Someone I’ve known for years, someone with lots of “baggage”, shared that he didn’t go to church because of personal experience with sexual abuse as a child. He was uncomfortable talking with others about it, even when he was emotionally struggling and people would ask him what was wrong. Sexual abuse is a horrible thing. It is demeaning, destructive, and depraved. I am thankful that there can be the possibility of healing, help, and hope on the other side of it.
Interestingly, this same friend shared (in his own way) some deep thoughts:
When people use words like “‘spiritual”, “spirit”, or “soul” I often have to ask them to clarify what they mean by those terms, as many people’s understandings come in stark contrast with each other. Unless you’re speaking with someone who understands the context in which you’re using those terms I find them pretty useless in most conversations. I mean, I’ve had this conversation with people. I’m trying to get a job where the boss has a degree in Divinity. This and other conversations are sure to pop up around the campfire. No, I don’t start any trouble in these conversations. I cook food, not save souls.”
This led to a lengthy apologetics thread in his comments section, beginning with someone who wrote:
I tend to interpret the phrase “spiritual but not religious” as being an acceptance of esoteric beliefs and a rejection of dogma. Probably not accurate in all cases, but a broad enough brush for most cases. Getting all hung up on things, while still never knowing exactly where someone stands is kind of annoying, however. But that’s par for the course on social media.
This is when I jumped in:
How dogmatic are they in their rejection of dogma, I wonder? This is not unique to the word “spiritual”. The only way to accurately understand the meaning of any word is to recognize the context in which it is used. Linguistic shorthand is helpfully efficient once the participants have clarified the definitions of their key terms. Often there are cultural expectations that lead one person to assume that another person will know what they mean. Most of the time this is true. Sometimes it is not. Let’s take the word “dogma”, or even the phrase “I reject dogma”, for example. Who’s dogma? Dogma in what sense? Is rejecting dogma even possible, and if so, could one make such a claim without it being a self-defeating statement? After all, dogma is essentially a philosophical tenet that one thinks is true and good. If a person philosophically holds that their rejection of dogma is true and good, isn’t this (ironically) dogma in action? So, you see, this is why something like Twitter is the enemy. A couple hundred characters just doesn’t suffice.
Yep. People who belong to the same church together likely wouldn’t need to explain to each other what they mean by “spirit”. However, I was trying to make reference toward the average person who might, for example, upon being asked if they’re religious, answer by saying, “I’m spiritual, not religious”. If I don’t know you well enough to presume your religious beliefs, why are you presuming that I will define “spiritual” the same way that you do? Myself, I don’t generally make that presumption, as I don’t have any personal supernatural beliefs in which to shape those terms.
I think we generally agree. I’m simply hoping to help ease your annoyance. I, too, get annoyed sometimes. It can be frustrating when the people saying that they are “spiritual but not religious” have no idea what they mean by their own words. Too often, it’s intended to be a cop out non-answer. Just like, “I’m cautiously optimistic.” Or, “Let’s take a wait and see approach.” Or, “It’s not you, it’s me.” There are times when such phrases are completely acceptable, but just as often they are hedge statements used to avoid getting into a deeper more meaningful (and honest) dialog. By the way, I’m not sure what having no “personal supernatural beliefs” means. Does it mean you reject the existence of the supernatural? Or perhaps it means that you don’t believe the supernatural is knowable? Or perhaps it’s a way of saying you don’t hold to any of the existing specific views about things that are outside of the natural. In any case, all of these positions would be beliefs about the supernatural. In other words, to the question, “What is your personal belief about the supernatural?”, your answer would be: 1) It does not exist. 2) It is unknowable. 3) It might be knowable, but no one has gotten it right yet. Food for thought.
Your assumptions are mostly correct, although I would probably rather say that I reject the *claims* of the existence of the supernatural. The claims have failed to meet the burden of proof rather than myself failing to accept them. My answer would be that there’s no credible evidence that anything supernatural has been proven to exist (or not), hence I have no basis to form such a belief, and whether or not it is knowable has also yet to be established, and isn’t very important until it is.
Fair enough. You believe there is no supernatural and your reason for believing this is that the supernatural hasn’t been proven to exist to your satisfaction. In fairness, I should probably add a “full disclosure” statement so that I reveal as much of my view as you have yours. I am persuaded that there is a supernatural realm, and that within it there is a personal God Who interacts with the natural world. So, I’d probably be someone who would say I’m both “spiritual” and “religious”. Putting a finer point on it, I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and desire all to recognize their need for Him as the solution to the guilt problem – a problem that each of us has.
Some have told me that my comments are merely subjective remarks. Not really. It just has to pass the scientific method as far as I’m concerned. As long as it’s observable, repeatable, testable, and falsifiable then it wouldn’t require relying on faith or personal experience to accept it.
Ironically, it’s also a matter of faith to believe that truth can only be ascertained by scientific method. Additionally, a method designed to ONLY examine natural phenomenon will ALWAYS ignore supernatural phenomenon. It could be suggested that to search for truth in this manner is to search for truth with one hand tied behind one’s back.
Woah… where did you get the impression that I said that the scientific method is the *only* method of ascertaining truth? I will contend that it is currently the *best* method that we have, and it requires no “faith’ to understand why. Claims of the supernatural are just that, claims. None to my knowledge have been demonstrated to any point where natural explanations fail, and until they are I am unable to form beliefs based on faith.
I’m not intending to misrepresent your view; I apologize if I have. When you write, “It just has to pass the scientific method” and follow it up with “as long as it’s observable, repeatable, testable” it appears that you are saying you will only accept scientific knowledge as valid knowledge. If scientific method is what’s best, I’m curious as to what you would defend as being second best.
Actually what I *did* follow up that statement with was “..as far as I’m concerned”. So, I’m not sure why that statement would imply to you that I meant *only*, but rather it was meant as an endorsement that the scientific method is the *best* (not necessarily only) method currently of understanding that we have. Of course, there are certainly other ways outside of the scientific method to discover knowledge, and there are also claims that don’t necessarily merit that much scrutiny, but if we’re going to posit something to the extent of whether or not a supernatural event or entity occurred or existed then whether it’s observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable *should* matter greatly – especially if it happens to be competing with natural explanations. Suffice to say that anything that does exist within and/or affects or natural world should easily stand up to the scrutiny of the scientific method, regardless of whether another methodology was used to examine/discover/determine it.
Again, we seem to be misunderstanding one another, and I apologize. When you wrote, “as far as I’m concerned”, I took that to mean “it is my opinion” or “as I view the world”. Do you believe that the universe/nature came into existence? Or do you believe that it has always existed? Or do you possibly believe that it does not exist? Regardless of your answer, are you able to defend your answer using observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable evidence? My point isn’t to discount scientific method, but rather to point out its restrictions. It can be very good at what it does (study and explain the natural). It cannot be very good at what it cannot -by definition- do (study and explain the supernatural). It sounds to me as though your argument is sort of like saying, “I refuse to believe that darkness exists”, then adding, “but I would believe in darkness, if it could be proven to exist under the scrutiny of a spotlight.”
I’m admittedly not well versed enough in cosmological science to properly defend what I generally accept about the origins of our universe. On a layman’s level I do see this as a flaw in most historical sciences, but the great thing about science is that as our knowledge increases and new evidence is discovered, our understanding also grows and science adapts and adjusts its views accordingly. How the universe came into existence may not currently be fully understood and may never be, although there are very strong theories, I don’t believe that we have the full picture. However, I don’t find the lack of full understanding about a subject to be reason for allowing supernatural claims to stand on the same merit with natural explanations. Supernatural claims carry an additional burden of proof because the supernatural itself cannot be verified or ascertained, much less its claims as being a cause behind the creation of the universe, for example. In order for me to accept a creator god as an acceptable explanation for the origin of the universe, the claim that gods exist (or existed) would need to addressed first. The problem with your statement is that claims concerning the supernatural can’t be studied or explained if they’re not observable, measurable, repeatable, or falsifiable. Essentially that there even exists anything outside of the natural world needs to be demonstrated before we can speculate as to what affect it has on the natural world. Also, darkness is observable and measurable (even without a spotlight) whereas the supernatural is not.
Of course, darkness is observable and measurable, it is in nature and can be examined by other things in nature. It was an analogy. Any analogy that doesn’t use something from nature would have to be supernatural, and hence would no longer be an analogy. For fun, here are a couple of comments from others about scientific proof. “Can you prove something happened just because you remember seeing it? You could be living some sort of complex dream, you could have had your memories altered or been hypnotized, your eyes could have been tricking you… the possibilities are endless. When it comes down to it, you could claim that nothing can be proven.” Here’s another: “You cannot prove where the end of the universe is. You cannot prove to ME that God exists (or does not exist). You cannot prove a single truth as a truth. You cannot prove your reality to me so I can validate it. You cannot prove to me what is in your head. You cannot prove what NOTHING is.” As I wrap up my thoughts in this thread, let me add one last thing for pondering. Thermodynamics, electromagnetism, the strong force, the weak force, and gravity are all believed to have been around since the very beginning of the universe and are, in fact, considered to be the very foundation of the natural universe. Yet science alone cannot explain them. Go figure.
As for your final thoughts, I’m not sure exactly what you think isn’t explainable, but certainly what knowledge we do have we achieved through science, not through the supernatural. Supernatural explanations that we cannot observe, test, or measure suffer a flaw that they’re virtually indistinguishable from hoaxes and myths. If we accept claims without being able to actually observe, test, or measure them in some form, then what metric do we apply to discern which supernatural entities/forces/beings/etc. are real and which are hoaxes, folklore, or superstition outside of popular acceptance or rejection?
Thank you for the give-and-take. I have appreciated our exchange. If you’re interested in gleaning more about the way people like me attempt look at things, please let me know and I will commend to you the work of some excellent philosophers and theologians. They have much to say on these sorts of topics. I hope to connect with you again one day soon.
Let’s wrap up with some humor. My friend asked, “I’m settling a marital disagreement: are Bert and Ernie Muppets?” I responded, “I dunno. Do they identify as Muppets? (pause) And now THE most serious answer… tell your husband that Bert and Ernie are whatever you, the wife, want them to be. Even if you’re wrong… happy wife, happy life!”
[To help the curious sleep better at night, here’s the actual answer. Originally all of Henson’s characters were considered Muppets. However, legally speaking, “The Muppets” now only refers to The Muppet Show characters owned by Disney (since 2004). Sesame Workshop has permission to use the term to refer to Sesame Street characters. Also of note, The Fraggle Rock characters (still owned by the Henson company) were also Muppets to start with, but are no longer referred to as such.]
Feeling Humbled and blessed by His grace,
Pastor Troy Skinner