“Are You Still Religious?” and Other Conversations I Hate

Chris —  September 17, 2010

I write this post from Flipnotics, which I think of more as my living room than a coffee house.  The rustic patio bar nestled in the hills of 78704 is a refuge for those trying to hold on to the hippie lifestyle, an office for freelancers and the hope of the open mic scene.

Recently, I ran into an old coffee friend here who asked me, “so, are you still religious?”

The other night I met a pastor’s prodigal son who has left behind his religion, but has embraced the teachings of Ken Wilber.  As we discussed the differences between the concepts of integral spirituality and the claims of Jesus Christ, another friend chimed in “I respect religion, you know, culturally.”

It’s hard to respond to these statements.  The more learn about Jesus, the more dangerous I see religion.  I don’t claim that I’m some “spiritual but not religious” type, who strike me as wanting to feel something without having to live in community, tradition or authority.  The “not religion but relationship” line sets up for  an individualism at the expense of the surrounding world.

These questions took Jesus three years to answer, and when he did, it got him killed. You can know God, traditions are helpful, personal practices are transformative, and community is necessary.  But that can be very different than religion: culturally bound, guilt inducing, creativity damping, and, most dangerously, a tool of the state.

Jesus spoke of a kingdom, demonstrated a deep love for others and cared for the poor.  He had a deep respect for the stories of the Hebrew tradition, but not the religion of his day.  His followers responded with a new way of living: a humble, communal lifestyle where you give everything away.

Joining the Kingdom, rejecting the trappings of your world, yet loving it deeply is fundamentally different than being religious. It’s also requires years of demonstration, something you can’t share over a beer.

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