by Dennis Prager
One of Dennis Prager's Ultimate Issues Hours, "Is Spirituality Enough?" made a profound impact on my understanding of the importance of organized religion. The ideas discussed here can also be applied to non-denominational Christian Churches that "go it their own way," and claim not to need any kind of hierarchy (e.g. bishops) to oversee them. I once belonged to several of these churches in my youth. This is an excellent talk that shows how to answer those who claim to be spiritual but have no use for organized religion, or those Christian Churches which operate independently of any higher ecclesiastical or juridictional leadership and/or reject Apostolic Succession. —Ed.
Dennis: This is the hour devoted to some great issue of life. The issue today is the magnificiently large difference between being spiritual and being religious. Whenever somebody tells me, "well, I'm not in any religion, I don't believe in any organized religion but I'm a very spiritual person, I am sure that the person is sincere and may very well be a wonderful person. That's a given but it's a meaningless statement to me. Meaningless, and by and large, there are exceptions, I think it is really more or less a narcissistic cop-out from the demands of being in a religion. I am spiritual, I don't care about organized religion but I'm a very spiritual person means that I do what I want, when I want, the way I want, I feel God, and have a nice day. Now if you're one of those who regards yourself as spiritual and not in an organized religion - not religious, and they are obviously not the same. That doesn't mean that religious people should not be spiritual - they should - but I'm arguing that spirituality without religion is highly suspect. If you're one of those who is spiritual but not religious give me a call, and explain yourself to me. You know I will treat you with great respect.
By and large, to me, when I hear that statement, "I am spiritual but I am not religious," or "I am not active in any organized religion," I don't even know what they are talking about. What does that mean? That you see God in trees? And I'm not being mocking at all, at all, but I want to know what does it mean? If you are spiritual without any religion what is your codebook? To whom are you accountable for your behavior towards fellow human beings? Where do you get your moral values from if you are spiritual but you are not involved in any religion? Where do all these things come from? So, it's a challenge to you, and you may persuade me that it's a good route, but I don't think it is.
So let's begin here with Jose, Jose in Sacramento California thank you for calling Jose, Dennis Prager.
Jose: Hi, how are you doing Dennis?
Dennis: Well, thank you.
Jose: Uh, yeah I was a Christian and I, you know, study the Bible. Uh, but you know through different congregations that I've been in - I was a Catholic before - uh just too many problems in the Churches, now I just kind of practice by myself -
Dennis: Wait, I'm sorry - practice what by yourself?
Jose: Just, you know, being a good Christian, or not really a Christian, not based off the religious part of it because that's where things get confusing - just establishing a relationship with God Himself.
Dennis: Okay now the God that you have established a relationship with is to be found where? If I wanted also to establish a relationship with this God, where would I look to learn about this God?
Jose: The Bible.
Dennis: Well, but the Bible has come to us through religious people.
Jose: It came to us through the Apostles who wrote the Scriptures and then it was tooken [sic] by you know the Catholics, the Romans, and then you know then they took some books, perverted some of the things. I believe women have a right to be out there preaching the gospel as well. I believe a lot of different things, um and that's all based on convictions and just you know things that God has shown me -
Dennis: Yeah, but how do you know that God has shown you anything? Do you - I'm not saying He hasn't but how do you know that?
Jose: The way I know is because one time I went to a non-denominational Christian Church in Hawaii Pearl Harbor, and that was the first time I had ever been to anything like that, I used to be Catholic like I said, and I was um, I had raised my hand to get saved, and I didn't know what I was getting into but then I got you know - they prayed over me and all of the sudden I started speaking in tongues and it was just like, like I knew that the words that were coming out of my mouth were straight, like from my inner -
Dennis: Yeah but you're not even part of one of those Churches anymore. It's really now - why would I be wrong in saying that your religion is Jose-ism?
Jose: Because it's not. I established a relationship with God -
Dennis: Yeah but nobody is monitoring that relationship. It's just what you think it is. There's no community, there's no text, there's nothing.
Jose: I fellowship with different people but I do not put myself in any congregation or anything or any church or any establishment because of the people, there's too much conflict within - I don't know
Dennis: Yeah but you -- so hear me out Jose and thank you for your honesty and openness.
Dennis: Jose in my opinion has taken the easy way out. Every one of us involved in an organized religion knows religion's limitations. It's filled with human beings so immediately there is going to be conflict and politics, in every church and in every synagogue that is inevitable. Because we are human beings that is inevitable. The pastor will be flawed, the priest will be flawed, the rabbi will be flawed. That is another part of it. But at least you have before you a community of people that can monitor one another that you have to work off. It's like saying, I want to be alone, I don't want a family because every family has conflict. Every family has conflict, so why have a family? If the issue is there is conflict, hypocrisy, conflict, all these other things, then don't have a family.
I'm arguing here for organized religion as opposed to just spirituality. Without a mediating group to monitor your "relationship with God," how do you know that it isn't just a relationship with yourself? And you've just thrown in the word God? Now I'm not saying you know it even if you have a community. A community could be deluded too. I acknowledge that. There's no perfect answer.
Also, my other reaction to what Jose said was he has taken the texts of organized religion and then thrown away the religion. These texts didn't come to us through disembodied or non-organized religion people. The Old Testament came from the Jews; the New Testament came from the followers of Jesus, Paul, the Apostles. These people were all in an organized group. Jews were Jews, and the followers of Christ were Christians. Many of them were Jews, in fact most of them were Jews. But whatever they were, they were in an organized community, they didn't call themselves spiritual without a community.
So you've taken the text of organized religions, you've taken the God of organized religions, and decided that you don't need the religions that gave you that God. But now why do you accept that God? You accept the God of an organized religion but the organized religion is now - all of the sudden it's wrong.
Listen to the entire hour here.