An Inside Job

I grew up in a devout Christian family. 

My parents held firm views on most things, especially when it came to religion. They believed there were two types of people in the world; believers and non-believers. Most of the families on our block regularly attended church. We didn’t associate with those who didn’t. 

The United States has become a far more secular society in the years since my childhood. 

In a 2017 survey of religious beliefs and practices, The Pew Foundation found:

39% of survey participants were devoutly religious like my parents.

32% of survey participants fell broadly under the category “Spiritual, not religious.” 

The remaining 29% rejected belief in a higher power and said religion does more harm than good.  

Religious belief is of course a personal matter, but I’m troubled by the Pew survey.

I believe that a life well-lived requires the balancing of Body, Mind, and Spirit. If 29% of the population reject religion and spirituality altogether, I wonder how they nurture Spirit in their lives?

My religious education described God as an omnipotent being who is “out there” watching over us. I never resonated with that. For me, Spirit is an “inside job,” something directly experienced, rather than knowledge or a belief. 

As I reflect on the Pew survey results, I fear that modernity has come with a hidden price tag. The Enlightenment shifted humankind’s attention away from subjective interior experience to external objective knowledge. Previously, religion held authority over science. Now the tables are turned. If something can’t be objectively observed and measured, it isn’t real. This effectively subordinates inner experience.

Scientific materialism relies on reductionist tools to explain existence. The fundamental premise is  wholes are understood by examining their parts. I am confident this will be considered myopic in the future. I am no scientist, but the closer I look, the more inter-connectivity I see. Everything in nature is a whole nested within a larger whole; the sum being greater than the parts.

External reality is objectively measureable from atoms to universe. The inside is different, being composed of relationships and love. Wholeness requires the development of both the outside and the inside. Divisiveness and violence arise when we conflate the two.

Spirit is an inside job.

I fear it’s gone missing in our objectively rational world.

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3 Replies to “An Inside Job”

  1. Tim—-You are tackling a very tough and personal part of our human existence —– I was brought up similarly to what you said about yourself…..and now I would say I am more spiritual than religious as I no longer go to church every week—-BUT I feel very strongly that our World cannot be fully explained by just science and that there exists that inner spirit you have been talking to us about —not just in us as humans but in everything that exists in this wonderful Universe of ours. I just got back from spending two weeks in Grand Marais MN gazing out at and across Lake Superior at all different times of day and in all kinds of wind and weather—– and there is no one alive that could convince me that Lake Superior is not alive with a spirit of its own and that it does not influence the inner spirit that i have when I spend time watching and at times even talking to it !!! SPIRIT IS AN INSIDE JOB….

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  2. I too am troubled by the Pew survey, not so much by the 29% non-believers but by the 39% ‘devoutly religious’. I wonder how many of those are so wound up in the religious construct that they never look ‘inside’ either.

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