One sure way to turn an enlightening conversation into an overheated one is to introduce religion or politics into it. Rather than bringing people together for a common purpose, both tend to push people apart — and keep them there.
I’ve lost a lot of hope that anything will be done about this in the realm of politics. But I still have hope in the power of our spiritual nature to create unity in spite of religious differences, trust in spite of religious ideology, and community in spite of religious self-aggrandizement.
For this to happen, though, our spirituality must be ready to assert itself against the divisiveness of both religious affiliation and religious disaffiliation. Will we allow it to happen?
Traditionally, being religious has meant honoring the Sacred by conforming to the beliefs, devotional practices, and moral teachings of a respected tradition (e.g. Judaism). As often as not, it also has included commitment to a more particular tradition within the encompassing one (e.g. Orthodox as opposed to Reformed Judaism).
A key element in most religious traditions — some would say the defining element — is pledging loyalty to the tradition, its institutions, and its leaders with a minimum of questioning. Today, however, increasing numbers of people are holding to a very different conviction.
For them, honoring what is truly sacred means not conforming to religious traditions and practices unless their worthiness can be demonstrated on their own merits. This conviction is close to the very heart of the distinction between religion and spirituality.
Traditionally, being spiritual has meant seeking and dwelling in immediate experience of the Sacred, and viewing everything in the everyday world in the light of the experience(s). Today, it also means letting conformism give way to fresh disclosures of the Divine Spirit, even and especially when they challenge our most cherished religious beliefs, practices, and doubts.
From the perspective of spirituality, the problem with religion is its unwillingness to loosen the binding it inflicts upon people in the interest of ensuring uniformity. From the perspective of religion, the problem with spirituality is its inability to soften the terrifying falls to earth which so often follow its blissful soaring toward heaven.
But soar we must, and not always from the alone to the Alone. Sometimes, we soar best in the company of those who believe the most earnestly, but never blindly, in religious traditions and community.