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Religious vs. Spiritual

March 30, 2012

I just got off the phone with Paul, one of my oldest friends. We have been out of touch for many years and it was good to hear his voice. But I leave the conversation saddened and bemused by how far apart we have grown. Back when we were in our 20’s we were quite close. I looked up to Paul because he was so knowledgable and confident in his religion. I was just starting my religious phase and Paul was going strong in the faith tradition into which he was born. I considered joining his religion. We both went off to seminary (different ones) and both struggled with elements of our theological training. Whereas I responded by questioning what was being taught, he responded by questioning himself. He blamed himself for failing to conform to the norms: I questioned the norms. We both earned Masters of Divinity degrees and spent time in ministry.

Fast forward to today. He is further entrenched in his religion. I have changed mine. His spiritual position is Fort Religion in God’s Land which has been overrun by sinners.  He struggles to love the sinners while hating the sin. I see us all on the same path seeking freedom, balance and happiness. I live in God’s country where everyone is loved, even the haters. He sees Democrats as servants of the devil. The current president has horns, a tail and a pitchfork. Republicans aren’t much better. He will vote for the least evil candidate:  Ron Paul.

We are both logically consistent with our presuppositions. This is soteriology (the study of why we believe what we believe) at its finest. The world into which he was born is at constant war. God and the forces of good (his religion) are fighting to overcome the devil and his servants (everyone who does not hold his worldview.) Souls are the ultimate prizes of war. The fate of the world, and history itself, hangs in the balance. His is a compelling argument that, if you completely buy it, motivates you to pray, work, strive, and fight the good fight all your days. Religious people get stuff done!

My sadness comes from realizing how far apart we have grown. He has hardened his position over the years and become more convinced of his “rightness.” I envision Paul standing, yelling at the world from the top up of his fortress, shooting his verbal cannon at his ideological enemies. (He is tempted to use real guns.) His ego is subsumed into the collective ego of his church and he derives ALL his identity from it.

But he is also a man in pain who clings to his religion and guns with an eye to future salvation as a reward for his noble struggle on earth. I prefer to end my suffering on earth by letting go my attachment to any idea, concept, or worldview that does not pass the test of logic. Paul, and all my religious friends for that matter, begin their beliefs in the Bible. They see the Bible as a sacred text given to us from God himself. I can’t talk to them about it because, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” This is true for any faith based on an inerrant sacred text: Muslim, Mormon etc. If there are logical inconsitencies or alleged “problems” with the text then these are items of faith to be surrendered to God. I look at these same issues and conclude if it sounds like a myth and looks like a myth it is probably a myth. The Bible makes way more sense if you compare its texts to those of contemporary cultures.

It comes down to how much faith one puts in science. Most conservative religious people are inconsistent with their acceptance of science. They trust the science of medicine with their earthly lives, but reject science that contradicts their religious beliefs: archeology, paleontology, anthropology, pyschology, etc.

Anyway, there is much much more to say on this topic, but in case you wonder about the difference between being religious and spiritual, I hope this post helps.

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