Editor’s Note: Unlike previous poster, Mason Lane, who was decidedly-not-ever-spiritual, this Clergy Project member discusses his musings on spirituality and his struggle to understand his long journey away from supernatural beliefs. He also has a question for you.
By Scott Heller
- When you were religious, did you also think of yourself as spiritual, or not? How did you talk about spirituality to the people in your congregation?
Calvary Chapel, the nondenominational church I was with distinguished itself from other churches by claiming not to be religious. True Christianity was about having a relationship with Jesus, not following a religious rituals, doctrine or traditions. Organized religion was looked down upon and anyone belonging to a denomination was probably not a real Christian. So when I was in the ministry I never thought of myself as religious. I taught and preached that the essence of spirituality was to maintain a close relationship with God. The basis of this relationship included prayer, fellowship, worship, bible study, obedience, being led by and filled with the Holy Spirit, following the will of God, resisting Satan and the temptation to sin. Ironically, in retrospect all of these strike me as forming the basis of most any Christian religion. So although I thought I was spiritual but not religious, I was in fact just plain religious.
2. Did you go through a “spiritual but not religious stage” on the way to being non-religious? If so, please describe it.
Since I hadn’t really thought of myself as religious, there really wasn’t a time along my journey to atheism that I considered myself as spiritual but not religious. For years I considered myself an agnostic and if pressed I would label myself as spiritual but not a fundamentalist\evangelical and eventually spiritual but not Christian. My path from fundamentalist Christianity to agnosticism to atheism involved a great deal of philosophical, theological and secular research. For a long time I remained open to the idea of a spiritual realm and some kind of God-like being. I hoped to find something that transcended the natural world or at least the existence of a sum greater than the parts, which I could identify as supernatural. But in the end, I could not find any evidence for it. However, leaving my earlier faith and relinquishing a supenatural worldview wasn’t just cerebral, it was also tied to my original belief that the essence of spirituality was found in a relationship with God. I realized early on that despite my most sincere efforts to maintain that close relationship by being religious and doing all the ‘right’ things, God remained aloof. From the beginning it was a one sided relationship with the burden of maintaining it on me. My later efforts to salvage the supernatural led more and more to a theory of a God who was an impersonal being. I could feel at one with nature and appreciate the idea of everything being interconnected and even so-called mystical experiences, but none of these required the existence of God or established God as a being with whom humans could maintain an interactive relationship.
3. If you know people who are spiritual but not religious, what are they like?
The people I know and have met who claim to be spiritual but not religious came from a church background which they found too restrictive. Being spiritual without being connected to a particular organization or its doctrine allowed them to embrace a plurality of beliefs about the supernatural from many eastern and western traditions. Most seem to embrace a holistic and somewhat pantheistic worldview in which spirit is in everything and everyone and all is interconnected.
“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together” – The Beatles, I Am the Walrus
Many of these people continue to pray and worship in the more traditional sense while others meditate, dance, form drum circles or some combination of all the above. This kind of spiritual worldview seems to me to be a natural offshoot of our postmodern age, which has given up on objective truth from science, the church or other sources and instead embraces relativism, subjectivity and pluralistic but often contradictory beliefs.
- What other questions I should be asking about this?
A question I struggle with is this:
Why, despite the overwhelming lack of evidence for the supernatural, do so many people retain a spiritual worldview? Is the brain as some have suggested wired for spirituality?
If there were any truth to this theory, as an atheist and evolutionist I would identify it as an evolutionary by product that serves as a coping mechanism. Many psychologists suggest that God or spirituality provides people with meaning and purpose in life. If God or some other supernatural force created the world directly or indirectly there must be a reason and humans have been given the privilege of participating in that purpose. Whether it is God, angels or the loving spirit of the universe, humans are cared for and helped in good times and bad. A supernatural worldview allows people to feel like they have a role to play in a cosmic drama. As an humanistic atheist I question why so many people hold on to such an antiquated myth, especially when a life lived without any supernatural hocus-pocus behind the scenes gives us the freedom to write our own purpose, to write our novel everyday as we interact with the unfolding drama in the natural world.
Many religious and spiritual people have incredible imaginations so I doubt creativity is the limiting factor. My best guess is this:
People are afraid to accept that we are all we have (which is a lot!) and perhaps the bigger rub is that writing your own life story is an awesome responsibility.
I am curious to hear what others think about this. Please share your thoughts.
Bio: Scott Heller is an atheist and former pastor who lives in beautiful Colorado. He was “born again” in 1978 at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, CA. After his conversion he worked in various church roles and as pastor for 12 years. Leaving the ministry was a difficult transition but he was eventually able to establish a second career in Technical Management. He is a member of The Clergy Project and holds 3 master’s degrees: Biblical Studies, Management of Technical Resources and Counseling.
>>>> Photo Credits: By EMI. – Billboard page 15 1 May 1965Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by We hope using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39594102