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The Real Issue in “Spiritual but Not Religious” vs. “Religious”

June 20, 2013

You probably know that “spiritual but not religious” is the fastest growing category in surveys that ask people’s religious affiliation  — by far!  It’s a category not even “invented” until recent decades.  When things “New Age” became popular around the 1970s or so, people had both a label and some new belief options besides being “atheist” or “agnostic.”

 

Religion for Atheists, by Alain de Botton

Religion for Atheists, by Alain de Botton (Photo credit: Gwydion M. Williams)

 

Now you could be spiritual outside of mainstream Christianity (or one of the very minority other religions in America — probably similarly in Europe, but my knowledge is mainly of the USA).

 

There are a number of related issues that have emerged in this process that get some discussion though not nearly enough, either in academia or in everyday conversation.  Perhaps at the top of the list is the core of what religion is about (at least outwardly):

 

GOD.  The fact that God, Godself, gets left out so much is illustrated by the fact that one popular Christian blogger several months ago felt the need to challenge his fellow bloggers to write interlinked posts on God… who God is, what “he” is like, etc.   His concern was that among all the other issues being discussed, God was getting short shrift.

 

Well, I note the same thing as that blogger — both among the Christian blogs and other writings I follow and among the broader religious and “spiritual but not religious” type writings and discussions.  I guess it’s an understandable matter: In almost everybody’s book, God is tough to define or describe.  It’s long been noted that it is easier to say what God is not than what God is!  

 

My main appeal in this article is this: Can’t we be a little creative, a bit more flexible, and discuss who God may be in something besides the standard concepts of the 3 major religions of about 2/3 of humanity — Judaism, Christianity and Islam?

 

When people call themselves atheists, don’t they usually mean they do not believe in the kind of God presented by the dominant forms of Christianity? If God were defined another way, might they be less adamant, less strident in their opposition to God-belief? I think so! 

 

So let’s say you have an essay or speech assignment (put yourself back in school – sorry – if you’re not currently a student).  The assignment is to describe God (you have to assume some force or being exists beyond matter and humanity… we all can at least imagine this, even if we’ve rejected the idea).  What might you come up with?

 

If you’ve read much of this blog, you probably know some of what I’d say…. I won’t repeat it here.  I will just say that a small percentage of philosophers, theologians and scientists have worked pretty hard at this very task and come up with some thinking “outside the box” that, to me, is critical to truly useful discussions about God, religion, spirituality and science.  (For about 3 centuries until the 19th, it was typical for well-educated, creative people to be a combination of philosopher, theologian and scientist — the modern system of specializations not having been set up yet.) 

 

I’ll repeat what I’ve written about in several recent posts: We’ve set up a false and misleading set of supposed opposites: Reality as supernatural (God as “sovereign” or in charge of it all) or as natural only (i.e., there is no initiating or guiding “intelligence” or “mind,” “spirit” or “God”).  Indeed, we tend to think in binaries — “either-or’s”… but even the binary systems of computers have important room for “fuzzy logic” which goes beyond simplistic binaries or opposites.  The only way I can make sense of everything I observe in the world, the Bible and other scriptures, other people and myself is in playing with concepts of God that are neither “supernatural” (God intervenes in the natural order from time to time) nor non-existent (because the world is “natural,” with no transcendent mind or spirit).  I suppose someone should coin a new term and help it go viral, so we have a language category somewhere between or surrounding “supernatural” and “natural.”  (How about “awesome”?…. On second thought… nah.)

 

Any ideas?

 

To me, “God” can still work, but them I’m an amateur theologian and I know the very word is just too loaded to be comfortable for many people.  What are your thoughts?

 

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