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Spirituality v. religious piety

May 11, 2012

Spirituality v. religious piety
By Jackie O’Neal

Although I’ve written a book that encompasses spirituality, I was not always a spiritual person. I wrote my book Woman Priest in order to share aspects of my journey as a minister in the church, and commentary on world affairs, I believe the faith communities and individuals need to be aware of, in terms of helping alleviate some of the suffering in our world.

I say I was not spiritual ,in the sense that I tended lean towards being more religiously pious in my walk as a Christian. Traumatic events can cause event the most religious person to question faith, doctrine, and dogma. After my  son’s passing on Dec. 14, 2009 as a result of a tragic train accident, I felt drawn to define spirituality for my life as part of the process of being distraught.  Most of the dogma and doctrine most of us have been taught via our religious institutions, are simply man- made ideas having little to do with Christ‘s command: You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

In his book A Different Drum, author M. Scott Peck explains his concept of spirituality on Christ’s command.  Peck, at age 14, rejected organized religion, as he felt he was more intellectually advanced than his local preacher, who appeared to Peck to also be a fraud.

His book characterizes the stages of spiritual development. Stage I persons who lack empathy for others, Stage II tend to be legalistic and attached to dogma and doctrine, and resist change. Stage III is characterized  by strong individualism and skepticism. They  tend to be on a quest for truth. Stage IV embrace the mysteries of God and creation, feel drawn to the inter-connectedness of things.

All of us may recognize these types of individuals, we may have judged them or rejected them all together. Would it surprise you to know that an atheist, may actually be more spiritually advanced than the average church-goer? This is because, as Peck suggests, they tend to seek more individual truth for their lives, and tend to be skeptical while questioning doctrine and dogma. Peck notes they are in Stage III of spiritual development, while the church go-er is at Stage II. So in point of fact, the atheist is closer to Stage IV which is the beginning of spiritual enlightenment, according to Peck’s theory.

Another point Peck makes, is that the ministers and healers, spiritual teachers need to know the stage of spiritual development the people they serve are in, in order to be an effective leader. I can give you an example, of an author, I read about who during his childhood years in the 1940’s was a gifted clairvoyant. He often shared with his family news of things to come. He would often receive psychic infusion of what the future held, good and bad.  His mother, a devout Catholic took him to consult with an exorcist, a clergyman who advised the boy to keep his gift secret, and consider one of God’s burdens he needed to bear.

He listened to the exorcist  advice as he been taught never to argue with a priest. In hindsight, during his adult life, he came to understand the exorcist was essentially asking him to suppress an important part of himself which  needed to be expressed. His self- esteem was shattered and years later needed to undergo rigorous therapy to overcome depression and ensuing guilt that plagued him.

What is most important is that each of us are on our own individual spiritual journey, have the freedom to explore and even question the tenets of our faith without being labeled a heretic by others. Not to take this road of exploration will impede our spiritual growth, and the guilt imposed on us by others will do little to bring us to enlightenment.

Let’s keep in mind what author John Renard wrote: “Religion is often life affirming. It can also lull people into lethargy. Religion means being committed to a quest for answers that transcend appearances of things, but the quality of the quest has everything to do with the effort seekers are willing to invest.”

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