“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” – Matthew 5:17.
In the three hundred years following the Enlightenment, organized religion has steadily declined in affiliation and popularity. While a rise in atheism has accompanied this decline, there has also been an increase in the nones. The nones are people who do not identify with any religion. Within the category of the nones are those who claim to be spiritual, but not religious.
In the following work, I will examine what it means to be spiritual, but not religious, and inquire into the viability of a spirituality divorced from organized religion, specifically Catholicism. To properly treat this subject, I will discuss spirituality and religion and argue that a spirituality that is disconnected from Catholicism cannot succeed.
Owing to the personal nature of spirituality, it is all but impossible to provide a definitive definition. This fact impedes any efforts for a systematic study of it.
Nevertheless, any attempt to understand spirituality must take into account the composite nature of human beings. That is to say that human beings are composed of a body and a soul. Suffice, therefore, to say that spirituality is that aspect of human nature that concerns itself with matters of the soul.
Because the soul is not a material substance, spirituality involves matters such as concepts, happiness, and ultimate meaning. Whether one knows it or not, whether one accepts it or not, human beings desire God. When this desire is repressed, it will manifest itself in other ways. Often, being “spiritual, but not religious” is nothing more than a response to this very human desire for God.
As human beings are made in the image of God (as all things are to varying degrees), spirituality should orient the individual toward God. Traditionally, this orientation toward God involved membership in organized religion.
In a sense, religion entails the voluntary subjection of oneself to God. It is a systematic and organized attempt to worship God properly.
The Catholic religion includes the faith, worship, and practice of all Christians in communion with the Bishop of Rome, whom they acknowledge as the Vicar of Christ and the visible head of the Church founded by Christ. (See Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary).
Now it is evident that God became man in the person of Jesus to affect human salvation. Salvation being eternal life with God. It is why Jesus says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” It is also evident that Christ created a Church so as to provide a means by which all may partake of the salvation that He made possible. As evidence of this, Jesus anointed Peter as Pope (see Matthew 16:18) and sent the Holy Spirit to create the Catholic Church (See Acts 2:1-4).
In conclusion, it can be said that God became a man to reconcile God and human beings and affect salvation. God also founded the Catholic Church as a means to bring people to Him so that they may be saved.
Why Spirituality Needs Catholicism
A spirituality separated from religion is, by definition, subjective. This can lead to a “faith” that is ego-centric. Denied access to the transcendent (which must be objective), the soul turns inward.
This subjective spirituality means that God becomes a concept or abstraction. A Jesus removed from the Church He founded is a Jesus removed from the Bible, at least partially. The allure of this mistake lies in allowing one to “mold” Jesus so as to fit one’s own will. God becomes whoever the individual wants Him to be. At the extreme, the individual becomes his own god, determining for himself such things as morality and objective meaning.
This, of course, is precisely the wrong course. If Jesus is God, He is the greatest good, and our goal should be union with Him. This union – which is eternal life – can only occur when God is allowed to mold the individual. Such a union with God requires the individual to be obedient to God. Thus, Jesus says, “Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” (John 14:21).
We love God by worshiping Him and by doing His will, and proper worship requires the liturgy of the Church. The reason lies in the fact that to be followers of Christ means to be grafted onto His mystical body (this occurs at baptism), which is the Catholic Church.
The liturgy allows Catholics to enter into the Trinitarian dialogue by sharing in the Paschal mystery of Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father. In turn, Christ presents his Body (of which we are a part) to the Father in sacrifice on our behalf. Through sharing in Christ’s sacrifice to the Father, we participate in the divine life of the Trinity. God’s intention for us is that we participate in the divine life of God and, in so doing, are made holy like him.
Ultimately, the virtue of being spiritual exists only to approach God in prayer and in living out the Gospel. As I have shown, this cannot occur apart from Catholicism.
The decline of organized religion has not only led to an increase in atheism, but also the advent of the nones, people who do not identify with any religion. Yet, human beings are religious creatures by nature, and any effort to denude humanity of its transcendent sensibilities will often lead to religion appearing in another form. One such form is composed of people who consider themselves spiritual, but not religious.
In the preceding work, I have endeavored to examine what it means to be spiritual, but not religious. I have treated both spirituality and religion. Finally, I have suggested that any form of spirituality divorced from Catholicism fails to allow the individual to obtain a proper relationship with God.