Religious but not Spiritual


I know many people these day claim to be spiritual but not religious. I’ve thought about leveling a critique at that position, but in the end I don’t really care. For a good satire of this, read: Being raised an evangelical, I often felt that spiritual experience was secondary to the cognitive/ethical aspects of Christianity. I still feel this way. In fact, the other day I told a friend that God is dead to me. I mean that in a deeply personal way. I’ve never felt a connection with some outside transcendence. In the past, I would be angry at myself and/or God. Or perhaps I would blame this lack of experience on a variety of sins in my life. I recognize that my spiritual life is inextricably linked to my theological preferences, however I would like to point out that even if I focused heavily on death-of-God theology, my real loyalties lie with liberation theology. Hopefully, after I get my degree I’ll work with survivors of domestic violence.

Enough of the biography, I’m wondering if anybody is else in my position who feels religious but not spiritual. I don’t mean to suggest that my emotions towards my beliefs or that my convictions are apathetic, they mean a great deal to me. However, my contact with God has been far and few between. This is why I often express hesitancy at much of the emergence church’s focus so much on community. For some reason, the Enlightenment has been turned into the Inquisition. Although, I recognize the importance of community, I still feel as if there’s a large part of me who believes that personal belief is hugely important. I’d also to disagree with Pascal’s position that says the best way to have faith is to go through the motions of liturgy and faith will follow. I’ve gone through the motions for 22 years, and God still seems all the further away. I’ve though about discussing some Simone Weil where she argues when we feel abandoned by God, we are actually closest to God because himself has experienced forsakenness from himself on the cross. I don’t feel abandoned, though. I’m not suffering.


9 Responses to “Religious but not Spiritual”

  1. Collin Says:

    I’m with you on this. It’s very odd, feeling like this is me talking a few years from now or something.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    God, let’s hope that’s not the case. However, there is a serious problem in the church when one feels worthless if one does not feel the presence of God. Other than the group feeling I get when singing, I mostly feel empty at church. I remember talking to my pastor after an Easter service concerned that I failed to experience any joy over the resurrected Christ. This year, in response, I just attended services for Maudy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, and skipped out on Easter Sunday. I know it’s a little messed up, but I couldn’t bear that feeling again on the (supposedly) happiest and blessed day in the church calendar. Oh well…

  3. Collin Says:

    I genuinely try to experience the celebration and the joy of a triumphant Christ as well but i really have never found anything to it. Like you said, the death of God theology makes sense to me, Moltmann’s Crucified God moves me, Liberation theology and the New Monastics have something real to say to me. I feel like i’ve had to strip myself of the possibility of the personal God only because he’s never entered my person whether i’ve sought him out and made space for him, or gone the opposite and have just existed, waiting for the God in search of Man reality that Heschel lays out. I find hope in the emergent insistence on the embodiment of the resurrection, the birth of Christ, the awakening of the spirit in community because i community one of my last threads holding me on the body of some sort of belief.

  4. Jeremy Says:

    Have you read Pannenberg? My God, he is truly brilliant. I think he might have been a better theologian than Moltmann, but he has been largely overshadowed. You should read Jesus: God and Man. He talks about the resurrection and how ultimately it’s truth is to come, and will only be validated in coming eschaton. It was a great, honest, historical Christology. He acknowledges frankly that the idea that Jesus believed he was God incarnate is unlikely or even that he proclaimed himself the Messiah is also improbable. Ultimately, he believes that Jesus’ Messiahship or Divinity is completely predicated on the truth of the resurrection. While, I generally do not like staking that much on the resurrection, I’ll admit that his argument is quite convincing. Also, if you ever have a year to waste, read his Anthropology in a Theological Perspective, absolutely stunning work.

    You know, with regards to the personal God I heard an interesting podcast that discussed Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison and his radical focus on the incarnation by Pugh. How, the incarnation might even throw off our understanding of a personal God. Check it out over at Homebrewed Christianity they do a great job of getting excellent theologians to talk, although I don’t like all the focus on process thought.

  5. Jeremy Says:

    With regards to liberation theology have you read Gutierrez’s On Job? I’d love to do a study just focusing on Job working through different reflections on Job by theologians like Jung (it’s difficult given that I’m Freudian, but oh well), Gutierrez, Girard, Keller, and Zizek. I just love the book of Job, maybe I will if I get sometime.

  6. Collin Says:

    Just added both On Job and Jesus:God and Man to my amazon wish list, probably will order them soon. Jesus God and Man looks very interesting and Pannenberg in general looks like a required reading theologian to me.
    I’ve read some writings on Gutierrez’s and Keller’s views on Job, and have read Žižek work on Job (he mostly talks about Job in Monstrosity of Christ and Puppet and the Dwarf if i remember correctly), but a general study of some of the more interesting views on Job would be a wonderful project. Job is widely used in scholarship but i don’t think the general public thinks much of it, especially not in the more imaginative (heretical?) anachronistic readings like Žižek’s.

  7. Jeremy Says:

    Yes, also if you’re interested in liberation theology check out this syllabus for an introduction to liberation theology:

    Also, if you want any more recs on what to read I’ve posted my goodreads listed on the ‘about’ page. I’ll email you my reading list to see what I’m on the process of working through.

    Yes, most certainly Zizek’s analysis is quite fanciful, but I do think his notion of Job as an ethical hero because of his refusal to accept the current ideology is a striking idea. I need to read Girard’s book on Job, I’m sure it’s interesting.

    The one question I still have outstanding is how to understand the role of the accuser in the book of Job. I know my entire life I was taught that this was Satan, but in college my prof informed us that given the linguistics it’s more likely an angel that was part of God’s team(?). Either way, i need to read more about all of the latent polytheism in the Hebrew Bible, I think that would be a more helpful rubric to understand it.

  8. Collin Says:

    Haha, yeah i’ve been following An und fur sich blog for a while, and immediately thought of his syllabus when you recommended On Job.
    The polytheism of the early hebrew bible is intriguing to me as well. I do think that Zizek’s reading of God’s impotence is important as well, especially combined with Caputo’s weak theology.
    Yeah! I’m always up for recommendations and reading lists, at the very least having an awareness of ideas and books that are out there is helpful. Usually i buy books after they are mentioned to me a couple times in a short period of time, that’s a pretty good sign i will actually read them and they will have a relevance at the moment (i.e. On Job is probably one of those books right now)

  9. Jeremy Says:

    Get thee to a university! There’s no way in hell I could afford to purchase all the books I want to read. Luckily I have three years left in DC so I have 7 or 8 university libraries at my finger tips. Not a bad deal at all.

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