together. I also discussed how dissatisfaction with a particular church or group should not make a person dissatisfied with all organized religion or with Christianity itself. Too frequently, one’s personal experiences taint our impression of the entire structure or the entire set of beliefs. Of course, the arguments I used for continuing to meet with a church are only useful for Christians. This week, I will address why spirituality is inadequate when compared to organized religion.
It is difficult to classify “spirituality,” because, as the obverse of organized religion, it is disorganized by its very nature. It is first important to note that spirituality is not inherently inconsistent with organized religion. Instead, most people simply find that organized religion hampers their sense of spirituality. I’ll deal with that issue in the final post; for now, I will focus on spirituality when separated from organized religion.
To get a picture of this sort of spirituality, I will examine the writings of some notable leaders within the New Age spiritual movement. There are three main problems that I see with spirituality:
1. It is too reliant upon the individual’s judgments.
2. It is too based upon mere feelings.
3. It steals its best points from Christianity.
Sri Chinmoy, a famous Indian spiritual leader, wrote:
“The essence of religion:
Fear God and obey God.
The quintessence of spirituality:
Love God and become another God.”
This quote, in my opinion, epitomizes many of the problems with spirituality. It falsely juxtaposes itself with religion, when it should be contrasted with “organized religion.” It presupposes that spirituality and organized religion are completely incompatible. Finally (and perhaps most distressingly), Chinmoy’s spirituality allows the individual to “become another God.”
Spirituality, which relies on our own personal discernment to find truth, essentially makes humans God-like figures. Our ability to judge must be flawless if we are to be the arbiter of what is true and what is false. I doubt that there is anyone, besides the Lord and His Son, with flawless judgment.
Now, I am a very individualistic and independent person. I don’t like to rely or even listen to others very often. Yet my personal experience has demonstrated to me throughout my life that I am frequently wrong. When I look back at the advice I gave just a few years ago, I am utterly disgusted by how terrible my advice was. I have realized that I am not a trustworthy source of truth. I will make mistakes. I will misinterpret. I will mis-advise. If there were a religion based upon my personal beliefs, it would be hypocritical, inconsistent, and utterly unappealing.
Spirituality, once separated from organized religion, frequently deteriorates in the same way. It becomes a set of religious beliefs based upon nothing more than our own personal assessments and inclinations. Spiritual people will read a lot of different sacred books from which they pick and choose their favorite points. They figure that no religion can be 100% correct. Instead of relying on a single book of truth, they piece together truths from different sources. Their belief system becomes, in essence, a personal “Book of Truth,” which consists solely of their own opinions and interpretations.
I doubt myself far too much to trust my own ability to gather and glean truths from different materials. I realize that frequently my perception of truth, especially religious or ethical truth, is not entirely dependent upon my reason and the evidence at hand, but upon my emotions, which are utterly unreliable and manipulatable. Spirituality sets up our poor judgment, which is frequently based on fickle feelings, as the sole guide for finding truth. Of course, spirituality sees no problem with relying solely upon our personal sentiments.
Neale Donald Walsch explicitly promotes this idea in his book Conversations with God, in which he states that the only authoritative way to find truth is to “listen to your feelings.” Most people would disagree with Walsch’s assertion, although they share the same implicit belief: the truth lies where their emotions tell them it does. This is exemplified by the people I mentioned in my previous post, who believe that church isn’t right for them simply because they feel dissatisfied with it.
There seems to me to be no way more flawed to find the truth than to simply listen to what my heart wants. If it were up to my heart, I would have believed a hundred contradictory things in the course of my lifetime. I would have gone from believing the Bible to be totally false, to being a red-letter Christian, to believing it was false again, to believing the entire Bible, to doubting it again, to believing in some books, but not all of them, etc. My emotions toward the Bible have been everything but constant. I do not believe for an instant that the actual truth of the Bible changed. The problem is that my emotions are terribly fickle. Having faith is largely about learning to overcome that fickleness.
Organized religion is demanding. It demands that we overcome our emotions. It demands that we deal faithfully with our doubts and questions and fears. Spirituality provides an easy way out of that process. If we don’t feel that something is true, then it’s not. If we feel that it’s right, it is! That, of course, takes away any process with which we may discern truth. Science, logic, math, economics, and history become irrelevant fields, because we shouldn’t believe what they say unless we feel that it is true. Obviously the truth of the matter is not solely dependent upon feelings, yet spirituality has little to offer besides emotion.
Of course, Christianity also has its own focus upon emotions. Many Christians will talk about having a personal, emotional relationship with God. That’s not a bad thing. Yet Christianity is about much more than feeling emotionally at one with God; it is about taking up our cross and obeying His commandments, even when – especially when – we don’t feel like obeying.
Spirituality allows people to feel the emotional connection without putting in the hard work of accepting everything that God commands in the Bible. Spirituality gleans the easiest and best aspects of Christianity by repeating concepts that come straight out of the Bible.
James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy begins with an “Insight” which predicts and explains the “profound sense of restlessness” which afflicts our society. It sounds to me an awful lot like Romans 8:22 – “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
According to one of the guiding characters in The Celestine Prophecy, we can achieve true romance and strong relationships by “resisting the ‘love at first sight’ feeling for a while, by learning to have Platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex.” It reminds me of 1 Timothy 2:1 – “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
The novel starts out with an interesting assertion: “We are experiencing these mysterious coincidences, and even though we don’t understand them yet, we know they are real.” Most Christians don’t believe that “coincidences” are coincidences either, but the plan of the Lord taking place. The entire Bible details the process of the Lord shaping the way the world is working. Acts 17:26 tells us, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” God determines where we will be and when we will get there.
The problem with spirituality like that of The Celestine Prophecy is not that all of the points it articulates as wrong. It has many truths contained within it. The problem is that what it presents as newfound recognition is actually recycled truth from Christianity. Why use the middle man? Why not skip straight to Christianity?
Unfortunately, the mistakes of organized religions such as Christianity have left a distaste in the mouths of many people. In response, they’ve essentially rejected the harder aspects Christianity while retaining some spiritual beliefs. The problem is that spirituality isn’t really a better solution. It places our own judgments and emotions on a pedestal with its only redeemable insights being stolen from Christianity. Yet it leaves people feeling a greater connection with God, which they may have never felt in organized religion.
Next week, I’m going to explain how organized religion can be spiritual and why organized religion triumphs over spirituality.