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October 31, 2013

Question: What does “spiritual, not religious” mean?

Yes, it’s become a commonplace — if by any chance the suspect topic of religion manages to surface in a casual conversation — a defensive, pre-rehearsed, automated response.

What this formula, and the dichotomy on which it is based, does not tell us is that prior to the rise in the 1960s of the amorphous conglomeration of theologies and practices that became known as the New Age movement, religion and spirituality were actually identical for millennia.

Although some have argued that the formula is a cop-out, which allows the seeker to cherry-pick a belief system, without commitment, ethical or social responsibility, it is easy to understand how the statement arose.

The “I’m spiritual not religious” crowd has had enough of “organized religion” with its scandals, violence, divisiveness, hypocrisy and the imposition of monolithic, unalterable dogmas and doctrines, some of which former members of organized religion cannot swallow.

But I do find the objection to organized religion strange. I mean, unless we are anarchists, we want organized government, organized health care, an organized judiciary, organized armies, organized travel and so forth, but not organized religion?

Perhaps the real questions should be: is the organization of this religion beneficial to the community’s growth? Does it serve the best interests of humanity today as well as my own personal brand of spirituality? Can I flourish as a spiritual being in such an organization?

When we contemplate today’s question more deeply, we realize that many current spiritual practices have their origins in religion. This includes the various schools of meditation, which originate in Hinduism and Buddhism, the search for a solid core of perennial wisdom, which relies heavily on gnosis (knowledge) rather than faith, the physical postures of hatha yoga, now conveniently severed in the West from their Hindu origins, and the divine nature of the self. All these things are originally both spiritual and religious.

“Religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world,” say the Baha’i writings. The Baha’i Faith favours the integration of spirituality and religion.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen October 31, 2013
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