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Marlise Karlin Headshot

Being 'Spiritual' Versus Being 'Religious'

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I recently read an article by James Martin, a nationally known Jesuit priest, who spoke to the popular phrase "I'm spiritual, just not religious" and explained that this kind of thinking could mean that being religious is about "abiding by arcane rules and hidebound dogmas."

He suggested that people who say they're spiritual, not religious, might not want to be accountable to a community because "there's no one to suggest when you might be off track."

Does he have a point?

Many people today want to have a personal connection to God or their higher power, and if they feel they have to go through someone for that relationship, or if they have to envision God in the same form as their religion tells them they should -- they will look elsewhere.
Being accountable to a community doesn't necessarily mean they will teach you reverence for humanity. How often have groups of people stood together, with a false sense of morality on their side, purely by the numbers who gathered?

Guess what? You can be spiritual and religious, you can value each person and treat them with love and compassion -- or you can speak about love while demeaning another and feeling righteous about your point of view. You could do that being "spiritual" or "religious." An individual who has an experience of infinite love is guided by the deepest knowing within to become more selfless, and their desire to be of service to humanity seems to grow exponentially.

I am not referring to those who commit cruel acts "in the name of God," I am speaking of what occurs when a human being connects with the deepest truth that lies at the core of all religions and within each individual soul.

Those who have experienced it, whether they are spiritual or religious, always speak of this place of connection in revered terms. No one needs to "correct" such an individual -- the compass that guides his or her action is self-propelled from the source of goodness that arises from the heart. I've had the good fortune of seeing differences that separate us dissolve, as when two missionaries and a man who studied to be a monk came together to experience their first time in Stillness.

Even though the would-be-monk was worried that this new form of meditation might not align with his religious values, he decided to come anyway. He asked if he could bring two missionaries who he said were driving him a bit wacky, as they kept proselytizing -- and the last thing he wanted was to change his religion. At the end of the time in Stillness, one 19-year-old missionary was moved to share that he felt he had experienced something similar in times he'd spent alone in the woods communing with nature and God. He also shared that he hoped to be a politician one day because he really wanted to help people.

The other missionary, a Polynesian, was quiet. He shared that he was deeply moved by what he felt even though he barely understood English. When the "monk" translated his words, he was touched as well, as no one was asking another to find God in their way. Rather, everyone was sharing himself, heart to heart.

It's possible. We can release what separates us: concepts like "spiritual" or "religious" need not be divisive. If we focus on allowing the source of truth in our heart to bring us together without judgment -- without proclamations of who is right and wrong -- we will be able to step into a 21st Century we might all envision that is truly inclusive of all.

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