“Am I becoming less religious and more spiritual?” That question, one of ten in the “spiritual audit” devised by Fred Smith ("Leadership Journal," Winter 1998), has been posed the last two weeks to those of us who attend the Wednesday evening adult studies at Second Baptist Church. The question implies, of course, that we should be more spiritual and less religious.
How we think about that question naturally depends upon the way we define religious and spiritual. But, as those you who know me might guess, I think most of us probably need to become both more religious and more spiritual. But maybe some people even need to become less spiritual and more religious. Again, it depends on definitions.
I have often had critical things to say about religion—and there is much done in the name of religion that needs to be criticized. But if we look at the words of James 1:27, we find that pure religion means, among other things, “to care for orphans and widows in their distress” (NRSV), that is, to care for those who are the neediest and most vulnerable in the world around us.
It is easy to criticize religion at its worst—but that is “contaminated” religion, not the pure religion James talks about. On the other hand, being spiritual can be, and often is, very individualistic—the inner delight of fellowship with God (or the Ultimate or the Absolute, for those who do not wish to use religious terms). Even that spirituality can, and surely does at times, lead to concern and care for others. But it can also be skewed into an inner ecstasy that remains quite private.
Those who have pure religion, in the sense defined by James, engage in, or at least support and encourage, action for the well-being of needy people. What would that mean in our society today? Among other things, wouldn’t it surely mean supporting health-care coverage for the 45,000,000 Americans who currently do not have it—and maybe even some concern for the desperate “aliens” who come to this country illegally?
It seems to me that those who oppose universal health-care and fear that some “illegal aliens” might possibly get some free medical help—including the Congressman who shouted “You lie!” when the President was addressing this most serious situation--are in need of some serious soul-searching, especially if they consider themselves spiritual and/or religious.