Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Spiritual But Not Religious"

I look within myself for my spirituality and to answer the meaning of life. - Amy, college student interviewed for the book, Sex & the Soul by Donna Freitas
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! - David, Psalm 139:23, 24

I am reading the book, Sex & the Soul by Donna Freitas, who is the Assistant Professor of Religion at Boston University. Her book begins with the provocative "hooking up" culture that exists on most college campuses and the surprising development when her students decided to make a difference by taking a stand.

They admitted they didn't really enjoy the non-committal sex they had, but it was part of college life and they weren't sure how to change it. Freitas worked with them as they developed the idea for a one-issue, onetime student newspaper called Dateline SMC, focusing on sexuality on the campus. They began a conversation and finally discovered there were many others who were unhappy with the "hooking up" culture on campus.

What I find fascinating is a belief I've come across before from young people and some adults. Amy's quote is a good example of the type of mindset that often accompanies the description, "spiritual but not religious."

What does this mean? In Amy's world, it means she uses her own perception as a moral compass. There is no adherence to the Bible; instead, the Bible is used to confirm or validate her own feelings. It reminds me of how some people will decide on certain opinions and then scour the Bible for verses to justify them. Forget the fact that as Christians, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, not by our own assessment of our situation but by a humble surrender to God and a conscientious decision to seek His will and not our own.

In fact, I think I'd like to make these verses the "mascot" verses for "Castitas."

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. - Romans 12:1,2

What does it mean to present our bodies as a living sacrifice? If you're a Christian, I think I'm safe in saying it doesn't mean deciding to have pre-marital sex because you think it's "your decision" and totally separate from your belief in God. I also think we are challenged to carefully look at the world and its patterns of behavior and compare it to how God wants us to live. And renewing our minds means there must be an opposing spirit that is trying to get us to not renew them - to accept status quos, lazy thought, and "going with the flow" because its easier. Remember - a river takes the path of least resistance and will often twist and turn. It is not the most efficient way for the water to reach its destination.

So it is with faith. Continue to take the path of least resistance and you will have stunted growth. Set your sights upon that which is more challenging or difficult and you will grow in your faith by leaps and bounds.

What was interesting about Amy's story is she admitted she kept a Bible in her room and would turn to it often for inspiration. She admitted to praying to God quite frequently, trusting He was ordering her life. But when it came to sex, suddenly God wasn't in the picture. When it came to allowing God into her house, everything was accessible to Him but the "sexuality room." That room belonged only to Amy and she obviously didn't want God to crash her party.

College students who want to pursue spirituality but not be seen as "religious" are all avoiding the same issue - an honest discussion about sex and how their religious beliefs affect it. Whenever I've come across someone who wanted a spiritual life but didn't want the "religious" label - it is 99.9% certain they want to be able to sleep with whomever they want with no guilt. They balk at the idea of absolute truth for in their mind - there are no absolutes. It is a life filled with the options of a cafeteria-style offering of religions. Like Marianne Williamson, creator of the New Age "A Course In Miracles," they cobble together the most palatable collections of belief and expect it to support them.

It's like taking some old pieces of wood, a little metal, some plastic, and trying to build a piece of scaffolding. It's not going to be strong enough to endure years of outdoor weather and use. Plus, many of the pieces won't even fit well together and end up coming apart after stress is applied. Such is the life of one who insists upon "being spiritual but not religious."

When you follow Jesus Christ, you are called to die to your own will. This means not only embracing beliefs that offend what is called "the flesh," but trusting that God knows what He's doing when He insists upon such obedience. Is it hard? Absolutely. But it is not impossible with the grace of God. I lived 17 years as a celibate before meeting my husband. Did I mope around, depressed that I was missing out on all the "fun" of non-committed sex? No, not by a long shot. I was involved with church activities that included great fellowship, friendship with lively brothers and sisters in Christ, and excellent mental stimulation through personal study.

Some college students make the mistake of enlarging their sexuality so that it orders their entire world. As Christians, we are challenged to live counter to the world, seeking the Kingdom of God and its righteousness first, not our own satisfaction. When we get our priorities straight as believers, it makes all the difference in our lives. Suddenly, we're on the other side of self-serving behaviors. We can see that focusing on self only made us feel emptier and more unsatisfied. When we focus on God, we are given so many blessings that we wonder what took us so long to relinquish control.

The world will always tell us we need to do things ourselves. Trusting in God for His wisdom is never easy, but we can take great comfort in knowing that Jesus Christ went before us, surrendering all to His heavenly Father and asking God to protect us from evil. Jesus prayed one of the most beautiful prayers for us in John 17 and one of the things He stated was we are not of this world.

If we are not of this world, then where should our allegiance be? To God alone. When it comes to following Jesus Christ, there is no way around it. God is to be obeyed even as His Son lived a perfect life in obedience to Him, even to the point of death.

And I think that is at the heart of what is scariest to those who are "spiritual but not religious." If they truly placed their entire trust in God, what would He ask of them? What would He command as "off-limits" in their life? Obedience to God will make the strongest self-willed man either quake in his boots or stand defiantly with an upraised fist, saying "No!"

But with submission comes an amazing peace that passes understanding. This is, sadly, what the "spiritual" are missing out on - and it is the prized quarry they chase. To their own detriment, their attempts to capture this elusive treasure falls short and causes great frustration.

In acceptance, lieth peace. (Amy Carmichael, Scottish Missionary to India)

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