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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

I'm Not Religious, I'm Just Spiritual

I'm Not Religious, I'm Just Spiritual

“It's not a religious film, it's a philosophical film. It uses themes and elements from various religions and spiritual beliefs. Stop simplifying things...”

“Look, I’m not religious, I just have my own spirituality.”

How many times have we heard, or perhaps even made, remarks like this? Better yet, what in blazes do these remarks mean? It seems that people throw around words like “philosophical”, “religious”, and “spiritual” without having more than a vague idea of what the words signify. As long as we are vague on the definition of the words we use, we cannot say precisely what we mean. So, in order to see how these terms fit together, we have to know their precise meanings.

Consider the first difficult word in the sentences above: religion. “Religion” comes from two Latin words “re” and “ligare”. That is, religion means “to bind back together.” But what are we binding back together? What got torn apart that needs binding? The next difficult word tells us.

The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek words “philos”, or love, and “sophia”, or wisdom. Thus, philosophy means “love of wisdom". A philosopher is someone who pursues wisdom for its own sake, for the love of wisdom. “Fine, fine,” I hear you say, “but what is wisdom? “

“Wisdom”, comes from the Old English roots “wis” and “dom”. This is key to everything, actually, because “wis” is Anglo-Saxon for “the way or mode of doing a thing” and “dom” means judgement.

If a king-dom is an area subject to the king’s judgement, then wis-dom is anything subject to the judgement of how a thing is to be done. So, let’s substitute this meaning back into the previous paragraphs. Philosophy is loving the judgement of how to do a thing. A philosopher is someone who pursues judgement on how a thing is to be done. Something is philosophical when it tells us how to judge the way of doing a thing.

Now we can see how religion relates to philosophy. If we do not know how to judge the way in which a thing is to be done, then we are in un-wisdom. We need something that will bind us back together with the right judgement of how a thing is done. Religion heals broken philosophies.

That explains two of the terms above, but what of the third: spirituality? “Spirit” comes from the Latin “spiritus”, which itself comes from “spirare”, that is, “to breath.” Spiritus means “breath, courage, vigor, life itself.” Life breathes. Spirituality is the very breath and vigor of life.

So, let’s look at the first two sentences again and decode them. When someone says that a movie, book, or article is philosophical, but not religious, they are saying that the way of living described in that movie, book or article is unbroken, perfect, not in need of healing. Similarly, when they say they have their own spirituality, that they are not religious, they are saying they have their own vigourous, unbroken life, a life that is not in need of healing.

Pardon me if I doubt that.

Truly philosophical minds always truly seek to attain right judgement about how to live life. In that sense, we are all truly philosophical. We want to know how to live our lives. We seek wisdom. We seek right judgement. There is only one source of right judgement, one wis-dom belonging to one king’s judgement, or one king-dom. That is where theology comes in.

“Theology” comes from the Greek words “theo”, or “God”, and “logos”, or “word”. Thus, theology simply means “talking about God”. This is made easier if we use God’s own words during the discussion. Scripture is pure theology, men talking about God using God’s words. The Scripture writers are the best theologians. Everyone else is an also-ran.

So, discussions about wis-dom, philosophy, necessarily lead to discussions about God, theology. Why is that? Consider: any contemplation of the world necessarily leads to the conclusion that the world is built in a certain way. The rules of the world must be followed if we don’t want anything to break.

Whoops. Too late.

Something is already broken. As the four-year old standing near the pool of water and the shattered vase says, “It was like that when I got here.” And you know what? For us, the world really was.

So, now we need to bind it back together. Philosophy naturally leads to religion, because there is no pursuit of right judgement that does not lead us to realize that we’ve lost quite a lot, though not all, of our right judgement. Our lives are broken. They have to be put back together. It is only after our lives are healed that we can fully live. Put another way, it is only through religion that we can come to spirituality, the full vigor and breath of life.

Philosophy (the pursuit of wis-dom) leads to theology (discussion of God).
Theology leads to religion (binding that which is broken).
Religion leads to wisdom (right judgement).
Wisdom is the only real spirituality (the breath of life).

Anyone who tells you different is selling something.
Don’t bite.

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