In recent decades pollsters in a number of countries have discerned a clear trend: the word “spiritual” is far more appealing than the word “religion.” For much of our history, the words spiritual and religious meant roughly the same thing. In his book “Spiritual But Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America” Robert Fuller observes this is no longer true: “The word spiritual has gradually become associated with the private realm of thought and experience, while the word religious has become connected to religious institutions and denominational doctrines.”
In general, polls show that “spirituality” has taken on a positive connotation while “religion” is often perceived negatively. To be “spiritual” is to be authentic, open and have a live faith while to be “religious” means you are, among other things, unwilling to ask questions about the Bible, you oppose women’s rights, dislike gays, immigrants and abuse the planet. These same polls find “religion” is on the wane and “spirituality” is on the upswing.
Spiritual and Religious Word Association
Much of the language of spirituality is different from the language of God, faith and church that most of us grew up with who consider ourselves religious people. These new and unfamiliar definitions for religion and spirituality fosters misunderstanding. It is easy for religious people to dismiss spirituality as New Age, consumerist or self-centered without realizing it is a commentary upon the institutional church.
In her book “Christianity After Religion” Diana Butler Bass notes that “to say one is spiritual but not religious is often a way of saying I am dissatisfied with the way things are, and I want to find a new way of connecting with God, my neighbor and my own life.”
The various ways people of all faiths and demographics are now defining the words religion and spirituality is difficult to scientifically quantify, but the following word association comparison is representative of how the terms are being perceived in our post-Christian society.
|Institution, denomination and authority based
|Experience, relationship and practice based
|Outer religious expressions
|Inner sacred experiences
|Programs to produce disciples of Christ
|Practices to deepen love of God & love of others
|Both-and/Hold the paradoxes/Doubt
|Sacred Writings/Spiritual Reading/Spiritual Truths
|Sermon on the Mount
|Puritanical codes/Moralistic rules/Do’s & Don’ts
|Plank in your own eye – he who is without sin….
|A student of Jesus
|An imitator of Jesus
|Who and what to believe
|How and why to believe
|Knowledge and information about God
|Experience and connection with God
|Know more about God
|Know God more
|Seek the answers
|Seek the questions
|Traditional Christian Spiritual Disciplines
|Ancient Spiritual Practices
|Rational and logical
|Mystery, wonder, awe and discovery
|Critical of others
|The business of the church
|The mission of the church
|Stays in the church
|Leaves or changes churches or multiple churches
|Goal: Incarnation – Christ Mindedness – Oneness
Regardless of definition, it is increasingly difficult for church leaders to dismiss the differences in spirituality and religion. And, it is important to note that most people see themselves as both spiritual and religious.
Accepting that a growing number of people are signaling a discontent with religious institutions, yet are longing for a deeper connection with God, themselves and others, is a prerequisite for the church to discover new ways for every generation to experience God.
Posted on July 18, 2017