How many times have you heard a person say, “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual”? I have said it myself to forestall questions about religious practices such as church going or public Bible study.
Questions in General
To be different, I had considered calling this post “I’m not spiritual, I’m religious,” but as I thought it through, I began to wonder what either or both entailed. If one is spiritual but not religious does it mean she is unconcerned with ritual and the trappings of organized religion? Does she focus solely on the feeling and experiential part of what? Religion? Is that not then being sort of religious? And is the opposite true of the person who claims to be religious but not spiritual?
I throw my hands up in despair of settling the question. What I can say is that I’m curious. I have always been curious from the time I attended a little Methodist church in my tiny home “town” in West Virginia.
I remember being twelve and laying out a kid-sized argument for our minister. I began with Genesis 1:1 and ended with the clincher, “Where did God come from?”
I don’t remember his answer, but I know it did not satisfy my curiosity. I had fully expected him to tell me. After all, wasn’t he on friendly terms with God?
The congregation was a strange mix that included people from other denominations. For some it was handy because there was no set gathering place associated with their church; others were disaffected members of other religions. We had Baptist, Church of Christ, Church of God and even some life-long Methodists.
Often an older woman would attend the mid-week service. The first time I saw her, I really heard her first. The congregation was singing a lively song when from the back of the room there came strange sounds in a woman’s strong voice. I sneaked a peak, and there she was hands raised, eyes closed and unfamiliar words streaming from her mouth.
So that was speaking in tongues! It certainly wasn’t English. She had aroused my curiosity. I admit it doesn’t take much to do that. I wondered what could cause that reaction from her. I never found out. I didn’t have the courage to ask her. The practice remains a phenomenon that I chose not to pursue. I had enough questions of my own.
Aren’t You Curious?
When I learned that there were books which had been either removed or left out of the Bible, especially the New Testament, my curiosity was piqued. I wanted to know why. I wanted to see for myself what they had to say. I mentioned to my Sunday school teacher that wouldn’t it be neat to read them.
She didn’t think so. If they weren’t part of her King James Version, she thought we shouldn’t have any part of them. They were probably heretical. I would engage her in discussions with my questions, but she told me that I should not question the “ways of the Lord.”
After growing up and leaving that small community, I became involved in an even more conservative church. They said they had the truth. Finally, I would get some satisfying answers. They were good people that I still respect but being in their association raised even more questions about some of their practices that didn’t quite make complete sense to me.
Permission to Question
Finally, I met a teacher who opened my mind and taught me to give myself permission to question, to think. He introduced me to books by scholars who had studied some of the same questions that I had been asking. I had always enjoyed studying all kinds of religions but especially the history of Christianity. I became curious about the first century social conditions that allowed a small Jewish sect to grow and become the church of today. Does it have common cause with other religions?
So where am I today? More curious than ever and about subjects that I had not dreamed of before. It is all a puzzle to solve and it comes down to solving my own puzzles before trying to solve another’s.
I am still curious, still questioning, but I have learned some questions are not worth asking such as one I asked many years ago, “Is there real fire in hell?” I have also learned to enjoy the questions even when there is not a satisfying answer at hand.
Oh, yes, where did God come from?