Monday, June 06, 2005

Spirituality vrs Religion

Mark Greer, a blog I occasionally sneak a peak at has just posted this on his blog. This evening UK TV's channel 4 will be airing a new series entitled "Spirituality Shopper" in which a high power career woman explores various spiritual practices. Giles Fraser of the Guardian had this to say about it. I'm not sure I share Giles Fraser's attitude on this one, particularly his comparison with BBC2's recent series, 'The Monastery'. Some are reluctant to remove priests and dogma and traditions - but this does not sound entirely unlike Quakerism to me, particularly his comparison to BBC2's recent series, The Monastery.

"The former (ie. Spirituality Shopper) offers religion as a subjective experience that fits around our desperate desire to defend our rights as a consumer. The latter (ie. The Monastery) describes religion as that place where our obligations to others are tracked by simplicity, constraint and duty. Without this, religion is nothing more than a last-gasp lucky dip for the feckless and the fickle." - Giles Fraser

Is that really so? I don't think spirituality is a commodity, but it is natural in a consumerist society to shop around. One positive aspect of this may be that people are willing to explore and try new things. It may be that a great openess to the philosophies, traditions and practices from many cultures will lead us to a more open, tolerant society - this can only be good. Religion locked up in churches, controlled by priests is far more dangerous than a few fickle butterflies darting around from place to place. Why is it that some people react so strongly against the uprise in spirituality - is it really shallow, or do people just fear the loss of control that seems to dissipate so readily when we do away with dogma and priestly authority? I could argue, that the monastery is secretive, secluded and altogether absent for vast swathes of the population. For me, true spirituality can never be found in retreat from the world, not even from the world of consumerism in which we live.

Are those open to exploring new frontiers, sampling a variety of taditions really reckless and fickle - or are they bold, adventurous and open? Is there hope for an organic evolution of faith, meaning and relationship freed from the contraints of church, dogma and religion? Every generation has had its reformers, and they have almost invariably had to create the revoluntion outside of and even in opposition to the mainstream institutions of today. I wonder if George Fox were around today and Quakerism started in contemporary Britain would Quakerism be Christian - or would it reflect the pluralism in our society?

I'm not a big fan of the "spirituality movement". I have exactly the same issues with it as I do with churches and monasteries. I worry about a faith or spiritual experience that occurs separately from every day life. New age spirituality can be esoteric, it can be escapist and it can be elitist. True spirituality is not for the erudite mystics amongst us, theology isn't done in the ivory towers of acadmia, faith doesn't grow in a cathedral and spirituality doesn't grow in the meditation centre. As the Quakers say, it 'is not a notion but a way.'

But is it possible to live deeply in the here and now? Is depth, meaning and spirit to be found in consumerist culture, in advertising, in psychology research? In so far as those spiritual types amongst us question the prevailing culture and forge new ways of relating to one another with depth, humity and genuine openess - maybe the revolution is here. A few weeks ago, many Christian bloggers raved about how amazing the monastery was and how much it had to teach contemporary society about every day living. Now here comes spiritual shopper. Will the monks learn as much from as as we did from then, or will they be too caught up in the monastery to notice? Will the Christian community take heed of spiritual shopper or will they be too busy and concerned to defend their own traditions and ways of doing this to open up, receive, grow and evolve?


Lorcan said...

As you know, I have been wrestling with the difference between faith, spirituality and religion... On Kwakersaur's site, this has been a topic as well, and there I agreed wholeheartedly about the need for commitment as part of a spirtual path, and that commitment is the living out of faith in religion. So, this post is similar, almost exactly the same as my response to Larry the Kwakersaur...

Religion, like nationality, is simply the social aspect of a personal conviction. Nationality often dictates a political creed, of a sort, and even the most creed free faith, creates a set of norms of faith. A Catholic friend once said her mother said "go where you hear God's voice the loudest", and that is following your spiritual life, away from the "me" generation's anything goes, make it up as you go along, to the commitment of Religious life. The abandonment of process, or tayloring process to fit the "me" seems to me to be the definition of Quaker " New Ageism" which seems to me to destroy the commitment needed for the social aspect of faith - which is religion. If God is seen in the unity with others ( see the answer to Job by Jung - and no I am not a Jungian... but for the notion that God can only appreciate his existence with a concious creation to acknowlege him... and as such we see God in each other.... ) back to the sentence... if God is seen in the unity with other's a "me generation" approach to religion may miss the mark by being totally concentrated on the self rather than the community aspect of faith.

I suppose the struggle is found when the institution of your faith becomes so lost that it does not have the tools to help teach that commitment to members. There rise in the meeting, issues of control, over individual lives and the management of the mundane affairs of the meeting and the old duelist dynamics arise, and conflicts bloom, and the meeting seems unable to stop facilitating the broken relationships.

We have seen Quakers leave meetings because of this... I am struggling not to be one of them, though of late I cannot go to meeting because of just such a conflict which not only cannot be resolved by Quaker process, as yet, but has led to rumor and tale telling.

So, maybe faith is perfect and religions are subject to the imperfection of human relationships, however, that is likely a pat answer, after all, our faith is flawed by the degree we inject our own unconscious ( see on my blog the definition of sadism and masochism... )

Well what to do? After all, our institutions, nations, personal relationships are all subject to human flaws... follies... so that is why we Friends developed process built on love to work clearness to come to unity...

So, maybe I find myself retracting my distrust of religion, and instead, begging Friends to be faithful to their religion and lovingly work the process.


mary said...

"Religion locked up in churches, controlled by priests is far more dangerous than a few fickle butterflies darting around from place to place." that is a very wise comment. religion should be free to totter about the place, even if sometimes it does fall over and some people's egos get bruised. that's how we learn to respect each other.

postliberal said...

pah :p I'm none too happy about the whole decoupling of spirituality and religion - as I said to my friend Chrishanthy a few days ago, I see religion as something that concerns your whole life and not simply institutional or cultic acts.

That's the required pendantic moment out the way.

I'd say the hiding away and guarding of faith by institutional means is dangerous - but it's as much as, and not less than, as dangerous as the commodification of faith. The one distorts it's purpose of life in fullness, by limiting its reach. Closing off the throne of the divine by barriers and rails. The other distorts that purpose by relativising it into a compartment of life. A window in one's diary marked "do some spirituality".

I suspect our backgrounds and experiences, as often, influence what we understand of this.

Liz Opp said...

Lorcan, I am sorry to learn of the difficulty with which you find yourself in relation to your meeting. Like you in some ways, I find myself in the midst of "broken relationships" among Friends and wish for a return to a process built on love and deep, careful listening...

Oh dear, I must spend some time in worship, seeking Guidance on how to respond to my own situation, never mind the distinction between spirituality, faith, and religion!

Liz, The Good Raised Up

Lorcan said...

Dear Post Liberal:

I try, tried? am trying to live each moment as worship, I know I failed to do so, and in some small way my expectations of my community of faith ( my religion rather than my faith - as nationality is to sense of social/political sense ) is a small part of my sense of loss.

Like the patriotic kids I saw go to Viet Nam and return broken men with haunted looks behind their eyes... the danger of nationality or religion is the same danger, the broken promise of reciprocal love... our religious community and our nation both promise love in return for fidelity and that promise is sometimes very lightly taken by the nation or religion but is everything... much to tied to faith, by the poor follower ( for want of a better word... ) Sometimes I see almost the same haunted look in the eyes of the believer who looses faith from disappointment in the religious community. I see it in the mirror these days, too often for my own comfort.

And dear Liz... I wish you comfort and light as we both seek to find a way to find love and trust among Friends. My wife, Genie noted that I have been long trying to love adversaries in this polarized world, but it is the seeming cold cruelty from Friends that "broke" me recently.

postliberal said...

This kinda relates to what I mean about different experiences - nationally, locally, personally. I come from a denomination which tends to be fairly relaxed, in a country where religion tends to be fairly laissez-faire, and with a background of liberal religion which has given me space to explore so much and develop. All this has given me a fairly benign view of institutions and formal religious structures - as something which can aid healthy openess, giving a structure which aids a journey of discovery. There are many, as you rightly indicate, who have gone through very different times.

Rob said...

hi C.A.,

i lost your email address somewhere along the way. mine is robertcbuchananATyahooDOTcom. drop me a line and we can chat. blessings and love, Rob