Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best when he said, “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community…Let him who is not in community beware of being alone…Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”
Within this wisdom, I think he debunks a modern belief held by many people. These people will say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Spirituality often pertains to that of the individual, and religion pertains to that of the community or the social structure of the Church. I think what Bonhoeffer would say now is, “Let him who is not spiritual beware of religion…. Let him who is not religious beware of spirituality.” I say this because what is religion? Religion is nothing more than spiritual values that have been received and translated into the structures of the Church or the churches. The purpose of spirituality is to subvert the exoteric values of religion with the higher esoteric values of spirituality. I believe what my generation is really saying, “your exoteric values do not resonate with my esoteric values.”
There are two problems that I see with spirituality and religion. If we are going to be spiritual but not religious, then we will never transform the Church or society because our spirituality is nothing more than individuals’ esoteric values. “Spiritual, but not religious” will never leave a relativistic state because nothing really matters beyond my own’s own experiences. If we are religious but not spiritual, then our systems will never be transformed and will not find the depths to give people what they need for the whole journey. Shallow individuals create shallow systems. Spirituality within itself is not healthy and is ethically irresponsible and religion within itself is not only existentially unhealthy, but it is ethically abusive. What we need is not a dualistic system in which we claim to be one but not the other, but a system integrates both.
For Christians, this means that those who lose their lives will find it. Those who receive life, give it away. It means that we love our neighbors as ourselves. We can’t love our neighbors if we don’t love ourselves (spirituality). We can’t love ourselves if we don’t love our neighbors (religion). We can’t love God if we don’t love ourselves and our neighbors (spirituality + religion). So only those who forgive others (religion), will be forgiven (spirituality).
The real question, at least for me, is what does Christian life look like for Millennials? Because if a generation continues to associate with “spiritual but not religious”, it will end up creating an egocentric Church that fails to transform society or the Church. And, how can we get there?