Faith Fitness (November 12)

As usual, we had a wonderful experience in Faith Fitness sharing our thoughts and ideas. The topic we’ve discussed for the past several weeks involves what’s happening in the American Church as it relates to styles of worship, spirituality, and what types of churches are growing–or not.

One issue that arose today is that of a distinction between religiosity and spirituality, two interrelated concepts each with distinct characteristics. We talked about possible definitions of religiosity and spirituality how one is or is not dependent upon the other. Spirituality can be characterized as an inner frame of reference involving peoples’ subjective, personal connections to divine beings (e.g., God, Jesus, etc.). As a distinction, religiosity is that which is primarily outward, the types of institutional behavior directly seen or observed such as attending church or performing a ritual (e.g., baptism, Eucharist/communion).

Some suggest that  spirituality is independent of religiosity whereas others claim that you at least need to be religious before you can learn to be spiritual. At some level, spirituality and religiosity seem to function together. Other people mentioned an ongoing tension between religion and spirituality such that there is a basic antagonism or incompatibility between the two.

A member of our group spoke about hearing someone say “Mr. ______ is just religious,” indicating that people can be dismissed as being merely religious. Such an opinion suggests that going through the motions of religion is negative and therefore not an optimal expression of genuine faith. Another person remarked that religion provides a necessary structure within which spirituality can be cultivated, like plants within soil. Still another comment suggested that when people claim to be spiritual it is often an excuse for not having any meaningful participation or accountability in a faith community. In other words, people use spirituality as a cover, when in fact they do not actively nurture  any recognizable relationship with a divine being.

An intriguing discussion arose about which Christian denominations are more or less spiritual. What a tricky question! There are denominations that have hierarchies and high levels of administrative and bureaucratic organization. Of course, this in itself does not mean that large, historic denominations are not a fertile environment for spirituality. Consider the history of Christian mysticism (yet another topic!) you’ll notice that long before the proliferation of Christian sects there were indelible spiritual writings from such folks as Teresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi.

On the one hand, we must consider that institutionalized Christianity may deter  individuals’ spiritual freedom and impede attempts at more authentic faith expression. It is a fact of history that institutions tend to police their members. For every Christian mystic whose work continues to inspire us today there are hundreds of  thousands of Christians who have been silenced, persecuted for not agreeing with the party line. In this way, the people of Faith Fitness realize that churches have been as guilty as secular governments in trying to control what people believe and how they express themselves.

On the other hand, lack of organizational structure may also weigh against a person developing a healthy spirituality. This line of thinking suggests that spirituality can cover a multitude of sins. The reasoning is that people who claim spiritual freedom in finding God may intentionally or unintentionally spread falsehoods harmful to believers and non-believers alike. The rationale here is that the Christian Church must intervene and do whatever necessary to stop the spread of supposed bad, viral ideas.

As you can discern, differing points of view underscore any discussion about religiosity and spirituality. I am thankful that we have an open, respectful forum in Faith Fitness where we can explore the relative merits of various ideas. Won’t you join us?