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Religion, Research, & Spiritual Responsibilities: Church for You & Meetings for Me

This week CNN shared findings published in the  British Journal of Psychiatry, which found that people who see themselves as “spiritual but not religious” are more likely to develop mental health problems, addictions, and eating disorders.

I am amazed at the ability of researchers to conceptualize in an exactly backwards fashion. My experiences both personally and professionally consistently and powerfully show that people who have suffered are more likely to be spiritual.

To suggest that one is at greater risk for being spiritual and not religious is to perpetuate a long held myth that passive piousness on a hard bench once a week might make one a better/healthier person. To imply that one needs religion to ensure well being is like saying one needs government in order to be patriotic.  Just as I love my country but fear my government; I love God but find church constricting.  Therefore I am spiritual but not religious.

What is especially troubling about this report is that it goes on to quote a number of religious leaders who argue that in the absence of belonging to a religious community, that the individual lacks the necessary accountability and structure to serve God and others.

I’ve got Bob Dylan singing in my head, “Don’t criticize what you don’t understand.”

Saying that people who are spiritual but not religious lack willingness, motivation, or opportunities to serve others based on belief of a Higher Power shows complete ignorance of 12 step programs and Recovery communities.

The report draws attention to a similar study done in the US years ago and quotes Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University who proclaims:

“Organized religion provides three outlets that benefit churchgoers’ well being: social support, attachment to a loving God and the organized practice of prayer. “When you become spiritual but not religious, you are losing the first two points and most spiritual but not religious people aren’t participating in the third,” Luhrmann said. “It is not just a generic belief in God that works; it is specific practices that work.”

Huh. Well, I’m neither a member of Alcoholics Anonymous nor a member of any church, but I’ve experienced all three of those at every AA meeting I’ve ever attended. I can agree that belief is not enough in and of itself. Faith without works is indeed dead. Fortunately, my brothers and sisters in 12 step communities are very focused on action, transformation and serving others.

Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr has written extensively on the spirituality of the 12 steps of AA and proclaimed it “mainstream gospel.” He decries piousness by arguing, “We come to God not by doing it right but by doing it wrong.” Rohr argues beautifully that we are all addicts of a sort in that we have compulsive thoughts and yearnings that block us from connecting to God in favor of desires of the flesh. Only through surrender of our will to a Higher Power can we truly grow and serve.

The concepts of Spirituality and Recovery are congruent and inclusive. They provide freedom to connect and serve in a manner completely consistent with each individual’s beliefs and values. Religions compete for parishioners,  financial support, and take on political stands. Religion seeks to indoctrinate. Recovery promotes individual choice and eclecticism.

When we choose to focus on what unites us and turn away from what divides us, we learn and heal and grow individually and collectively. Isn’t this congruent with what Jesus taught? Can we practice divisiveness and portray ourselves as serving God?

How about this: Let’s get together. Let’s put aside differences of belief and practice and focus on what we all agree God would have us do. Would God have us ensure that all babies eat? Excellent! Let’s do that. Let’s do everything we all agree God would want and then we can go back to arguing about whether or not we need religion or spirituality or stupid research about either of them.

The 12 step programs are doing God’s work without politics, without buildings and big budgets, without dogma and rhetoric. I am an Ally to the Recovery Community and I see this as something I am called by God to do.

Maybe the God of Your Understanding wants you to learn from them too.

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