Here's a weird story to start things off. Hal Johnson has a blog and makes comments here regularly. He's a guy I only know online, so our friendship is 100% virtual, in a sense. Yet I've been able to meet some of my internet friends in real life and it's always a seamless transition, so at the same time I realize that my friendship with Hal is 100% real, even if we've never shaken hands or eaten a meal together.
Anyway, on Hal's site is a section called "Frequent Landing Sites", a set of links to other blogs he enjoys. He was kind enough to add mine to his list and for a long time it read "Megaloi -- a religious Houston dad with an open mind." At some point he changed the word "religious" to "spiritual". Now his blogroll continues to grow so he's run out of room for descriptions altogether.
I was thinking about the change from "religious" to "spiritual" the other day (Hal and I never talked about it) and clicked on another link in his list. It took me to a lady's blog, and her post that day was about the difference between religion and spirituality. Whoa. Gave me the booboojeebies. So I figured I should write about it.
The word "religion" doesn't show up much in most English translations of the bible. One of its appearances is in the book of Acts, when Paul is in Athens trying to introduce the tenets of Christianity to a population who embraced the philosophy of Plato and created idols to many diverse gods. He stood up in the midst of a council and said, "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious!" (Acts 17:22).
He goes on to give a very sophisticated, eloquent speech to a group of highly intellectual people. Underneath it all is the gentle reproach that while these people were great thinkers, they'd missed the true path of spiritual fulfillment. A man named Jesus had shown the way but this group of philosophers were too busy debating existentialism to notice. It's a pretty cool speech.
The Greek word that is translated to "very religious" is "deisidaimonesterous". It's a big word, big enough to have three root words buried inside it:
1) Deido -- to fear or show reverence to
2) Daimon -- deities or bad spirits
3) Stereos -- firmly
In other words, Paul was saying that these guys "dread demons". Yikes! I mean, most sane people probably dread demons, but hopefully that isn't the primary motivating factor in our lives. The Athenians were so worred about it that Paul noted their "idol to an unknown God". You know, just to cover their bases and make sure no gods were missed. They feared retribution from any god not served correctly.
I wonder if most Christians are really any different than the Athenians in that regard. One of the saddest stories I've ever heard was about my own great aunt. She passed away several years ago after a lifetime of serving others and serving God. She taught hundreds of students in the World Bible School program, gave food to the hungry, etc...
Yet on her deathbed, she mentioned that she "hoped she'd done enough" to get to heaven. I am simply heartbroken that this crossed her mind at a time like that. I've heard countless sermons about how Christians can rest assured of our salvation and trust in God, yet those are usually followed with warnings about how easy it is to slip away into sin and be removed from the grace of God. No wonder people are afraid! And for a sweet, sweet family member to be in fear as her life ebbed away... tragic.
If fearing God is what it means to be religious, then no, I don't qualify. I am certainly spiritual, but maybe not religious, so perhaps Hal was right to change his description of me. Yes, I know that Proverbs says that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge", but I've also learned that fear is not an effective motivator for a healthy, generous life. At least not for me.
The word for "spirit" in the bible is usually "pneuma" in Greek. Pneuma can also mean breath or wind. I like that. So maybe a spiritual person is like someone who notices the wind, an invisible force that is always working and always impacting the world around us. You can't see it, but you can see the effects of it.
That's more my style.