Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sanctimoniality -vs- Religion

The sanctimonious "spiritualist"
Ah, yes, the Monday USA Today opinion page pays off again ... with one of the most inane commentaries it has ever offered up for derision. This installment, "Spirituality, Religion Collide," is brought to us by Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. A title like that should catch your eye, especially if you happen to be an old fashioned rube (like me) who is out of touch with The Culture enough to actually believe that Christianity is a religion. Silly me.

Ms. Bass's "enlightened" musing stems from the story that:
Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion, recently announced that he would step down by year's end. A few days later, the Church of England rejected a Williams-backed unity plan for global Anglicanism, a church fractured by issues of gender and sexual identity. The timing of the resignation and the defeat are probably not coincidental. These events signal Anglican's institutional failure ... The fight over gay clergy is usually framed as a left and right conflict, part of the larger saga of political division. But this narrative obscures a more significant tension in Western societies: the increasing gap between spirituality and religion, and the failure of traditional religious institutions to learn from the divide.
And what is it that "traditional religious institutions" should learn? Embrace the new spirituality!

Ms. Bass describes Williams as a "teacher and pastor of deep spirituality" who was "caught in an impossible situation" that forced him to "struggle to be both a spiritual leader who embraces the emerging vision [of gay and lesbian persons in the church] and the leader of an institution committed to guarding the old order."

What's a guy to do?

First of all, my labeling this story as worthy of derision has absolutely nothing to do with the obligation of every Christian to love and respect homosexuals. Though we all like to point to what we consider abominable moral behavior -- conveniently defined as the moral behavior of every person but the one we see in the bathroom mirror -- the fact is that all of us violate the moral standards of a perfect God every day. Sin is sin. All of us are guilty.

Second, this is not to engage in a debate with those who attempt to make the case that the Bible does not condemn homosexual behavior. Those who do that do not take the Bible seriously and are therefore not to be taken seriously when the speak about it on this topic. It is obviously false to claim that the Bible does not condemn homosexual behavior, or even that it is neutral on the subject. Argue that point all you want. Homosexual behavior violates both natural law and the moral standards we find in God's direct revelation to us. To say otherwise is ridiculous on its face.

But loving and respecting all the everlasting creatures who are made in the image of God, and who inhabit this planet with us, is a far cry from elevating deviant immorality to a position of authority in church leadership and thereby sanctioning Biblically indefensible behavior.

The deficiency in Ms. Bass's thinking is made very clear when she says that "spirituality is an expression of bottom-up faith and does not always fit into accepted patterns of theology or practice," as if spirituality and religion are mutually exclusive categories. We hear this kind of thing all the time: Religion is bad; Spirituality is good; "Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship;" or my favorite, "I have no use for organized religion."

So do you prefer disorganized religion?

Yes, the mindless adherence to rules, regulations, form, and the supremacy of some man-made institutional bureaucracy is not what God intended. No one disagrees with that. But saying that is a far different thing from wantonly ignoring a history and tradition of worship that leads us back to the Object of our faith -- an incarnate God who instituted a community of human beings He aims to take as His bride.

As philosopher Dallas Willard warns:
The language of "spiritual," "spirit," and "spirituality" has become increasingly common today, and it cannot be avoided. But it is often unclear in meaning, and this can be dangerous. It can lead us down paths of confusion and destruction. "Spiritual" is not automatically "good." We must be very careful with this language. Nevertheless, in the sense of "spiritual," which means only "non-physical," the hidden or inner world of the human self is indeed "spiritual."
When you start disconnecting spirituality from any grounding or foundation, it becomes subject to the whims of the "spiritualist." When you start allowing that spirituality "does not always fit into accepted patterns of theology," you mostly end up with some kind of a monument to the idolatry of the self. You end up with some group of people that mistakes their mutual agreement for truth. You end up with something like an illegitimate, warped and misguided collection of navel-gazers who find ways to justify theological travesties like the ordination of homosexuals to the leadership of God's church.

You end up with Rowan Williams and the church he has helped to emasculate.

Spirituality is not only about warm feelings of reverence and an ineffable connection with the divine. These are merely the side-effects of our rightly-placed worship in the only Person who is worthy of that worship.

And that person isn't you.

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