If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times: "I’m not very religious but I am a very spiritual person." I would guess this expresses the beliefs of millions of Americans, to varying degrees, especially those who under thirty-five. Real religion requires disciplines and doctrines (cf. James 1:27), congregations and pews/chairs with other people sitting next to us. Real religion means looking after widows and people in dire distress. And it means that we talk to people that we would not normally talk to and that we eat with people, for heaven’s sake, that we would not generally want to eat with either.
Spirituality without religion is the seeking of a special knowledge without commitment. Put simply it is a form of neo-gnosticism, of insight and knowledge without the messy business of having to work at things that are physical by nature. The ultimate gnostic goal is to be free from this vile material world and thus to be released from this fleshly body that inhibits our real spiritual growth. Who needs these politics, for that is what relationships are in the end, if you can reach God without the mess of dysfunctional people?
This is all so hip. But it is also very ancient. And it is anti-Christian and gnostic, the first discernible heresy that challenged the early Christian church. It rears its ugly head in the modern church on a regular basis but few of us realize it and even fewer of us are doing much about it.
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You know I’ve often remarked at how much the modern evangelical gospel resembles gnosticism. Let’s see:
1) Saved through knowledge.
2) Disdain for the physical body, especially sex.
3) Desire to escape this corrupt world to go to a more purely spiritual realm.
I could equally be describing both gnosticism and the brand of conservative evangelicalism that I was raised with.