CNN posted an essay by John Blake called, “Are there dangers in being ‘spiritual but not religious’? Mr. Blake seems to think so, and relies on Jesuit priest James Martin for support. Being SBNR, Fr. Martin says leads to complacency and self-centeredness. “If it’s just you and God in your room,” Father Martin says, “and a religious community makes no demands on you, why help the poor?” An odd thing for a Catholic priest to say, perhaps, given the Church’s rich tradition of monks and nuns in monastic cells, but a good question nonetheless. Here’s the answer:
The deeper your connection with God becomes, the greater your concern for the welfare of others. The closer you are to the Source of Life, the more compassion and concern you have for all that lives. Besides, if organized religion really wanted to end poverty it would have done so long ago. It seems to me that organized religion is more about pushing camels through needle eyes and getting rich men into heaven (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25), then about selling what we have and giving to the poor (Luke 12:33; 18:22; Acts 2:45). Jesus, anyone?
I’m not suggesting SBNR folks are saints, but neither are they any more selfish then their church going neighbors.
Borrowing from Huffington Post blogger BJ Gallagher, Mr. Blocks calls SBNR “Burger King Spirituality;” you know: have it your way. Fair enough, but is this any different than Jews choosing among the various brands of Judaism, or Protestants moving from church to church until they find one where the pastor says what they want to hear? Even Catholics have it their way by ignoring those teachings of the Church they find inconvenient or just plain wrong.
Gallagher goes on to praise Twelve-Step followers as the epitome of SBNR. I agree. As my book Recovery, the sacred art points out, the 12-Steps are a powerful spiritual practice free from religious politics and prejudice. And 12-Step meetings are wonderful examples of healing communities.
Mr. Block’s major complaint, again borrowing from Father Martin, is that SBNR people are lazy. We would rather sample many religions than devote ourselves to digging deeply into just one. Amen! Religions are like the proverbial blind men and the elephant. Each has a piece of the whole, but none has a true sense of the elephant itself. So, yes, if you want to climb deep up the elephant’s ass by all means do so, but just don’t imagine that you know what an elephant is just because you are an expert in its intestines.
The truth is that the truth is greater than anything any religion can imagine. Serious SBNR people explore the entirety of human religiosity, and even then we know that we cannot know. That is why we devote ourselves to spiritual practice rather than organizational conformity. Through meditation, prayer, chanting, etc. we seek to move beyond the ego to realize the One manifest as the many. The greater our experience of the One, the greater our love of the other. This is why Jesus urged us to follow two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. That’s the difference between religion and SBNR. The spiritual teacher tells us to love God, while organized religion tells us to love religion.
[To read Mr. Block’s posting, go to http://edition.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/personal/06/03/spiritual.but.not.religious/index.html]