Saturday, April 04, 2009

Spirituality, Religion, and/or Faith

I was over on Gus diZerega's blog, and have found myself in a conversation (blog.beliefnet.com//apaga...; the link feature isn't working for some reason). I thought I should flesh out how I perceive the differences and relationship between spirituality, religion, and faith.

When I think of spirituality, I think of personal experience that arises from our sense of connection with the Source of our spiritual experience. Spirituality is personal. It hinges on the experiential. At its best, it draws us continually deeper into encounter with that which we call Divine. It opens us up to the wonder that is in the universe. At its worst, it leads us to turn inward as we cease to identify with those “lesser” people who do not connect as we do, and we end up with a self-aggrandizing spiritual perspective that may not be unlike looking up from the bottom of a well.

When I think of religion, I think of a community that extends beyond our own time. It incorporates more voices and experiences than that of the one, which is articulated primarily through some form of general consensus (doctrine, dogma, teaching, rites) that forms a tradition. Even if a person isn’t “officially” part of a self-identifying community, there is a sense of participating in something “corporate” as people converse with a tradition, seeking to make sense out of experience within the context of others. The key to religion is that it incorporates its plurality of voices in conversation around shared symbols. At its best, religion helps us to identify with others and their experiences and grow into a wider sense of identification with the other. At its worst, it becomes a shallow, self-serving, and abusive power that does damage to people and potentially the world.

Faith seems to be fully identified with neither spirituality, nor religion. Instead, it playfully intermingles (or not) with both. When I think of faith, I think of the bond of trust that intimately ties us to that which is of Ultimate Concern (for the theologically minded, see Paul Tillich, The Dynamics of Faith). Faith drives us to do what we do. The stronger our faith, the stronger our bond of trust in our Ultimate Concern, the more we willingly pursue the interests of our Ultimate Concern. Significantly, one’s Ultimate Concern need not be spiritual or religious; it can be secular (for example, radical patriotism). It is the source of one’s perceived authority. At its best, it takes us beyond our comfort zones in a way that brings new life to the world around us. At its worst, it threatens to unconscionable acts in the name of Ultimacy.

While I nice and neatly categorize the above, I am aware that these categories are “functional” at best. People can have spiritual experience inside or outside of a religion. People who are religious may or may not have spiritual experiences. And faith, as already noted, may or may not play within the realms of both, or neither. Hence, the spiritual but not religious, or the spiritually religious, or the secular patriot Maybe the best way to portray how I see the three interact is with three circles, overlapping in the middle.

(x-posted: My A/Musings)

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