Everyone is religious, particularly the ‘spiritual’ folks

wrestle icon

My relationship to religion and spirituality has developed out of something like a 30 year wrestling match—a wrestling match with an angel trained in Jiu-Jitsu.

And it seems like nothing has come easy. I was raised in an irreligious home (though my extended family was Mormon) by a single parent mother who basically lived the popular motto, “I’m spiritual, not religious.”

My mom had been wounded by “organized religion”, as she called it, and was forever at odds with any sort of structured spirituality. Thus was I taught, thus did I imitate. Or if you prefer more scientific terms: monkey see, monkey do.

I carried on our only family religious tradition of not being religious for roughly 20 years of my wrestling match.

And I found that using this phrase—I’m spiritual, not religious—accomplished two very important things: (1) I could maintain my undeniable spiritual yearnings, while (2) satisfying the cultural demand to despise religion; since, of course, it is fashionably understood as the root of all evil. It made for the perfect escape from a cognitive dissonance breakdown.

What I didn’t realize up to that point was that the divide between the spiritual and religious is a linguistic ruse, a modern invention birthed from the religious confusion of the previous century. I eventually realized that my spirituality was 100% religious. I did not subscribe to any mainline Christian denomination or any other world religion but I was religious to the core.

For the last 30 years I have spent the majority of my free-time reading all the philosophy, history, theology, and psychology I could get my hands on, earning degrees in some of them, and traveling as far around the planet as my money, time, and terrible grasp of French and Spanish would take me. I’ve spent countless hours taking long walks in the park, hiking in the desert, fasting in the woods, and jogging every beach I could find from California to Morocco, and Spain to South Africa (if you really want to hear God, jog a beach) all in a great hunt to quell that gnawing feeling of dislocation from the source and meaning of my life.

This journey has taken me high and low in search of the elusive Yggdrasil tree where the Runes of Wisdom appear to faithful travelers. And if one takes the simple and succinct definition of religion as “the relationship man establishes between himself and the infinite” (Leo Tolstoy), then the whole course of this journey is itself a deeply religious act.

Once one understands the depth of interplay between the finite and infinite within, this definition says it all. I look around me I notice that every person I have ever met is also on this journey, if even unwittingly.

I learned that being religious is not a matter of the sheer quantity of ritualistic acts one performs, nor the volume of approved dogma and doctrine one believes, nor a passing grade on a check list of metaphysical propositions, but the simple act of attempting to relate oneself to the infinite, regardless of what one imagines the “infinite” to be. This act is neither scientific nor philosophic. It is purely religious.

All people everywhere concern themselves with at least two fundamental questions by which they attempt to satisfy this relationship with the infinite: (1) what is the meaning of life? and (2) how should I live?

These are not flighty, spiritual conundrums thought up by tree-huggers while chasing unicorns. They are universal concerns of humanity and have the power to shape each individual’s existence. The moment I began deciding these questions for myself mental boundary lines governing what I would and would not do, what I would and would not believe, began to spontaneously appear in my psyche, and by extension of will they became reality. In short, what flowed out of me was my very own man-made, organized religion in which I was both high priest and congregant.

Thank God the story didn’t end there. I eventually found Orthodox Church and was initiated into a relationship with the Infinite far beyond any self-informed religious kingdom, but that’s another story.

Thanks for reading!

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12 thoughts on “Everyone is religious, particularly the ‘spiritual’ folks

  1. “And I found that using this phrase—I’m spiritual, not religious—accomplished two very important things: (1) I could maintain my undeniable spiritual yearnings, while (2) satisfying the cultural demand to despise religion; since, of course, it is fashionably understood as the root of all evil.”

    If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.

    Good post! ( :

  2. Good stuff. Raised spiritually in the evangelical movement (still reside in a non-denominational) I have become leery of the existentialism that has invaded the Charismatic body. However, since I disciple men and teach the word of God I have dealt with Protestants, Catholics and everything in between (including those like your Mother). I have also seen people cling to lifeless rituals instead of Jesus (and I know plenty of Catholics who perform the rites with meaning and life).

    I think we need to be careful about throwing the baby out with the bath water. David was so expressive in his Psalms we would accuse him of religious emotionalism. Solomon sought knowledge to such an extent we would accuse him of nihilism.

    C.S. Lewis said it well, (paraphrasing) “Concerning the Church you attend be comfortable in the room your in and pray that your brother whose not in the same one is in the right one for him.”

    I am came to the Gospels through reasoning and logic (which is interesting because people tell me all the time that you can’t argue someone into the Gospel which is exactly my experience). I am therefore by nature suspect of emotional experiences with God. The irony is that I have had a handful that helped cement my faith to the point of no return.

    As far as the wrestling goes Eric, you’re in good company. All who have interacted with God end up wrestling with him, from Jacob, to David to Isiah to Peter to Paul. I think it’s part of the process. Jesus himself said, “Father, if it be possible remove this cup from me, but not mine but thy will be done.” If Jesus, Son of the Living God, God in the Flesh, wrestled with the Father in heaven then how much more so our souls?

  3. Pingback: What is the future of Christianity and religion as a whole? | Eric Hyde's Blog

  4. Peace

    I can see you are very learned, you are a gift to people of faith against those that try to blame it all on religion and faith.

    I have one question thought, from your beliefs, would a guy who didn’t believe in a god (Jesus) as he sees it irrational or that he didn’t care much be damned in hell forever?

    So do u need Jesus for salvation?

    Thanks

  5. To me the only reason to believe in something is if it in really exists…feel-good-ism was never enough…as a kid, or as an adult. Now how to distinguish claims of ‘reaity’ that different groups offer….that causes some problems. That is where the mystics of many belief traditions come on the scene – to give a tactile experience to the beliefs. Are those believable as realities? Here is where atheists I know claim that are religious beliefs are fairy tales.

  6. Hi lookingfortruth,

    You asked, “I have one question thought, from your beliefs, would a guy who didn’t believe in a god (Jesus) as he sees it irrational or that he didn’t care much be damned in hell forever?… So do u need Jesus for salvation?”

    As an Orthodox Christian, yes, I believe that one needs to be joined with Christ in order to be saved. But what is one saved from? He is saved from ‘death.’ Christ is life, if one is not joined to life he is dead. Is this life the only chance one gets for that union with Christ? This is not wholly clear either from a Biblical standpoint or a tradition standpoint. We Orthodox take advantage of this unknown and pray/interceded for the dead believing that God is merciful and can save whenever and whomever He chooses.

  7. Chris Dorf,

    Yes the discussion on what constitutes “reality” is indeed a huge issue; one far more intricate and mysterious than many people, especially college educated people, especially science educated people, care to admit (or able to admit?). My quick argument response is if physicality is the only reality then what is one to do with thought? A one-to-one correspondence of thought to neuro-chemical functions doesn’t wash. Going beyond that, what is one to do with “self.” The true self is not pure biology either. Only those steeped in the religion of ‘biologism’ believe in such fairy tales.

  8. As there is only one reality/truth, and all the others are false, so there are true and false religions.

    Yes everyone has a religion. It is their schema or wider network of thoughts and behaviour that serve their leading priorities.

    And everyone has a God of some sort, a grand ultimate, a leading priority, something that guides their thinking, decisions and behaviour.
    There are no atheists, only those who claim to be. It is what our God is that matters. As a man grows, his God grows; or conversely, according to a man’s God, he is.

  9. Thanks for the reply, much appreciated

    I’m 18 years old, religious in nature but a muslim, I take Muhammad as my role model and Islam as my religion. However, you can argue for perennialism in Islam but that’s not what I want to say know.

    I’m an undergraduate of history. I realised that philosophy is my thing and I’m thinking of studying it in 2 years.

    I’m a UK citizen, would u recommend me studying philosophy to understand the arguments of the theist and the atheist.

    What courses would you recommend?

    What area is most interesting for you as a religious person?

    How can I understand atheism a we know it today?

    Where do you go about combating this ideology?

    I’m an enthusiastic believer who likes to use reason to distinguish truth from falsehood, it would be great if you can give me some helpful advice towards my cause

    Thanks
    Peace from your Muslim brother

  10. Hey lookingfortruth,

    Studying philosophy is always good for sharpening your mind no matter what you plan on doing with it. If apologetics is your reason it would be great. Just make sure you’re not planing on making a living with your degree. It might happen, just don’t plan on it.

    What courses would I recommend? For apologetics I’d focus on philosophy, psychology, and natural science courses. Know your argument, know how people work, and know those you plan to reach.

    What area is most interesting for me as a religious person? Theology, history, psychology, philosophy, and my new found favorite, mythology.

    How can you understand atheism as we know it today? Blogging is an excellent way. You can practice understanding atheism 24 hours a day with live atheists.

    Where do you go about combating this ideology? For me it’s no longer about combat but about wooing. Most atheists I’ve met do not disbelieve for the reasons they usually claim: it’s not logical, reasonable, provable, scientific, etc. They usually don’t believe because they are dealing with existential isolation and/or moral authority the best they know how. If God is real then what one does with his/her life matters eternally and they are wholly responsible for its outcome. If God is not real they are free to not struggle with life but to simply go with the instinctual flow down the path of moral least resistance. Atheists need to know there are real Christians before they can believe in a real God.

  11. An excellent read. Where do you think science fits in the spectrum between spirituality and religion? I believe in science, a method to prove and establish the truth. Even though we don’t scientifically understand everything, do you think absolute truth can be discovered by science? Also, I believe it would take a spiritual person to understand and apply the scientific method. I hope I make sense hahaha!

  12. terreractorblog, very sorry for the delay in responding. I think science informs our understanding of how natural phenomenon work which allows us to manipulate it and get what we want/need out of it. Science, actual science, has no hang up with attempting to arrive at “absolute truth,” for the simple reason that it is about interpreting data collected from nature, not experiencing it. If truth is anything it is experienced, not interpreted. Interpretation relies on language (which is wholly symbolic), approximations (absolute rejects approximations), and objective distancing. One cannot distance himself from the subject matter and expect to “know it.” This is where Kierkegaard’s maxim, “The truth is subjectivity” is so important to grasp. Take for example love. If one wants to know the truth about love then one must enter into it, not have it explained to him from the outside through scientific studies in, say, neurology. And I hope that makes sense. 🙂

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