A Rebuttal to “Are You Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.” by Rev. Lillian Daniel
Rev. Daniel’s original essay can be read here:
I hear you, rev.
I, too, am annoyed by those random people who announce that God is in sunsets and moonbeams with the same proud, excited manner of Madame Curie discovering radium. They’re at the starting gate but they think they’ve reached the finish line. And in my line of work, I have to listen to a lot more of them than you ever do.
But understand, reverend, why they’re telling you about seeing God on beaches and mountaintops: they’re panicked. You’ve just announced that you’re a Christian minister on, say, a two-hour airplane trip and they are alarmed. They hark back to their other encounters with your kind—the clean-cut slightly menacing young men in suits who show up at the door and the sketchy-looking guy with the placard shouting on the street corner—and the thought of being trapped for some hours listening to a non-stop harangue about how swell Jesus is makes the bottom of their stomachs fall out. They’re hoping that the God-in-rainbows talk will quell your concerns about their heathenism.
Or there’s another possibility: they’re embarrassed for you. To have a complete stranger—with whom you are sentenced to spend a chunk of time—announce that they are something as odd, as far removed from anything a normal person considers work as a Christian minister leaves them flailing for something nice to say. Since “Praise Jesus!” is out of the question, they tell you about a warm feeling they had while relaxing which they call “seeing God.” They’re really doing their best for you.
But you’ve zeroed in on the most shallow and navel-gazing variety of Spiritual But Not Religious person and tarred all of us with that brush. You blithely ignore those of us who devote our lives to the pursuit of spiritual truth outside the scaffolding of religion. I get that you have an argument to make (i.e., that being a Christian is da bomb) but those of us who take SBNR seriously—and I’ll grant we’re in the minority—encounter God far more than any religionist ever will. And we encounter It everywhere and in everything, not just in the “real human community.” And we certainly don’t require Clouds of Witness (WTF?) as our authority. We have actual experience to point to. Because when we talk to God, It talks back.
You know about your religion, reverend, and about your holy book, but we actually know things about God. Or the Infinite. Or Spirit. Or St. Bosco of the Two Pillars of the Sea. Or whatever you choose to call it. (It doesn’t care what you call It.) We struggle every day to understand the Infinite Ocean of Being within which we have our lives. We figure out what It is, how It works and how It works through us. And we learn how to work with It. We don’t read about Spirit in psalms and creation stories or fall back on “deep tradition.” (We’re seriously not impressed by tradition.) God isn’t something we have feelings about, It’s an active player in our lives that affects outcomes and heals discordances both physical and experiential. We’re not self-centered—quite the opposite—and what we do is damn challenging.
And we know that you come out of your church buildings from time to time and have a look around. Really we do. It’s that dark room in your head that you never come out of. You know the one: it’s got a sign over the door that says “Christianity.”
So the next time you find yourself watching a sunset from a mountaintop, try to set aside your religious presumptions and just see the Infinite joyfully interacting with Itself.
The discoveries you make may astound you.