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This essay concerns the relationship between Christian spirituality and religion.

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A set of beliefs and practices folowed by those committed to the service and worship of God. The first commandment requires us to believe in God, to worship and serve him, as the first duty of religion.

(From the Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church)
The Sermon on the Mount by Bloch

Spirituality Vs. Religion?

A friend wrote me, saying:

"In ethics we just got done discussing Kierkegaard's 3 stages: Aesthetic, Ethical, and Religious. Aesthetic is non-thinking, going on others' advice. Ethical is making thoughtful, rational ethical decisions. And third is where you accept Jesus and put faith in God to help you make decisions. My question is this: do you think that most Christians are in the religious stage or do you feel that many are more in the aesthetic stage? I see it as a fine line between "doing what the church says" (aesthetic) and "putting faith in God" (religious)."

I must admit that I have yet to study Kierkegaard. But I have heard other seminarians favorably mention his name, so I expect to look at him in the future. I think your question can be accurately and clearly rephrased in this way:

Do you think that most Christians are in the aesthetic stage ("doing what the church says without thinking") or in the religious stage ("putting faith in God to make decisions")?

Please forgive me if this seems like a cop out, but I don't think I can answer this question. Two things stand in my way. For one, I'm not that good at reading the hearts and minds of others. So why won't I answer with even a poorly educated guess? That brings us to the second obstacle.

As presented, the three stages contain a subtle leaning in viewpoint, resulting in a loaded question that I cannot answer. A loaded question is one which contains a false or disputed presupposition. For example, "Yes or no, have you stopped beating your wife?" To answer "Yes" means "I used to beat my wife." Answering "No" means "I'm still beating my wife." Similarly, by answering this question about Christians, I will either be disparaging the Church's role as teacher of the truth, or denying the importance of having a personal relationship with God.

The bias contained in the three stages is the popular opposition of Spirituality (Good) to Religion (Bad). To modern ears, Spirituality speaks of a personal, heartfelt relationship with God, while Religion consists of impersonal, mindless conformity to the group. This is a caricature of the word religion. Religion is simply the shape of one's faith as practiced in union with others. I suggest that Christ clearly intends for Christianity to have both Individual and Group components. Neither one is dispensable.

Jesus has built His Church and it will not fail, for he has built it on rock. (Matt 16:18, 7:24-25) His Church has visible leadership and assemblies, for equipping and uniting the faithful. (Acts 14:23, Eph 4:11-13) Some suggest that only the Bible is necessary for Christians, but the Bible itself does not teach "Bible alone". Instead the Bible presents us with the Church as "the pillar and foundation of truth". (1 Tim 3:15)

It is my hope that all Christians would follow both God and the Church together, because the Church is His and He desires it to be so.

Catholic Thoughts