Monday, February 8, 2016

WHY CAN'T THE MEANING OF WORDS STAY THE SAME? 'Spiritual' but not 'Religious'?

          Remember when we had 'problems' and not 'issues', when an 'issue' was the topic to be discussed, some item on the agenda?  Luckily for me, most of the younger people in my life use the 'older' usage for words when in mixed company. I have this self-image of one who is not threatened by change. But keeping up with the new meanings for old words is tiresome. Why don't they make up new words and leave the old ones as they were?
         Take the word religious. It used to mean someone who was spiritual, who had motives for action and life that were beyond themselves, someone who was deeply connected to a philosophy and/or belief that involved other people, someone whose actions were apart from the norms or values of much of society, in a good way.  These were thoughtful people, and the word was generally a positive one. Now, for many of  my friends, and no doubt, much of our society, religious has come to be a bad word, synonymous with being close minded, argumentative, judgmental and un-fun.
         The sad truth is that we can see several of the world's religions shifting toward this kind of fundamentalism, or worst. If we know our history, (sorry to say, few of us have given this any time), we know that Classical Christianity was created (in the 300's and 400's) in precisely this non-thinking, believe-what-you-are-told understanding. At last, many of us are questioning this concept of our past religion and rejecting it wholeheartedly. I certainly agree in that I am not a Christian in that doctrinal way. I call myself a Post-Christian Disciple. I know that God was and is in the teachings and life of Jesus of Nazareth, but I in no way limit the Holy, however named, to this one expression. But, am I among the growing multitude that claim to be 'spiritual but not religious'? No.
         Sadly, in relegating all 'religious' to the negative, we are literally "throwing out the baby with the  bathwater." It's similar to allowing ourselves to be against being healthy because of obvious bad experiences and needs for improvements in our 'health system'. Are you then, 'spiritual' but not 'religious'? Of course, all people are 'spiritual'. We're born with this aspect of our humanity. This 'being spiritual' is a singular thing, an awareness with which we can do as we please. There's no need to brag about it. It's a given. This is the very thing that so long ago started to separate us from other animals.
        Now that you've become aware of your humanness, what are you/we doing with this awareness? This ability to question, to think, to see ourselves alone but part of the whole, and to question about that 'whole', 'beyond' or Holy?  How we answer those questions determines if we are 'religious' or not. If we choose to remain alone, as many of us are, we are limited to ourselves and will grow very little, limited by our need to be safe and to not risk anything meaningful. Being aware of our spirituality and choosing to remain alone and stingy, may be something to publicly acclaim, but I fail to see what good it does. It's like a person shouting to the world how much they have to give others and yet who decide to keep it all to themselves.  When we chose to share our questions/answers/lives with others, that is where 'religion' is born. 'Religion' is a risky thing, all right. Growth and change is always a risk.
        Certainly, many of us have been hurt and turned-off by the narrowness of Classical Christianity, but does that mean that any and all shared spiritual sharing/growth/community is evil or unwanted? Why can't 'religion' be based on understandings that are open and accepting? Why can't debate and real giving/receiving be known as expressions of the Holy and that actions be even more important than words? Why can't an understanding be that the opinion of some, no matter their education, are of no more importance than others, that there be no 'clergy' class to dictate and limit others?
       The above was the way the Jesus Movement started. Only due to the lack of (oppression of) education in churches, do we not know this. People coming together, in their variety of thinking as well as their common experiences, is the basis of what we are. Let us all urge and help each other to share our thoughts, taking each other seriously, no matter if we agree or not.
       Words change. Even more, then, we need to listen, for the words, even when they change, tell of things that never change. We are all spiritual, but called to become 'religious,' able to share and to grow. We may need to let a lot of the traditionally 'Religious' die for this to happen, to let the 'churches' die a well-deserved end, but let's not let the needed 'death' to hinder new life. Let's  praise the new 'religious', the need for real communication/life/love on this earth that so desperately needs us to get our priories in line with the realities of our present existence.
         Thanks for allowing me to share this.
         Anthony Gifford