Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

On spirituality

Dear Hannah,

As the popular tendency is to try and force you into one of two camps, especially in the world of politics, you might have considered by this point whether you're more spiritual or religious.  If you want to know what these terms were originally intended to mean, people are supposed to be asking whether you follow your own heart and your senses (which is supposed to be a compliment), or whether you follow other people's rules (which is supposed to be an insult); but what it really concerns nowadays is whether you're liberal or conservative.  Since this is what people usually mean, I would argue that we're more a religious than a spiritual people; and maybe then, even more a political people.  We rarely check to see whether people are thinking, seeking, studying, or even whether they can explain the things they say they believe: we care more about whether they agree with a certain ideology, and then we call them spiritual.

Anyone with half a brain can tell you that mindless conformity exists on both sides of the aisle; and if someone is really smart, they'll tell you that you can be both spiritual and religious (in the original sense). If this doesn't make any sense to you, think of it this way: a mind that's concerned with truth and soul and good and evil and the poetry of life is spiritual, and religion is a statement of truth about these things.  The former is a trajectory of the mind, the latter is an arrival somewhere.  A man can either reason to truth, or he can take a statement and prove it true; they're really both sides of the same coin. 

To put this in a more concrete sense, Ayn Rand was an atheist, and she was one of the most spiritual people who wrote in the modern era -- although not quite as spiritual as Chesterton and Lewis, who were supposed to be religious.  But only Ayn Rand's writings resulted in the kind of secular religion known as Objectivism.  Lewis and Chesterton's writings sprang from religion, and ended up being very spiritual.  Carlyle was a spiritual man without a religion (other than that he worshiped heroes); Pat Robertson is a religious man without any spirit (unless we count his insensible ramblings). 

This can be tricky.  Some people appear to be spiritual, but they're actually religious, and visa-versa.  Relevant Magazine (a terrible magazine which appeals to Christian hipsters) is a perfect example of an attempt at spirituality, and proves itself more boring than anything you'd find in a suit-and-tie Baptist convention.  In it you'll find the empty shell of modern "liberalism" and backward moralism (that's to say, a hypocritical and inverted non-judgmentalism, pacifism, political altruism, and big government) without any of the genius or common sense that define the spiritually living: Relevant Magazine might not have a Bible, but they follow others all the same.  Instead of looking at the whole of their religion, they irrationally follow a part; or if we're more honest, they simply trumpet the parts which are socially acceptable around teenagers: by relevancy they mean running with the bulls, or going with the flow.  You might have already guessed why this makes them religious.  A man who's concerned with being relevant is a man whose religion is entirely democratic: the majority will carry him wherever they want.  In this sense he's profoundly religious: his inner light is beyond him -- society. A spiritual man is in a quest for truth, and he's in love with all things beautiful -- which means he is always relevant, even when he isn't popular.  Some of us are a mix between the two, but most of us (whatever we say of ourselves) are really religious.  Our timing determines whether we run with the crowd or against it.

Some men, in a ridiculous attempt to appear spiritual, will even go so far as to say that Christianity isn't a religion.  You might have heard many people talking about how Christianity is the anti-religion, and how it's something very different from what they call dead moralism.  They're partially right in that it isn't dead, and also in that it isn't strictly rules.  But if we ask why man was banished from God's presence, we find that it's because he chose to do evil; and if we ask why Jesus was really God and not just a man, we learn that it's because He chose to do the right things, and proved Himself good.  The whole crux of our religion -- and of every other philosophy -- crumbles if we ignore our reason, our duties, our objective moral existence.  You might even agree that Christianity without rules isn't really a religion at all: but it isn't a religion only in the sense that a fairy tale can be a fairy tale without a hero or a villain or a lesson: it's a story without even a story.  A religion without any religion -- or in other words, without anything objective to believe and do -- isn't any more spiritual than watching the trees.  Saying that Christianity isn't a religion is worse than ruining Christianity; in denying that morality is spiritual, we ruin every reason to love spirituality. 

People want to divide us between spirituality and religion, because they see one as alive and the other as dead; but the problem is much more complex than that.  True spirituality taps into something universal -- which means we can all tap into it.  And if we can all tap into it, we may learn different aspects about it, and it may apply itself in different ways according to our circumstances.  But if enough people touch upon something real and living, then we end up with a religion.  A man who believes he's entitled to his own spirituality, and that nobody else can understand him or has a right to judge him, is a pompous liar.  A prophet may stand nearly alone, but he stands on firm ground, and he calls other men to stand with him -- and if they do stand with him for the right reasons, they are spiritually alive. Anyone who claims to be spiritual must be a kind of prophet.  The man who knows all right and good and refuses to tell anyone is a villain or a coward; we must always speak of good and evil.  The man who says you can always be spiritual and never end up religious is the same man who says you can go on a journey and never walk an inch, or always be building a home, and never end up with even a hut.  He lives in a denial of human efficacy: he denies the mind, the soul, and the graciousness of a God who tells us that if we seek, then we shall find.

If you want the truth of the matter, if you end up searching your soul and watching the world long enough, you'll end up with a few truths, and may end up in a religion.  If you end up with a lot of truths, you may end up in one of the better ones.  If you end up with too many truths, you'll probably end up in the true one.  If you accept a religion on faith, and it turns out that little of it is true, be a spiritual person and leave it. If your religion is spirituality itself, then be a spiritual person and find a creed that's liveable.

Your father,

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