This is what I'm talking about: La Shawn posted on BlogHer over a week ago her thoughts on a Barna Group study that found 62% of Americans "consider themselves to be not merely 'religious,' but 'deeply spiritual.'" La Shawn offers some barbed questions:
Being â€œspiritualâ€? is trendy, but thereâ€™s no clear definition of what that means. Is it a belief in God or a god? How is this spirituality practiced? What does it look like?
Yes, I'm spiritual because everyone's doing it. Spiritual is the new black. Right....
Barna found a disconnect between what people do and what they say. Nothing grounding-breaking there. Itâ€™s part of the human condition. A prime example is similar to one cited in the article: I always find it sadly amusing when a trash-mouthed rapper with scantily-clad, rump-shaker background dancers thanks â€œGodâ€? after he wins an award.
Good points there. There's nothing rare about religious hypocrisy, is there? But...
â€œIt seems as if God is in, but living for God is not,â€? George Barna said. More precisely, god is in, but the living God is not. Christians have a term for living and growing in Christ as opposed to paying lip service to â€œspiritualityâ€?: discipleship. A disciple is a follower, one who helps spread the teachings of others. A Christian disciple is one who spreads the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is, by nature, an evangelical.
You gotta love it: Faith is to be measured by how much you want to impose it on others. I suppose by that measure Osama Bin Laden is pretty damned faithful, isn't he? No spiritual "lip service" from him, or any religious fundamentalists who consider your faith their business.
No wonder fundamentalists don't get along. When measure of one's faith is one's willingness -- yea, determination -- to impose one's will on others, well, I guess that's why prayers will not suffice and we have to have burning of churches, bombing of mosques and the flying of jetliners into skyscrapers.
Like me -- and this is the reason I'm dusting off this old-ish BlogHer thread to blog about tonight -- Mata H doesn't buy into the notion that faith without imperialist intentions is only "lip service." In a comment, she writes:
I think one of the reasons so many people who may have described themselves as "Christian" (or a variety of the same) 20 years ago now describe themselves as "spiritual' is that we may have let the radical right claim ownership of that word "Christian". I cannot speak for other faith traditions, but I know that if I tell someone that I am Christian I can sense that they are doing that silent scanning thing to see if I start hissing abdout Roe v. Wade or supporting the slaughter in Iraq. While I do find value in other faith traditions, and have incorporated much eastern thought into my Christian Cuisinart Faith, at the core I remain Christian, liberally Lutheran in fact, albeit somewhat embellished.
Speaking for myself, I cannot in good conscience call myself a Christian -- not when I see Christianity these days as being all about hate and intolerance. ("We crucify you because we love you!") That's not the Christianity I learned in Sunday school. In fact, the Biblical characters I associate with modern-day Christians are the ancient Romans. Pontius Pilate would have made a popular Republican Christian conservative these days.
Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, at the heart of this time-warped faith-warp is the anti-gnostic view of faith and religion as espoused by the Roman Empire's inheritor, the Roman Catholic Church. The gnostics were wiped out by the Church. Historians say this is because the Gnostics believed that faith was within, without any dependency upon some vetted authority (such as a Church). Elaine Pagels writes of the Gnostic Gospels:
Word of this codex soon reached Professor Gilles Quispel, distinguished historian of religion at Utrecht, in the Netherlands. Excited by the discovery, Quispel urged the Jung Foundation in Zurich to buy the codex. But discovering, when he succeeded, that some pages were missing, he flew to Egypt in the spring of 1955 to try to find them in the Coptic Museum. Arriving in Cairo, he went at once to the Coptic Museum, borrowed photographs of some of the texts, and hurried back to his hotel to decipher them. Tracing out the first line, Quispel was startled, then incredulous, to read: "These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and which the twin, Judas Thomas, wrote down." Quispel knew that his colleague H.C. Puech, using notes from another French scholar, Jean Doresse, had identified the opening lines with fragments of a Greek Gospel of Thomas discovered in the 1890's. But the discovery of the whole text raised new questions: Did Jesus have a twin brother, as this text implies? Could the text be an authentic record of Jesus' sayings? According to its title, it contained the Gospel According to Thomas; yet, unlike the gospels of the New Testament, this text identified itself as a secret gospel. Quispel also discovered that it contained many sayings known from the New Testament; but these sayings, placed in unfamiliar contexts, suggested other dimensions of meaning. Other passages, Quispel found, differed entirely from any known Christian tradition: the "living Jesus," for example, speaks in sayings as cryptic and compelling as Zen koans:
Jesus said, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you."
I don't know, but that last part sounds a lot like it's about spirituality, and not evangelism.
Contemporary Christianity, diverse and complex as we find it, actually may show more unanimity than the Christian churches of the first and second centuries. For nearly all Christians since that time, Catholics, Protestants, or Orthodox, have shared three basic premises. First, they accept the canon of the New Testament; second, they confess the apostolic creed; and third, they affirm specific forms of church institution. But every one of these-the canon of Scripture, the creed, and the institutional structure--emerged in its present form only toward the end of the second century. Before that time, as Irenaeus and others attest, numerous gospels circulated among various Christian groups, ranging from those of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to such writings as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth, as well as many other secret teachings, myths, and poems attributed to Jesus or his disciples. Some of these, apparently, were discovered at Nag Hammadi; many others are lost to us. Those who identified themselves as Christians entertained many--and radically differing-religious beliefs and practices. And the communities scattered throughout the known world organized themselves in ways that differed widely from one group to another.
Yet by A. D. 200, the situation had changed. Christianity had become an institution headed by a three-rank hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons, who understood themselves to be the guardians of the only "true faith." The majority of churches, among which the church of Rome took a leading role, rejected all other viewpoints as heresy. Deploring the diversity of the earlier movement, Bishop Irenaeus and his followers insisted that there could be only one church, and outside of that church, he declared, "there is no salvation." Members of this church alone are orthodox (literally, "straight-thinking") Christians. And, he claimed, this church must be catholic-- that is, universal. Whoever challenged that consensus, arguing instead for other forms of Christian teaching, was declared to be a heretic, and expelled. When the orthodox gained military support, sometime after the Emperor Constantine became Christian in the fourth century, the penalty for heresy escalated.
Maybe today people aren't paying "lip service" to faith, but in fact are practicing a religious tradition that has been all but oppressed to nothingness for 2000 years. Maybe what we call spirituality is the true faith, because it begins in the heart and soul. Maybe that's not good enough for some people. But since when is it their place to decide? What penalty shall we pay today for the heresy of knowing our own hearts?