Monday, July 11, 2011

A New Spirituality?

Friday afternoon, I sat down with my spiritual director to talk about the future of our relationship. We had been meeting for over a year when I decided to walk away from the Christian faith, and I wanted to let him know about what had taken place. I knew things wouldn't really be the same, and had pretty much decided that participating in spiritual direction wasn't really a live option any more. But, at his request, I decided to see whether it was something I could still incorporate into my life.

Prior to the meeting, I understood "spirituality" as referring to one of two things: 1) dependence upon some variety of supernatural being(s) who give meaning and purpose to life, and the cultivating of that relationship; or 2) glorified navel-gazing and positive self-talk (à la Oprah). Since I'm not terribly interested in either of these—I no longer believe in the existence of a supernatural being, and I'm already battling enough self-interested thinking in my life—I assumed that spiritual direction would be out of the picture. After all, if I called the game of the spiritual journey a hoax, then why would I want someone to guide me on it?

The result of the conversation, however, surprised me. (More after the jump...)
Not only did my spiritual director express enthusiasm over my leaving Christianity—odd for someone who counsels Christians for a living—but he saw this as an exciting new development in my ongoing journey. I asked him about this, because, while I shared his excitement, I didn't think we had the same reasons for being excited. I tried to get him to explain how he understood spirituality. While I frankly don't remember the exact words he used, here's the impression I got:

Spirituality and the spiritual journey doesn't need god/gods. (At any rate, our notions of god tend to hold us back rather than push us forward.) Spirituality is about learning how to live most fully as a human being. This means, in part, becoming aware of ourselves, our relationships, discovering what we know and don't know, and learning how to thrive amid an often chaotic world. In many ways, spirituality is about letting go of that which hinders us in our quest to become fully human, to understand who we are (both as individuals and as societies). Spirituality is no more at home among theologians than it is philosophers or scientists or industrial workers—it belongs to all these realms, and many more.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that I felt I could get on board with this. After all, if I'm earnestly seeking after truth and understanding, then I should probably learn to rely upon people who seem to have a clue about these things. My spiritual director is one of them. And, since he doesn't hold too tightly to any metaphysical convictions, he's happy to let me be guided where I will, orthodoxy be damned.

At the end of our chat, I was excited, too (and for the same reasons as he was). Leaving Christianity has, in fact, brought many newfound awarenesses about myself and the world, and has released a number of constraints on my thinking. Plus, in retrospect, I can see how the spiritual direction over the last year has helped plow the field, so to speak, so that this radical change could take place. In light of this, I now see how even atheists and agnostics can take on spirituality for themselves, especially those of us who want above all to understand more fully.


Anonymous said...

It must have been great to talk to someone about leaving christianity... I envy you. I wanted to quit something for Lent so I left christianity at age 16 or 17 (I'm 67 now). For the first few weeks after leaving I half expected a bolt of lighening to fly up my backside but that feeling vanished soon enough. One of the reasons I left christianity was I didn't want to be told what to think or believe by a priest. I applied this attitude of doing my own spirituality to carpentry, electrical work and plumbing as well. LOL I never did find anyone to talk to but while slowing me down a bit it actually strengthened me because it was up to me. I didn't impose my atheism on my children but let them sort it out for themselves. It's been an amazing experience and no regrets.
All the best with your blog and new found atheism.

MaryLynne said...

When I was shedding faith, one step was to talk to my pastor a few times, so he knew I was questioning/losing faith. It was a big step for me, but not that helpful. Shortly after, I got a call from the church asking if I would be the confirmation sponsor for a child from the parish (big deal for Catholics). I told the lady about my doubts, it was bumped back up to the priest who said it was fine for me to do it if I felt I could, use my conscience. I am doubting the existence of god much less the teachings of the Catholic church and I'm still a candidate to help with the religious formation of a youth? I was left wondering if everyone is faking it.


Evan Scott said...

I don't know that I can confidently say whether or not everyone, or even most people, are faking it. I do know that a lot more people have serious doubts about their faith than are willing to talk about it, but the church is nothing if not effective at keeping people from talking openly about their doubts or questions. Plus, most pastors/priests prefer to think that periods of doubt are just that: periods, not a move away from the church and its faith, and so many choose to ignore the problem until it goes away. The end result, then, is you have a lot of dutiful, generous people working and serving in churches, but who feel isolated by their serious doubts and troubling questions.

Still, I don't doubt that a number of folks walked away from the faith years ago, but haven't left the church.