Ho hum. Another day, another religious leader telling us we don’t measure up if we don’t belong to the church of his choice.
The latest promoter of the “If You Don’t Do it My Way, You Are Wrong” philosophy is one Rabbi David Wolpe, of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, author of some seven different books (and it’s a safe guess none of them are on tolerance). In a piece written for Time magazine’s Ideas section, the good rabbi takes issue with the many people who proclaim themselves to be spiritual but not religious, arguing that they are, well, essentially useless narcissists.
But should they repent and join the institution that is organized religion, he suggests, why, salvation will be at hand. “Institutions are … the only mechanism human beings know to perpetuate ideologies and actions,” he writes.
Because perpetuating ideologies makes the world a much better place, as we all know.
Now, it is true that most spiritual people do not belong to an institution (though the more outlandish ones could certainly benefit from time in one). Yet somehow their actions impact the world. Browse the Watkins Books Spiritual 100 List for 2012 (it’s like Billboard Magazine’s Top 100, but without rappers) and you’ll see some of the most impressive agents of change in our time: the Dalai Lama. Oprah Winfrey. Nelson Mandela.
Each has devoted their lives to fighting institutions, not clamouring to join them.
Perhaps some of the rabbi’s disdain for those who are spiritual but not religious comes from the lack of a firm definition of spirituality.
He mistakes it for hedonism. (Now that’s an institution! Its god, Hugh Hefner, wears pajamas all day, frolics with nearly-naked women a third of his age, and encourages his followers to swing at a temple in Beverly Hills).
Others confuse it with the cult of The Secret, that once-popular theory that suggested you could have good things if only you thought positively about them for long enough. (If that were truly the case, the Kardashians would have talent.)
In reality, spirituality is not so much about dogma as it is about attitudes and practices. And unlike organized religion, its membership comes with no conditions and no requirement to follow blindly.
If you disagree with the condemnation of gays, with the ostracizing of women, you can be vocal about it as part of your spirituality. You don’t go to war to force others to adopt your beliefs (though that’s most likely because the weapons of spirituality are crystals and incense, not guns and bombs). And you can use your spirituality as a great pick-up line (a psychological survey concluded that we tell others we are spiritual rather than religious because it makes us appear more attractive.)
Spirituality, ultimately, is about building something that is bigger than any institution. It’s about finding our place and doing what we believe in rather than what we are told. By any measure, that’s admirable.
There’s certainly room for both spirituality and religion in this world. It’s too bad only one side sees it that way.