Spiritual Emergence Versus Religious Emergency
We hear a lot of people using the phrase “more spiritual than religious” these days, causing us to ponder what they really mean when they label themselves this way. It has been our experience that there really is a soul deepening difference between spiritual and religious — a difference we have termed spiritual emergence versus religious emergency.
Spiritual emergence is a gradual unfoldment of spiritual expression that causes a minimal ‘disturbance’ in our everyday functioning because we are somewhat prepared for it, given our disposition for the mystical. On the other hand, there are those who experience what we call religious emergencies, which can cause significant disruptions in their everyday living, because these folks are usually unprepared for mystical experiences since they consider themselves to be more religious than spiritual.
Emergent spiritual experiences like visions, deeply felt meditations, out-of-body experiences, apparitions and precognitive dreams are usually exhilarating and life-changing and can be very transformative — for those who have moved to a place of being more spiritual than religious. These same experiences, however, can also be deeply unsettling for people who fall in the category of being more religious than spiritual.
People who are more spiritual than religious seem to have less difficulty with these types of transcendental experiences. Why? Spiritually-inclined people are usually more open to mystical experiences. They feel more connected to the transcendentalness of life. They have a spiritual, not religious, mindset! Their openness to the non-material and ethereal dimensions of reality make them the perfect recipients for these life-affirming experiences.
Part of the challenge highly religious people face in transformative experiences is staying grounded after they experience these ‘higher octaves’ of reality. These ‘altered states of being’ are typically foreign, and even taboo, when it comes to handling their ingrained religiosity.
Because of their denominational inhibitions, mainstream religious people tend to be quite reluctant to integrate highly spiritual experiences into their religious practices. They may even feel they would be bedeviled by these experiences.
How to Use Transcendent Experiences
Great spiritual teachers and mystics alike assure us that these transcendent experiences are natural and healthy. They see these experiences as evidence of our evolving spirituality and enlightenment. They encourage us to willingly allow highly spiritual/mystical experiences to touch our lives and to use the memories of those experiences — and therefore the transformative value of those experiences — to flow into our everyday lives.
Living our lives based on embedded religious theology makes it difficult to allow spiritual and metaphysical teachings into our world view. What usually happens is the cognitive dissonance caused by the new mind-stretching ‘experiential information’ causes people to tighten their dogmatic reins so that any progress — and openness — to potentially transformative truths is shut down completely.
How This Affects Churches and Spiritual Communities
As a matter of fact, that’s the troublesome dynamic we see occurring in spiritual communities/New Thought churches/liberal churches today. If the leadership in those communities is stuck in embedded religious theology, it makes it very difficult for the membership that considers themselves to be more spiritual than religious to get a spiritual, not religious, message. It also makes it very difficult for the minister and music director to see eye-to-eye if the music director is hesitant to — or outright refuses to — change the song lyrics to complement the minister’s spiritually-oriented message. It’s an old story — you know, the one about pouring new wine into old wineskins!
On the other hand, if the leadership happens to be more spiritual than religious in a church setting (holding services in a church building characterized by stained glass windows and pews), the members who consider themselves to be more religious than spiritual demand a message and music that are more dogmatically religious than universally open and spiritual. The two factions behave like oil and water. And the ministers who serve those divided communities operate between a rock and a hard place because making both factions happy is impossible!
If you’ve ever been involved in, or are currently involved in, a spiritual/religious community comprised of a culture of religious-oriented and spiritually-oriented folks in the same sanctuary at the same time, you know it’s a recipe for conflict and division. Congregations tend to blame their difficulties on going from a family size to a pastoral size to a program size, etc. While there’s some truth to that perspective, the majority of the difficulty lies in the philosophical and religious differences between the spiritual and religious cultures who are at odds.