Friday, February 26, 2016

Not Spiritual...But Not Religious

"Spiritual but Not Religious" is one of the most recent additions to the taxonomy of religious tradition around the world. It's a status claimed by much of the "millennial" generation who aren't full on militant atheist, likely "believe" in some truth or existence beyond the observable universe, and have little interest or use for organized religion in it's traditional forms.

I come from a strong Western Protestant tradition, and no matter how my own faith journey changes, that will culturally always be a part of me. It will also be the mode I drop into when worshipping with my family.

The hitch, and I don't consider it a negative...just kind of an acknowledgement of where I'm at...is that I don't feel spiritual, and don't have spiritual experiences. And that ever-present wall of consistency in life bars me from being "religious". I'll unpack those two statements here in the tradition of this blog's purpose...to spit out words about whatever is happening in my life and mind as a way to get it out of myself.

Not Spiritual:

Through my life and the different ways I've interacted with faith, I've had several emotional moments. Being a music lover, worship music has often been a part of those experiences. A youth leader once told me that the wave of emotion I felt during a song was the holy spirit. That made sense I suppose, I didn't dwell on it. I went on practicing Christianity, caring about it and having the occasional emotional moment. Expanding my knowledge about psychology and cultural cognition, as well as hearing perspectives from others who examine this kind of stuff, I'm of the opinion that those emotional moments can be explained by psychosocial phenomena.

Practicing a familiar thing in a community and having been coded to understand these traditions as personal, supernatural and overwhelmingly positive...could produce really good feelings of being in a powerful moment experiencing something "good". That feeling could be connected to a neural construct of a being called "God" that exists in my mind. And all that could happen regardless of the truth or untruth of an independently existing deity. All that is to say...while I've been emotional in the presence of religion, I'm not confident saying those were definitely "spiritual experiences". Blogger Mike McHargue, whose work I follow, tells the story of his faith falling apart, and then returning after a mystical experience. I think it's really cool how his sharp analysis of how faith operates was coupled with that mystical experience to make a brand new faith. I, however, have never had a mystical experience. I have had emotional times practicing Christianity, but never felt that something outside myself or my control came from a supernatural realm into my consciousness. So for the moment...I am not spiritual.

Not Religious:

I'm going to take a slight detour into Buddhism here. One way that Buddhism is said to operate is instead of its practices creating good in a person, they are meant to supply the conditions for change...to cultivate good existence in the world. This is one of the points of Buddhism I've always found really inspiring, it's also an approach that's supported in Psychological techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness therapy.

I think to a certain extent, or maybe for the majority of individuals who never have a mystical experience, that religious practice cultivates spirituality...makes the conditions present in the mind for a transcendent experience or thought process to take place. That's where ADHD and my general cocktail of nasty habits rears it's ugly head.

Writing this blog post was a completely impulsive action that pulled me away from a few others I was bouncing between. I was deciding between two books to read and reading a few sentences of each without getting anywhere, switching to listening to a podcast, missing part of that because I started reading the news. All of these currently being activities I'm trying to use to fall asleep.

This is a major source of anxiety and doubt for completing any meaningful work in my life, whether that be pursuing science, politics and other interests, creating music, or just keeping up on general life stuff (clean house, food to eat, opening the mail, etc). So often without even starting, engaging in a religious practice seems impossible.

That feels pretty shitty to me, because I suspect that a solid practice of prayer, reading scripture, meditation or whatever would cultivate spirituality in me...but I can't do anything consistently enough to HAVE a religious practice...so that leaves me being someone who cares about religion, who thinks it's an important part of human life...but who can't actually DO anything religious or spiritual.

There's a lot more to this: ideas about submitting to something outside yourself instead of thinking you can make it right on your own, or where a supernatural truth does or does not matter, and the fact that my own perceptions of my strengths and weaknesses are very warped. There's also the fact that I'm likely way to much in my head about some of this stuff.

I'll keep writing on religion because it's of great interest to me. But I'm feeling a little stuck in a loop of not spiritual, not religious.

It's pretty dumb.




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