California Forum

The Conversation: Spirituality and religion

Last Sunday’s Conversation delved into the trend that more people are proclaiming to be spiritual while fewer identify with traditional religions, and what was behind this shifting view. We asked: How would you describe yourself in terms of being spiritual or religious, or both?

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Religion offers community

Re “Spiritual but not religious” (Forum, Sept. 13): As an adult male who not only grew up in the church but developed an ever-growing personal sense of spirituality, I offer that spirituality is personal and individual while religion is based on belonging to a body of like-minded believers. Prayer is certainly part of one’s spirituality, as well as caring, loving and being concerned for others.

Religion helps us develop our individual spirituality by frequent reinforcement at our places of worship. We also have opportunities for fellowship and to support each other in times of need as well as others in need around the world.

Reading the Bible is the same as studying – we do it for understanding and enlightenment. Memorizing verses of the Bible is a wonderful way to keep calm in times of trouble or crisis.

Richard Shultz,

Rancho Cordova

Developing our spirituality

I was inspired by Marilyn McEntyre’s article on Sunday. It is heartening to know that many young people are finding joy in their spiritual search, whether or not they seek this through organized religion.

Spiritual intelligence is a capacity that needs to be increased in us all. As McEntyre shows, there are many ways for us to find meaning, live an ethical life, experience awe and mystery, develop compassion and increase kindness in the world. We all share a desire to reach these ideals, they are universal.

Our lives are better when we develop our spiritual capacity, and the world is better, too. Too often we get distracted from this core truth by arguments about which belief system develops our spiritual capacity “best.”

Thank you for publishing McEntyre’s nuanced and beautiful article on how these ideals can be pursued within, outside or alongside orthodox religious views.

Steve Sphar, Sacramento

Spiritual and religious are equal

The distinction between being spiritual and being religious that Marilyn McEntyre makes in her article is false.

Being religious and being spiritual are the same. Identification with a particular religion is the issue. Being spiritual or being religious is at the core of being human.

As theologian Karl Rahner noted, human beings are the only creatures we know who realize that existence includes an element of infinity. What we ultimately seek is always beyond us but that does not stop us from the quest. This is what it is to be religious or spiritual. Religion is what happens when people with similar spiritualities and similar ways of expressing their religious insights gather together and find common ways to express their beliefs. Becoming rigid in those expressions is a temptation for all religions.

McEntyre tacitly acknowledges the proper distinction when she slips from talking about religious traditions being transmitted by stories (that are not to be taken literally) into a description of the characteristics of religion.

A concern regarding those who see themselves as solely spiritual is that one’s spirituality may be very individualistic. This does not work for most of us, who, even in the midst of modern radical individualism, need each other. We need community for much of our lives, including pursuit of the Divine.

Some church folk recognize the shift that has happened in western civilization. The challenge for them is how to proclaim the good news that their embodiment of the spiritual, of the religious, is open to all seekers of the holy. The challenge is to overcome the skepticism that religious institutions cannot or do not welcome all who seek love that is stronger than death. Some do. Seek and you may find.

Jerry Pare, Roseville

Recognize religion as mythologies

For millennia religions have been manifestations of people’s need for an explanation of human existence. Most of those religions have included thinking that some invisible supernatural force may have a hand in human affairs. They also have included thinking that certain groups of people will not die, but will live on in some form in the future.

Consider the elaborate Egyptian tombs that included items to help the deceased in the next life or the Chinese terra-cotta army intended to serve an emperor in the afterlife. Those early humans were absolutely not different from us in any way, and their thinking that there was some way to survive death is no different from our current wishful thinking that we can somehow survive in another realm after we die.

Throughout history all religions have, sooner or later, been recognized as mythologies. The Greek philosopher Socrates was executed for corrupting the youth of Athens and for refusing to believe in the gods of the state – a real religion at the time that is now viewed as pure mythology. Today, his execution would be seen as absurd. No amount of shrill denial or claims that the beliefs of humans alive today are somehow different from those of the past will prevent the appellation of mythologies from being applied to today’s religions at some point in the future.

We are not different from the humans who preceded us. Today’s religious truth will be tomorrow’s mythology.

Michael Herman, Chico

I am religious and spiritual

As a Muslim, I am both religious and spiritual. My religious duty is to perform the rituals of my faith, known as the five pillars of Islam. They are: bearing witness that God is one and Muhammad is his messenger, performing the five daily prayers, paying almsgiving, fasting the month of Ramadan, and performing a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is sustenance to the body.

My spiritual duty takes me to a higher level by making me think of my religious duty. It requires me to be conscious of my creator at all times and in all places.

Metwalli B. Amer, Sacramento

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