we all have our Soapboxes…


…and this issue is mine.  Most of the time when this particular issue comes up I want to walk away and never talk about it again, but that is only because it was the topic of my thesis when I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Theology/Pastoral Ministry.  I could write a book on this topic (though I won’t), and my thesis ended up being a whopping 56 pages (it was supposed to be 30-40).  The issue or topic I’m referring to the growing separation of “spirituality” and “religion” – as if the two are opposed to each other.

A good friend of mine recently had a status on facebook, “religion is for people scared to go to hell, spirituality is for people who have already been there.”  Not the way I’d separate the two.  In fact, I spent a few pages in my thesis separating the two, it is an incredibly difficult notion to define the two as separate entities.  Why is it so difficult?  Because they can’t, nor should they be separated.  There’s a video on YouTube that I have a feeling is about to go viral and I can’t keep biting my tongue on the issue.  This guy’s first video was actually brilliant…this one practically gets my blood boiling.

Let’s begin with a brilliant article written by a fellow Catholic blogger called, “Why I Love Jesus AND Religion.” 
Now, why can’t we separate religion and spirituality?  Because we need both to be whole, to be happy.  The easiest way I came up with in my thesis to define each one is as follows: religion is the man-made (keep in mind here that Jesus was also fully HUMAN and a MAN) contructs which people follow and ascribe to in their daily lives; religion is practiced communally.  Spirituality on the other hand is the individual, personal relationships we have with whatever higher power we believe in.  When it comes down to it you simply can’t have one without the other.  Your individual, personal relationship with your higher power (in my case, the God of the Old and New Testaments) should move you to live out that faith.  Faith lived in a closet isn’t really faith at all.  In other words, as the age old saying goes, faith without works is dead.  How do we work out our faith?  In community.  We practice religion in community, just as Jesus Himself did with the apostles (it also includes working with the poor AND building churches).  If we only practice an individual belief in a God or god, what defines our beliefs?  Who or what sets the boundaries?  Our conscience?  Perhaps…but our conscience must be well-formed, and what better way to form it than in community, with other like minded believers?  Such an individualized belief system can far too easily devolve into moral relativism, yet another soapbox of mine…but that’s for another time. 
There are so many items he touches on in this video that I want to correct, so I’ll keep it to just a few:
“Tell single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce”
God NEVER stops loving His children, no matter what they do.  If you’ve ever read any of my blogs I pray that you know this to be true.  No matter what you do or what you’ve done, God never stops loving you.  The Church never says that, ever.  Is divorce a sin?  Yes.  Can it be forgiven?  Of course.  Jesus came to call the sinners, He rejoices over the Prodigal Son, the lost sheep, He rejoices and loves each and every one of us, regardless of (and often in spite of) our sins.
“Religion is just behavior modification, like a long list of chores.”
If you choose to see religion in a purely legalistic, follow-these-rules-without-asking-why kind of a way, then I’d agree with this statement.  If you see religion as a loving Father guiding His children on a path to peace, happiness and eternal life then seeing religion as “behavior modification” is laughable.
“[Religion] isn’t a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken.”
I couldn’t agree more.  My favorite way of describing it goes like this, the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.  We are imperfect people, made of clay as Scripture often says.  The Church, or any religion for that matter, is not perfect on earth, but that doesn’t keep us from trying, from building each other, and the Kingdom up.  We need grace (and we practice it, contrary to what he says in the video) and we need each other as support on this journey.  Alone we perish, but, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).  So here’s my question to this guy, if religion is full of broken people like you and I, why are you against your fellow brothers and sisters banding together and striving for perfection?  You can try it alone if you want, without the help of religion, of the Sacraments and the Saints, but I’ll stick to my churches and my community, thank you very much.
“If Jesus came to your church, would they actually let Him in?”
Actually, He resides in my Church…it’s called a tabernacle.  His presence, His Body and Blood are there every single day of the year.  What’s even more amazing is that He humbles Himself and allows me to be a living tabernacle for Him when I receive Him in the Eucharist.
“Now back to the topic, one thing I think is vital to mention,
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums,
One is the work of God one is a man made invention,
One is the cure and one is the infection”
Jesus and religion are not on opposite spectrums, we need both.  Everything is a God-made invention – who do you think inspires poets to write, artists to paint and musicians to compose?  We are made in the image and likeness of God, all the good that we do in this life is but a reflection of His goodness.  Jesus AND religion are the work of God.  Jesus is the cure, religion is not the infection, it is the doctor, it is the hospital, it is the place where we find the cure.  We need religion and spirituality, they work together like tires on a car, if one goes flat it’s not wise to keep going.  Fill up your tires, there’s a long road ahead of us.

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