Are you religious or spiritual?


One of the more memorable bumper stickers I've seen read: "Spiritual people inspire me. Religious people frighten me."

It's hip to be "spiritual." It's pretty easy, too. Light a few aromatherapy candles, close your eyes and breathe deeply. If the subject comes up at the next cocktail party you attend, feel free to disclose your practice of "spirituality." No doubt you'll be lauded, or perhaps just gazed upon with wonder.

But get on your knees every day to confess your sins and go to church on Sundays to acknowledge the sacrifice that bought your salvation---now that's another matter.

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The Barna Group, a research organization specializing in matters of faith and culture, just released a summary of its findings regarding religion in America in 2009. One of the primary themes that emerged is that, as the report phrased it, "Americans are more interested in faith and spirituality than in Christianity." Part of that is due, Barna says, to the unfavorable portrayal of Christianity and Christians in the media. Many Americans don't want to be part of an institutional framework, i.e., a specific church or denomination with prescribed beliefs. In fact, 71 percent of those surveyed said they will "develop their own slate of religious beliefs rather than accept a package of beliefs promoted by a church or denomination." Only half of those surveyed who identify themselves as Christians "firmly believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles (not the facts, just the principles) that it teaches."

Based on this research, George Barna writes, "The purpose of faith, for most Americans, is not so much to discover truth or to relate to a loving, praiseworthy deity as it is to become happy, successful, comfortable and secure. For a growing percentage of citizens, their sense of spirituality, more than Christianity, facilitates those outcomes."

It reminds me of a conversation I had with my grandmother, a retired missionary with whom I studied the Bible regularly. When I was in college, she asked me why I went to church. I thought about it and replied that it made me feel good. She gently reminded me that the purpose of going to church is not to make me feel good; it's to make God feel good, as it were, by worshipping Him.

Marcia Segelstein
Marcia Segelstein


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