Saturday, May 29, 2010

"Spiritual but not religious"

Rod Dreher addresses the big scam of the 21st century: "Spiritual but not religious."

Quoting David Mills:
It's one of those easily remembered phrases that work like a "get out of jail free" card for anyone who feels he has to explain his lack of religious practice, and as a claim to superiority for those who care about being superior to those who practice an established religion. It's the religious equivalent of "I gave at the office" or "There's a call on the other line" or "I don't eat meat."

And so it goes..."materialism in a tuxedo."

Read the whole article here.

I would post a picture of "Lady Gaga", cited in the article as the latest porn-pop-princess giving this profound spiritual self-revelation, but I'm afraid doing so would put me in trouble with my Christian university's web censors, thus giving them the wrong impression.


ZSDP said...

What's wrong with not eating meat?

ZSDP said...

Also, are Buddhists not spiritual? I think the author defines away the possibility of anyone who is not an adherent of a traditionally-practiced monotheistic religion being spiritual, thereby assuming his conclusion. Honestly, kind of a weak offering.

As Rosencrantz (or was it Guildenstern?) said: "Rhetoric! Game and match!"

Benedictus said...

For the first point: As one who abstains from meat regularly on fast and abstinence days, there is absolutely nothing wrong with not eating meat.

To the next point: I think the point Rod is making is not that anyone who practices non-monotheistic forms of spirituality is not "spiritual". I would hope that if Lady Gaga is a Buddhist, that she practice under the guidance of an authentic transmitter of that tradition. Nine times out of ten, folks who say "I'm spiritual but not religious" usually mean "I just want to get laid or avoid religious services without feeling guilty about it."

ZSDP said...

First, I just want to be clear that I don't think Gaga is a Buddhist.

Second, I was responding more directly to the article on which Dreher commented.

(Aside: It seems, however, like Dreher's "anybody who says this just has ulterior motives" is---well, it's rhetoric, and pretty transparent rhetoric, at that. Especially considering people make well-justified decisions about whether to accept religion based upon ethico-moral considerations everyday. For some, that leads them to the Church. For others, that leads elsewhere, or even nowhere. We can't say their motives were bad just because we disagree with their conclusions. A more substantive case has to be made, probably including, in the instances of those just wanting to get laid etc., arguments as to why getting laid is immoral.

Also, feeling guilty is not always a result of actual guilt---which is to say, moral wrongdoing. It could hypothetically be the case that getting laid is not immoral, but that the religious community you spend time with reproaches you harshly for it. This would understandably produce feelings of guilt in most people who are not too callous, but it would not actually make you guilty. This, of course, could apply to any number of acts.)

The reason I mentioned Buddhism is because it is not really ecompassed by this definition from the original article:

A better definition [of spirituality] is not, however, wanted. The moment you acknowledge a real spirit to whom your spirituality is oriented and by whom it is guided, however distant and unengaged that spirit may be, you have a religion. You are bound by something. You have marching orders. You have to ask what the spirit wants and what he requires and what he says.

According to this, there is no spirituality without a spirit, and, well, frankly, Buddhism is spirituality without a spirit. And that doesn't even account for the flatly atheistic spirituality of someone like Andre Comte-Sponville. The latter is definitely spirituality without a religion in any traditionally recognized sense (and let's not go down the thorny road of "well, atheism is a religion"---again, rhetoric).

Honestly, it seems more like both Mills and Dreher mean to be talking about Christianity-without-Christianity. Or perseverance of the saints. They should really take better aim.

As for Lady Gaga, I can only shake my head. Rock and roll was once banned in religious circles as "the new pornography", before which there were movements against depicting the human form in paintings, etc. The black-and-white denunciation seems like nothing more than a hydra head of age-old philistinism considering its historical precedents. And, frankly, it is just this philistinism from which the label "spiritual but not religious" is designed to distance its users, however mistaken they may ultimately be.

(Aside: I don't actually enjoy Gaga's music, though I do find that it combines with her videos to produce a degree of calculated irony that I'm certain Socrates would appreciate. They are quite fascinating to analyze. Also, I could say a number of things about Gaga that could serve to refute Mills'/Dreher's comments about her, but I think it's not really productive to get hung up on her specifically. This aside is just meant to bear witness that I'm not some outraged fan of Lady Gaga that can't stand to see her impugned.)

Finally, I was mildly disturbed that Mills appears to believe that there is no reason to not eat meat other than to be able to put on airs aloofness and superiority. It is surely true that some people are vegans or vegetarians for this reason---just as it is true that some people are religious for this reason---but there are also deep ethical reasons that stem from compassion and a desire for justice. Yet here, Mills is once again colorblind to the spectrum of possibilities.

ZSDP said...

And I realize that "philistinism" is kind of a strong word, but sometimes rhetoric can be used to help make a point. To help.