Spirituality is in. Religion? Not so much. Spiritual keeps you safely vague. You can be spiritual without risk of someone revoking your “cool card.” Religious, on the other hand, can sound stodgy, old and cold. Have you noticed that when people use the word religious, what they mean is dead moralism rather than vibrant faith?
Still, the spiritual label can be a bit dishonest. Sometimes it’s more about about P.R. than genuine belief. (How cool is that?) Passionate convictions always need a winsome, relevant spokesman. But you don’t achieve authenticity by compromising the thing itself.
If you’re going to have an influence, you need these four marks of authentic faith:
1) Be clear.
Know where you stand and be FOR it rather than merely against others. Angry people define themselves only by what they are against. Most of them are unaware how much it shows.
2) Be accountable.
Ever heard of “Sheilaism?” It’s the pet term for people whose faith is mainly about them, rather than God. In the 1990’s, some folks at Emory University noticed a trend. American’s beliefs were becoming narcissistic. The most telling quote was from a woman named Sheila who had named her faith after herself. She called it “Her own little voice.” This kind of low accountability is unhealthy. Input from enduring, external voices, is a mark of maturity, not fakery. The villains of history were enamored with their own little voice.
3) Don’t judge the judgers.
My kids tell me: “Whenever you point the finger, three are pointing back at you.” (Literally. Try it.) Cute image, but there’s truth here. The philosopher Nietzsche put it a bit more artfully: “In fighting the dragon, take care that you do not become the dragon.”
4) Be Sustainable.
It’s easy to cast stones at what someone else has built, like a church. I hear, “Churches are full of self-righteous people who believe they are better than everyone else.” Sometimes, yes; but please read #3. If you were to find the perfect church, wouldn’t you be afraid to join it? (Oops, there it went.)
If you’re suspicious of “organized religion,” consider: We organize in order to sustain and even pass on valuable things. Someone said, “Without individuals, nothing gets done; but without institutions, nothing survives. It’s true, you can go a lot faster alone, but you can go a lot further together.
In part, religion means to retie. It’s to become part of something bigger than me, myself and I.
How do you describe yourself? Spiritual, religious, neither?
Danny Fell says
Great post Tim. Honesty and authenticity are still valued commodities – and even more so in today’s superficial, commercialized world. I should know. I’m in advertising.
You are in it, but not of it, Danny!
Thanks for the great comment and insight.
Tim, this is a good, succinct look at religion vs spirituality. I must admit I flinch when someone calls me “religious” but I guess what I should be living for is to be referred to as “Christian” (which now also seems to carry a mixed connotation) or “Christ-follower” – a term I see used with increasing frequency.
Our family was having lunch after church on Sunday and my daughter began a conversation with “Someone should write a book called “Christian Buts””. She went on to explain that she and a friend had been conversing with school mates who were constantly using the term “I am Christian, but”. Their age group is more prone to acceptance as a main priority; however, the current push is to avoid anything that can be termed exclusive and all age groups are getting caught up. So, Spirituality is safe, popular and cool.
The other concern is Religion as people outside the faith define it has creeped into our own definition of discipleship. Religion as it is defined by those outside the Christian faith is a moral code that earns one a standing with God. Salvation, gratitude and unearned love is difficult to sound bite and takes a relationship. Timothy Keller does a good job explaining salvation in Ch. 11 of “The Reason for God”. Keller uses Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and Le Miserables to explain. Keller is armed and makes me realize I need to spend more time planning for the mission.
Tim Filston says
Great comment, Warren. Please tell your daughter to write that book!
Tim Filston says
I have the same reaction, Margo. Paul in the New Testament dealt with similar issues. He was determined to let his lifestyle define him.