As a social scientist, I understand the role of ritual in organizing our lives, giving us a sense of control, and grounding us in space and time. Functional people have rituals whether they know it or not. We have a quick look in the mirror to make certain our breakfast is not caught in our teeth. We make a mental inventory of our house before we go out the door to be certain we haven’t left anything on that will catch fire. Busy people keep their Daytimer with each appointment written carefully in exactly the right spot. We save things we might need later. We blindly dump various supplements on our gardens whether they need them or not. These rituals vary in effectiveness as practical getting-through-life aides.
Much of what passes for religious symbolism may be practical getting through life rituals also. My Christmas tree is up, bless its brightly-lit little heart on this dark and rainy day. Many of our Christmas/Winter Holiday rituals are about light. Some of us blatantly admit that we are starved for light this time of year and welcome any light. Others like to think about something beyond themselves when they look at lights.
Those who wish to think of something greater than themselves are beginning to reach into the realm of spirituality. They have recognized the point where religion as the practice of rituals meets spirituality the practice of sharing community with something outside oneself.
Religion and spirituality are intertwined but not the same. A worship service with appropriate music, lighting and decorations may connect the worshiper with what we call our spirituality. We confess that a walk in the woods or along the beach or through a field teaming with life also connects us to our spiritual side. Some of my most profound spiritual experiences have come while weeding the garden.
While I talk about having a spiritual side and spirituality, I suspect that many people never form connections with the energy outside of themselves, so from their perspective spirituality doesn’t exist. I don’t say that an absence of spiritual experiences is right or wrong. It is just a fact of life for some people. I do believe that the religious community needs to accept the fact that we are all different and leave the non-spiritual people in peace without any judgment or condemnation.
Still, we see many non-spiritual people who participate in religious activities, even claiming membership in religious groups. If they are happy, this is good. I do think these are the people who try to follow rules rather than letting the spirit guide them. This causes trouble for the rest of us.
Frankly, I rather like those who have never had any spiritual experiences who then conclude that the realm of spirituality doesn’t exist and religion is based on false teaching. They are less troublesome than those who want to claim religion without any intimate spiritual experience.
When I feel evil, I do like to point out that atheism is a religion. It embraces a theory about a deity and has various levels of practice beginning with what in the church we call C & E believers, those who practice their religion on Christmas and Easter. Some atheists only mention or think about a lack of Gods around religious holidays. Others think about a Godless Creation on a fairly regular basis. And, we have the fervent evangelical atheists who must promote their belief on social media daily.
My preference is for honesty and tolerance. Let those who find connection with energy outside themselves call that experience what they will and practice rituals around the experience as they will. Spirituality is their reality. They should not be forced to hide it to please someone else’s preference.
Let those who seldom or have never connected to anything they cannot see live their lives as they wish without forcing their understanding about how to express their experience onto others.
In the end, accepting others as they are and loving them whatever their experience will make for a more peaceful world.