Having grown up in rather lavish religious contexts—Roman Catholicism as well as pastoring in evangelical churches for 13 years—I am well aware of the various monikers and terminologies faith-based systems use to define themselves.
With this wealth of experience I have come to the conclusion that labeling true spirituality is like pornography…but more on that later.
It has been my experience that evangelical, born-again types do not like the term “religion” and would prefer to call their experience with God a “relationship.” I should know…I used to say the same thing myself…for decades. I now realize this is far more a manipulative tool of effective brand marketing than it is of real value or truth.
Why? If you look at a rather pervasive definition of the term religion, what about it does NOT fit the evangelical faith or just about any religious system for that matter?
“A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe (Jesus loves you and has a plan for your life), especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies (For God so loved the world), usually involving devotional and ritual observances (Christmas, Easter, Communion), and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs (Do not murder, commit adultery, etc…).”
And what part of that “relationship” is not a religion?
I really do not care what a religious system wants to call itself, though I do know the hallmark of a bad relationship is when one partner is always asking for money…and with relational friends like that, who needs enemies?
It seems Mormons, Jews, Muslims, and Catholics really do not mind the term “religion” to describe their faith-based endeavors. I completely respect the acceptance of the word to define these institutions while not attempting some niche’ marketing in their branding…just call things what they are.
The other phrase I hear frequently by those non-church, non-doctrine adhering, non-religious types is the sentiment that they “are not religious, they are spiritual.”
Well, in the words of the late Chris Farley, “Whoop Dee Freaking Doo!” It is as if these people have transcended that shallow religion stuff and are miring in the pristine, true blue waters of ultimate experience of all things divine. Yet, in reality, they really are tending to their personal gardens of their own religion, at least in the way we define it above…not to mention being accountable to others in a “religion” can be a real bitch.
Another rather laughable phrase is when one contends they do not like, nor appreciate, “organized religion,” to which I respond, “Would you prefer unorganized religion?” Since when is being organized a bad thing? Give me an organized religion over an unorganized one any day of the week…at least there is an accounting of where the money goes and there are probably enough parking spaces.
So it is with this background and understanding that I approached the lecture of “Materialism vs. Spirituality” that I gave last Wednesday afternoon to my cultural diversity course. While discussing Robert Kohl’s “Values Americans Live By,” I pondered in my own head the difference between true materialism and true spirituality when a couple of things dawned on me
(Yes, the porn analogy is coming -no pun intended).
First, though I have always known this cognitively at some level, true materialism (the desire and love of “things”) and true spirituality (the desire of love of all things non-material) are mutually exclusive understandings—one cannot truly exist in the presence of the other. A truly spiritual person may possess material things, yet they cannot be truly materialistic as they hold on loosely to all things temporary. A materialistic and spiritual person both may own, say, a car—however the spiritual person uses it to fulfill their need of transportation while the materialistic person uses it to fulfill their need for recognition. Just as fire and water cannot complete their intended mission while in the presence of one another—water puts the fire out while fire evaporates the water—so it is with materialism and spirituality. A spiritual and material person may both own “stuff,” yet with the material person it is more the “stuff” owning them.
Secondly, it dawned on me that THE most spiritual person I have ever met, in real life or otherwise, resides in my very own family. If one defines spirituality as the utter deference of self for the betterment of others while holding on to no material desires or possessions in the quest to serve the universe, my oldest son, Jordan Urbanovich, is the pope, prime minister and president of spirituality.
Jordan is currently roaming through India, Bangladesh and many other places I am unable to pronounce and food I cannot stand with nothing more than, essentially, a camera and a backpack. Visiting and raising funds for orphanages, sustainability farms, and other philanthropic organizations, Jordan is a contemporary Ghandi-like figure who cares the least bit for any material goods—save for his camera and computer to create videos for these places, and an accordion to provide good cheer for many.
The only money he accepts are for those things that will continue to fuel his mission: Food, drink, transportation, and the like.
When I expressed this spontaneous revelation to my class last Wednesday, Jordan as both Ghandi and Mother Theresa wrapped into one, I realized I may have sounded like the proud dad boorishly droning on and on about his son…though this was not even remotely the case. It was a revelation of truth, not pride. I literally have never met anyone like Jordan. I could NEVER live the life he does, nor do I desire to…I am far too materialistic.
Yes, my Camaro owns me. If true spirituality wants that bad boy muscle car, she will have to drive it away out of my cold, dead, steering-wheel-clutching hands.
I am pleased when people recognize this aspect of Jordan’s life. So when a student of mine recently flagged me down in the school library and handed me $200, I was initially confused. I then found out she had recently started following him through facebook and stated that she would much rather tithe her hard earned money to someone like Jordan, who is single-handedly going out into the world and making a difference, than donate to any other church or organization with whom she is familiar.
I think I speak on behalf of Jordan and those many Indian organizations he is assisting when I say this is greatly appreciated.
So be it a religion, a relationship, spiritual, organized or not, take your choice of the bullshit labels as it is all a divine mockery of words.
And now, finally, I am reminded of the infamous words of Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart in a 1964 ruling when attempting to define hardcore pornography: He declared he could not intelligibly do so, yet “I know it when I see it.”
Perhaps true spirituality is lot like porn in this regard—not terribly easy to define but we all sure know it when we see it.
So, in the words of another great (and slightly altered) mind, The Doors Jim Morrison, “…dance and save us from the divine mockery of words.” At the end of the day, whatever we want to call ourselves pales in comparison to who and what we are.
True spirituality is experienced, not defined. If you have a minute, check out the experience below…and feel.