EXCERPT from an article by D. Patrick Miller:
The Rapid Dying of Religion and the Rise of a Universal Spirituality
Read the entire article
This is a good read if you are are looking at your own relationship to something greater, your higher power, your Higher Self, your Divine. See if some of this resonates with your experience. I does with mine for over the past 25 years.
But What Does “Spiritual” Mean Exactly?
The encroaching sea change in American religion may be easier to typify in terms of what is going away rather than what is arriving. After all, we generally know what it means to be “religious.” It means going to church regularly (or telling pollsters that you do); it means believing the central myths and tenets of your chosen religion, and at least trying to follow its moral principles and commandments; and it often means endorsing and promulgating a wide range of social and political beliefs that may or may not be directly correlated to Biblical dogma or religious practice.
By contrast, the beliefs and behaviors of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd can be more difficult to identify and classify — and they may encompass a very wide range of ideas, from the merely unconventional to the out-there loopy. And because superstition, hypocrisy, and prejudice are endemic to the human condition, such unproductive behaviors are just as likely to show up in countercultural spiritual circles as in mainline religion.
Nonetheless, there are some significant and largely irreconcilable divergences between traditional religion and the new spirituality that are easy to recognize. They include:
- A reorientation of belief in a God “out there” to experience of the “God within.” Perhaps the most profound theological shift from conventional religion to contemporary spirituality — a shift heavily influenced by the arrival of Eastern practices in the West — is the release of belief in a paternalistic, innately superior God that sits “out there” somewhere, judging and controlling the lives of human beings. That belief is replaced by the experience of a “God within” that represents the highest elements of human potential.Thus, instead of attempting to obey and please “God the Father” according to religious rules set down in the Bible or given by one’s church, the spiritual aspirant strives to become Godlike in his or her attitudes and behaviors. Likewise, the traditional ideas of Heaven and Hell as real places that represent final destinations of post-life reward or punishment are regarded as metaphors about how we are living our lives in the here and now. As a popular saying in SBNR circles puts it, “Religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for those who have been there.”
- A release of guilt and the belief in “original sin” in favor of advanced self-awareness and transcendent forgiveness. Traditional Christianity identifies human beings as sinful by nature, and redeemable only by accepting the grace of Jesus Christ as one’s “personal savior.” By contrast, modern spiritual paths dispense with the idea of original sin in favor of admitting that while human beings are generally flawed and prone to making mistakes (sometimes very serious ones), their only “salvation” lies in learning to become more self-aware, responsible, and consistently forgiving. In A Course in Miracles (ACIM), by far the most popular SBNR discipline with recent Western roots, forgiveness is in fact the paramount value, expressed in such meditative lessons as “Forgiveness ends all suffering and loss” and “Fear binds the world. Forgiveness sets it free.”
- The replacement of church-administered religious rituals like confession and Communion with spiritual technologies such as meditation, vision quests, and transformative disciplines. The location shift of Godliness from without to within also entails a shift in the methods that are used to maintain and advance one’s religious or spiritual life. Instead of following set rituals prescribed by one’s church, the modern spiritual seeker is usually engaged in self-directed explorations of “higher consciousness” — which may entail everything from Zen or Vipassana meditation, to the pursuit of visions quests in the wilderness or with the use of hallucinogenic substances like ayahuasca, to transformative disciplines such as the Course or the famed “Twelve Steps” of addiction recovery.
- The release of religion’s traditional hostility to science and psychology in favor of a multi-disciplinary view of reality. At least since the Scopes trial of nearly a century ago, conservative Christianity has been waging a public battle with Darwin’s theory of evolution and other, broader issues of scientific inquiry and theory. In recent years, religious activists have taken style notes from science and marshalled their own evidence for a Bible-based hypothesis called “creationism,” instead of arguing for Biblical belief alone. But as the growing numbers of atheist and agnostic “nones” clearly show, this is a battle that religion is steadily losing, especially among younger people.Christianity has also shown a lesser hostility toward psychology and related self-help philosophies — a hostility that was profoundly shaken by the 1978 publication of M. Scott Peck’s ground-breaking book The Road Less Traveled. This perennially best-selling masterwork of Christian psychotherapy paradoxically became one of the first fundamental texts of the SBNR movement, which is heavily influenced by self-help and psychological thinking, especially the work of depth psychologist Carl Jung. SBNR enthusiasts also readily embrace the latest scientific findings in the fields of psychology, cosmogenesis, and subatomic physics (often with the unfortunate side effect of overusing and abusing the word quantum).
- The surrender of social moralism and religious discrimination in favor of social justice and a universal spirituality. Perhaps most distasteful to the younger generation of Millennials who are rapidly abandoning conventional Christianity is the fundamentalist tendency toward dictating sexual and social morals — as well as promising damnation and an eternal afterlife in hell if Christianity is not accepted as the “one true religion.” Coming of age in an era that has seen the murderous effects of a similar extremism in Islamic fundamentalists, Millennials seem to favor a secular acceptance of social diversity, economic justice, and belief systems that can flex to meet changing societal conditions.Although those with a “spiritual but not religious” bent are sometimes accused of navel-gazing self-absorption and withdrawal from social and political issues, the movement nonetheless has deep roots in the social activism of the 1960s. And some of its most outspoken proponents, like Marianne Williamson, remain fiercely political. Arguably the most prominent popularizer of A Course in Miracles — which advises its students to “seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world” — Williamson ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2014 and has lobbied for the formation of a Cabinet-level “Peace Department” to counter the massive Defense Department and the military-industrial complex. She also currently supports the “democratic socialist” campaign of Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, with whom she consulted in the early days of the Bill Clinton presidency (before that administration became nervous about being associated in public with the so-called “New Age” movement that substantially overlaps the SBNR following).
These five divergences between being traditionally religious and “spiritual but not religious” are broadly drawn, of course. One can just as easily find elements of SBNR in progressive Christianity as one can find strains of fundamentalism in some extremes of New Age cultism. The diverse evolution of contemporary spirituality perspectives has also led to the emergence of paradoxical atheists who are also veteran practitioners of mindfulness disciplines — notably Sam Harris, the well-known author of both The End of Faith and Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.
Five Questions for the Spiritually Inclined
In the end, what matters more than the substitution of one set of beliefs for another is whether any of our beliefs and practices actually serve to transformus. Because whether you believe you are a sinner who must surrender to the saving grace of Jesus, or an innately light-filled “child of God” who’s struggling to recognize your inner perfection, the name of the game in religion AND spirituality is positive transformation: changes for the better in our self-awareness, behaviors, and ways of relating.
As a practitioner of SBNR for some thirty odd (sometimes very odd) years, with a personal focus on the study and practice of the forgiveness-driven Course in Miracles, I’ve devised five questions to serve as a test of value in following any “spiritual but not religious” quest. Over the years I’ve periodically reviewed these queries to check my own progress, as well as publishing them in the hope they are useful to others:
- Have I become more at peace within myself and in my relationships since undertaking my chosen spiritual discipline?
- Do I blame less and have more compassion about my own difficulties and those of others?
- Do I progressively experience more joy, empathy, and revelatory insight?
- Is my social and political conscience more informed and effective, regardless of how my forms of activism may have changed?
- Do I sometimes tap transcendent state of consciousness through the natural means of my own trained and focused awareness?