More and more, when you ask Americans what creed they profess, they check the box that says “Spiritual But Not Religious.” I think what people mean when they say they’re Spiritual But Not Religious, is they have an inner sense of the divine that they’d prefer to keep to themselves, thank you. I have my spirituality. You have yours. Don’t harsh my vibe with your . . . religion. Spirituality’s all about the inward person, following one’s beatific impulses, one’s true self—all that stuff that Jiminy Cricket talked about. Religion, Religion’s all about rules—white men in robes with hair growing out of their ears forcing you to do something that doesn’t come naturally.
I don’t get it.
Spirituality—whatever that means, it must mean connecting with our best self. And our best self focuses outward. Trouble is, we’re selfish sons of bitches. I’ll take a leap: Original Sin—the focus on one’s self and one’s benefit—is the only Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable. Consider history. It’s our self-interest that causes our woes. James 4:1-3: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (Surprised I quote scripture? Don’t be. Nuggets exist amidst the dross—as much as one would expect in any document written by humans. See Does God Speak Through Scripture? Yes and No.)
I’d posit you are the most spiritual when you’re being the most religious—when you’re forcing yourself to do something you’d rather not. The spiritual person isn’t the person who is empowered by God. The spiritual person is the person who swears under his breath about the particular pain in the ass who is monopolizing his study time yet puts down his book and engages in an encouraging conversation, lends a hand. A spiritual person is not the person who is removed from the “cares of this world.” The spiritual person is the person is sees the need and attends to it when they’d prefer not to.
Really what alternative do we have? If God gave you the power to sacrifice, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice. A sacrifice has to cost you something. Turns out, being selfless requires an extreme exertion of the self.
Fittingly—providentially?—that’s the way the universe works. We’re on our own. God doesn’t interact with the world/humans in any meaningful way. Me, I think He doesn’t because He can’t. That’s the nature of God. He is wholly other.
We are left to deal with the pains in the ass that wander into our lives with naught but own wits and gumption. Spiritual forces—if they exist—are unavailable to humankind. We aren’t tuned to that frequency. We are machines made out of meat. You can’t run a material machine on something other than matter—corn flakes and bean sprouts. Supplications and rainbows won’t do the trick. Get off your ass.
So don’t worry about being spiritual. Worry about being more human. But consider yourself warned: It’s damn hard work and God is no help whatsoever.
John Draper is the author of the novel A Danger to God Himself