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05 May 2008

Save Thee? Or Sell Thee? Part 4

For those just joining us, you can find Part 1 in this series by clicking here.

"I'm not religious, I'm spiritual"


And what about spirituality? How many times do we hear someone say that they are spiritual, but not so religious? What is the basis of this statement? Why the lack of ownership of being religious...and what is so great about being spiritual?

Often, we hear these terms used interchangeably, as if being spiritual is the same as being religious.


Just last past month, officials in Texas discovered that a compound full of pre-pubescent girls were being "spiritually" married to men many times their age. In this sense, marriage as a legal doctrine couldn't apply because children can't marry in Texas. So to re-create the sanctity of marriage for the purposes of making babies with young girls without the messy details of following the law - a spiritual wedding ensued.

Another common precept of spirituality we hear often is that "there is an innate goodness in everybody". To that I say....well, you obviously haven't met everybody.

This belief is likened to the teacher or the coach that says that "Johnny has the potential to do great things". The problem - and the inherent danger - with this argument is that innate goodness, potential, etc. all take some type of action or forward motion on the part of the actor for that potential to become a reality. Without their action and forward motion, they are just another bad seed with potential.

Why is it our job to search for someone elses redeeming qualities? Why can't they just openly demonstrate them in the first place?

Calloused perhaps, but to find some people's redeeming qualities takes both hands, a flash light and a month of Sundays. Sorry but they gotta at least meet me half way.

In other comparisons, spirituality is more closely linked to metaphysical studies, like meditating. Ultimately though, it seems that spirituality is more of a concept that transcends, or at the very least escapes, the conventions of traditional religions. And for many, that may be the point.

Ties That Un-Bind

Much has been mentioned about the connective element of religion. In our first article, we acknowledged the origins of religion of being exactly that. And many folks it seems report participating in religion because of that connective, comfort seeking element, with little or no mention to the actual belief system being advocated under that religion's roof. While I am hard pressed to understand what connects people in a church besides that church's tenets, I can only assume that whatever skepticism or disgust Mrs. Smith may have about her church or its leaders, the benefits of sitting next to Mrs. Jones are substantial enough to overcome them.

For many of the most outspoken Spirituality advocates, the cost v. benefit analysis seems to have tilted the other direction. Poll after poll of PTCTSBNR's (you know, people that call themselves spiritual but not religious) claim the number 1 reason for being spiritual and not religious is to "pursue their own Truth". Most also imply how their current belief system is a result of their departure from their previous belief system: doctrinal, church based religion.

Therefore, people that wish to be out from under the commonly accepted label of a religion, but feel a connection to something greater than themselves are often the ones who also find solace in calling themselves spiritual. Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, Unitarian Universialists, Wiccans, Pagans, Scientologists, Objectivists, New Age, Native American spirituality, ad nausem can therefore all be categorized as Spiritual, and non Christian.

A recent spiritual radio show host shared a story of how his 'finely tuned spirituality' allowed him to detect a "sign" that his favorite grandmother was present at his son's birth and was watching over them to keep them safe. Alas, it seems that that a nurse on the elevator leading to the C-Section recovery room had the same first name as his grandmother. Callers were enthralled with this "sign", yet none asked why his grandmother's protection didn't include an earlier intervention to prevent the emergency C-section in the first place. Hmm. Therein lies one in an endless string of examples of how people tend to
confuse Reality based Truth and Objective Reality based Truth.

Let us not forget that it is the application of logic that is religion's greatest impediment. Logic trumps faith every time. As we have chronicled, the more independent the follower, the greater the need to institutionalize from the top down Teachings instead of from the bottom up Learnings.

Faith v. Family

The fictional white picket fence family probably all went to church together. And their toast never burned and their dog never tracked mud into the house. In real life though, our children and our spouses are individuals and certainly in our children's case, need to be equipped to stand on their own two feet some day. So here's a pop quiz:

  • If your child wants to learn about growing up to be a Democrat, or a Republican or an Independent...what would you say?
  • If your child wants to learn about growing up to be a teacher, a sports star, an astronaut or the President of the United States...what would you say?
  • If your child wants to learn about growing up to be a carnivore, a vegetarian or a vegan....what would you say?
  • And finally, if your child wants to learn about growing up to be a Christian, an Atheist, a Jew, a Hindu or a Muslim...what would you say?
I assume if you are still reading, that you are the type who would encourage your child to explore their world and would provide influence and input as needed to keep them safe; but would otherwise not restrict their freedom of choice. So what lesson is there in the below message about letting your children choose from the family tradition that they prefer?

Gregory K. Popcak, PhD, Founder and Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute is a nationally known and syndicated writer, lecturer and spokesperson for Catholic theological principles. He says:

"Letting children choose for themselves among the parents
traditions is not a healthy option as it gives too much responsibility to the
children for sorting out their own place in the universe, their sense of values,
and their understanding of what constitutes truth. Research studies show
that parents who offload these tasks onto the children themselves will find that
their children simply avoid the entire issue of spirituality and values and
tend to struggle
with feelings of spiritual isolation and aimlessness in their
lives and relationships." (emphasis added)

Wow. Kind of a 'my way or the highway' tone, huh? As if kids didn't need another reason to rebel.

Holy Kids

Researchers at the University of North Carolina interviewed 3000 American teens about religion and coined the following $12 dollar term to describe where kid's heads and hearts are: "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism", or MTD. Say What??? (Hey, when you are trying to justify your work you have to invent new words and concepts, dontchaknow?) The highlights of their belief system are:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Okay, here's my humanized version:

Somebody's always watching, we're expected to be good and decent, aim to be happy, get help from someone else when needed and oh yeah, die happy.

And we need to be told this? Reminds me of the old Chris Rock bit of the man prancing around bragging "hey, I raise my kids!, I've never been to jail!". Duh. You're supposed to raise your're not supposed to go to jail!

So beyond what we are essentially supposed to do for our kids as parents anyway (!), this list sounds like the description of Spiritual described earlier huh? And additionally unfortunately for the brick and mortar churches of their father and mothers, MTD doesn't require a pew. And so again, the churches must find more and new ways to attract followers.

130,000+ web pages on the Internet dedicated to Church Marketing can't be wrong...

Sell a Discount?

It bears repeating, the fastest growing religious/spiritual segment in the US is not an organized religion; it consists of non-believers like Atheists and Agnostics. So if church-free spirituality is the future for many current Christians, then I can't help but imagine the similarities to the Recording Industry hopelessly struggling to keep CD's alive in the face of decentralized online music, newspapers trying to raise subscriptions when more and more people are getting their news online or the Postal Service raising postal rates to absorb their losses from more and more people and companies sending correspondence electronically.

Sounds like perhaps people are finding other ways to get their bread buttered??

In our next and possibly final installment of this series, Save Thee? Or Sell Thee? we will discuss the future of religion in America. Do join us, won't you?

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Dana said...

"Moralistic Therapeutic Deism"? Wow! If that's not a 50 cent phrase I don't know what is!

I just recently had the religion discussion with my son (12) - asked him if he had any interest in learning about any religion - offered to take him to church/synagogue/temple or even the library to learn more. He declined. We'll revisit the topic next year!

In the mean time, I'm teaching him that "Somebody's always watching, we're expected to be good and decent, aim to be happy, get help from someone else when needed and oh yeah, die happy," and have been for the past 12 years.

Michael M. said...

That's awesome Dana. I guess some folks find some need to making things more complicated than they really are...but I sure don't understand WHY.