Archives for posts with tag: religion

Today an excellent short article was being passed around my Facebook circles regarding the notion of someone being spiritual, but not religious.  You may refer to the original article from the Huffington Post here: http://tinyurl.com/7xag59f.  I liked this article, but wish to offer a few more thoughts on it that extend beyond the normal limits for Facebook comments and status updates. 

First, while I agree with pretty much everything in the article, I think those of us who are “religious” need to own up to our role in leading people to be “spiritual, but not religious.”  What I mean by that is simple.  If people from the outside–or probably even worse, from the inside–see how we behave, why would they want to be associated with religion?  We may rightly criticize the “spiritual, but not religious” group for their faults, but we should also be willing to accept criticism back for our own.  In fact, I would argue, if we were self-critical to begin with, most people would feel no need to be spiritual, but not religious.  For this reason, I make every effort to follow the authentic, but difficult, biblical tradition.  The Bible is extremely critical of those of us on the “inside” of religion.  So instead of spending time worrying about the so-called “culture wars,” I prefer to spend time criticizing and improving my own faults and those of my own faith community. 

Now, in some ways I am going to be hypocritical with respect to my previous statement.  I generally try to stay away from critiquing even other Christian denominations, at least publicly.  I confess, sometimes it is very difficult to avoid critiquing modern expressions of Christianity, especially when I believe such expressions give Christianity and religion a bad name in general.  So please understand I make these next comments in the spirit of the best interest of Christianity as a whole, and not from ill intent to simply criticize others for criticism’s sake.

I would take Ms. Daniel’s argument a step further.  She correctly speaks of the importance of belonging to a community because in a community one must deal with people “calling you out on stuff” and “disagreeing with you.”  In other words, it is easy to be spiritual, but not religious, because you can be spiritual all by yourself, with no one to point out your imperfections.  This point is well taken.

Again, however, take this argument a step further to the situation we have today in Christianity with the multiplication of denominations.  Clearly, the “spiritual, but not religious” group was not the first to run off and start something on their own.  They were not the first to challenge or deny authority, however you want to spin the argument.  This general spirit and attitude towards religion comes from the Protestant Reformation.  And this attitude is still pervasive today among the majority of American Christians–most of whom still identify themselves as Protestants.  To me, personally, I would think “protestant” would be a derogative term.  Why would someone want to identify themselves as protesting rather than standing for something?

As I said, I am very hesitant to be critical of other faith traditions, whether different denominations or different religions altogether.  But sometimes, for the benefit of Christianity in general, I believe certain questions must be asked.  If we Christians begin accepting the presupposition that if we don’t like what’s happening in our church we will simply join or start another, then we have no right to criticize people who take that argument a step further and become “spiritual, but not religious.” 

Anyone who knows me realizes I have a lot of problems/concerns/complaints against the way we Orthodox tend to think, act, etc.  Technically, it is one of my job responsibilities to critique these things, at least in myself and in my own parish community.  But for the very reasons outlined in the article I shared, I cannot see myself leaving the Orthodox Church.  Do we have problems?  Yes.  Are we perfect?  No. But I also have problems, and fleeing the Church would be to run from my problems, to assert my own will and supposed expertise.  As our Patriarch Ignatius of Antioch once said (paraphrased): “The Church is not invented.  It was founded by Jesus Christ and is passed down for generations.” 

The ultimate challenge for us who are “religious” is to live in such a way that others would also at least respect “religion.”  As it stands, there are plenty of reasons to disrespect religion.  As it stands, most of us fall under the critique and judgment in this article leveled against those who are “religious, but not spiritual”–we just haven’t taken the argument to its logical conclusion.

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According to the Bible, the flood wiped out the entire population of humanity except for Noah and his family on the Ark.  Consequently, after the flood, the earth is populated by Noah and his family.  Genesis 10 gives us a “family tree,” so to speak, of Noah and his family, divided between his three children.  In essence, this biblical story indicates all of humanity descends from one father (Noah) and from this father the entire earth is populated.

Many people do not realize the implications of this teaching unless they give it serious consideration.  But the important lesson from this is that we are all brothers and sisters.  We all come from one father.  We all are one (now very large!) family.  We should be challenged by this story to view and treat others as though they are our siblings.  No matter our race, religion, or any other distinguishing characteristic, we are all human beings who are part of one family.

This idea of us all descending from a common ancestor is developed throughout Scripture, and I believe, closely related to the idea of monotheism.  We will see this development play out most especially in the Prophets and New Testament.  One of my professors spoke of it as the “cost of monotheism.”  The “cost of monotheism” is the principle that your God is your neighbor’s God; your God is also your enemies’ God.  In other words, you cannot claim special access or special privilege–God is as much their God as He is yours, whether they accept Him or reject Him. 

Believe me, I understand Christians and other people “of the book” have very often fallen short of the principle I have discussed above.  However, we must always call ourselves and our brothers and sisters back to the authentic teaching whenever we err.  We have one God and Father; according to Genesis 10 we also have one earthly, ancient ancestor, Noah.  Thus, we are called to remember to treat each other as brothers and sisters.  By doing so, we are “sons of [our] Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

Today’s post, in many respects, is a continuation of yesterday’s post.  Today, however, I will focus on Noah and his obedience to God.

Noah’s Obedience
Noah is introduced as having “found grace” with the Lord (Genesis 6:8). I’m sure this subject will come up again in more depth, but for now let me simply point out that the grace of God comes first–not last. In other words, the grace of God is given to us in advance. The question for us is not if we will receive the grace of God, but what we will do with it

Noah is presented in the flood story as the anti-Adam: “Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did” (Geneis 6:22). Whereas Adam disobeyed the simple commandment of God to refrain from eating of one of the trees, Noah obeyed perfectly all the things God commanded him.  Noah, whose names means ‘rest,’ symbolizes the rest we will receive in the end if we are obedient to God.

As I mentioned yesterday, we are tempted to think of God in abstract terms. We are tempted to think of faith, religion, and God in creedal terms, or in intellectual statements of faith. I “believe” in God in my head–I think or believe He exists. These creedal/intellectual notions of God manifest themselves uniquely in different denominations. We Orthodox and Roman Catholics tend to think of our faith as confessing the Nicene Creed. Evangelicals have their own “creeds,” like the “Sinner’s Prayer.”

Yet, true faith is not in confessing a creed or saying a prayer, but living a way of life. Specifically, true faith is living like Noah, obeying what God commands us to do. As James says in his epistle: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).