Perhaps it’s because I’m not a New Age shaman or a member of the Iona Community. Maybe if I were a liberal Anglican or an aboriginal tribal leader it would all become clear. However, I’m just a bog standard Presbyterian and I don’t get ‘spiritual.’
I mean I just don’t grasp it. Madonna is, by all accounts, a ‘spiritual person.’ Ayers Rock is a ‘spiritual place.’ Tribes up the Amazon are ‘spiritual people.’ Iona has a ‘spiritual atmosphere.’ Psychics are ‘spiritual healers.’ For tree hugging devotees of Gaia the earth is our ‘spiritual home.’ It’s endless.
But what does it all mean? Rather, does it mean anything other than a vague, and the vaguer the better, feeling that there is something more than the material? Perhaps it is a spooky sensation, or a desire to invest meaning in the ordinary and banal. More likely it is simply a devotion to intellectual indolence.
There may be two reasons for the growth in spirituality in Neo-Protestant Christianity. Firstly, there is the drastic decline in theological understanding. A professor of theology at one of Scotland’s universities has described the level of theological education in pew and pulpit in Scotland today as probably the lowest since the Reformation. Secondly, there is the desire to connect with the 24% of the population who describe themselves as being spiritual people yet are without any link with an organised religion.
Whatever the reason the more the Church retreats from analytical rigour and lapses into emotional vagueness the greater our vulnerability to the twin assaults of militant secularism and absorption into the multi-faith melting pot of ‘religion.’
To the militant secularists talk of the ‘spiritual’ is risible nonsense. When something is so vague that it can only be ‘felt’ or appreciated by a select band it is worthy of being dismissed as a psychological reaction to a felt need in the subject rather than an objective reality. Spirituality thus becomes nothing more than a mirror reflecting an individual’s emotional state at the time.
If Christianity is merely one more ‘spiritual’ understanding amongst many others then we are indistinguishable from Islam, Scientology, Mormonism, Hinduism or belief in the Spaghetti Monster. All can be understood as supposedly spiritual appreciations of the human condition, and if one of the foundations of our faith is trust in the supposedly ‘spiritual’ then we undermine the distinctive legitimacy with which we proclaim the gospel. If our faith rests on the emotional reaction we experience to an event or a geographical location what is there to differentiate us from the Muslim at prayer, the aboriginal walking through smoke, the Druid hugging a tree, or the Hindu fasting by the Ganges? Is there any difference between a Catholic lighting a candle and a Buddhist spinning a prayer wheel? What is it with candles anyway?
Religions can, if they wish, rely on the vaguely spiritual, but Christianity is not a religion. Religions are man devised attempts to reach up to God. Christianity is the opposite, it is God reaching down to a mankind incapable of making its way home. Don’t accept what I say, read Calvin, Barth, Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, Ellul. It may surprise many but Christianity is profoundly anti-religious.
Christianity is a down to earth faith which can be approached rationally. We don’t believe because Christianity makes us feel good, we believe because Christianity is objectively true. Christianity relies upon reality, not upon wishful thinking. Neo-Protestant spirituality, divorced from the action of the Holy Spirit, is a faith contrary to rationality, devoid of objective content and eventually incommunicable.
To retreat into the netherworld of subjective intangibles and claim that others must respect your spiritual insights is to give up any pretense of having a rational faith based upon the Scriptures. Intellectual integrity demands our willingness to present our faith in the rough and tumble of the marketplace of ideas. Personal integrity demands that we face the challenge of the world full on in the name of Christ.
What is spirituality?
For me, if spirituality is anything it is three things.
- Discipleship, living out the life Christ has given us in the hard mucky world where He has placed us.
- Worship, when we consciously turn to God in prayer and praise.
- Fellowship, when with our brothers and sister in Christ we seek to live the life Christ has given us.
Knowing my readers I would be surprised if there was general agreement with what I have written. How do you understand spirituality?