The most striking feature of the current religious scene is the turn away from organised religion and towards ‘spirituality’.
Many people seem to see religion and spirituality as alternatives, pitted against each other. Historically this is very strange, as almost all spirituality has roots in a religious tradition (especially if you include Buddhism). What is new, however, is the widespread interest in pursuing spirituality outside religion.
People have strong views about this. Many people in traditional religion deplore it and see it as a kind of degenerate form of religion. Some of those engaged in free-standing spirituality are equally hostile to organised religion.
However, this mutual antipathy is not universal and, in my view, is unnecessary. Many of those whose primary interest is in spirituality would like to find a spiritually-focused form of religion, and would be happy to be part of it. Equallly, some of those involved in organised religion, like myself, welcome this upsurge of free-standing spirituality and see it as a working-out of God’s purposes.
There are passages in the Gospels that suggest that Jesus would have welcomed it, particularly when he is in conversation with a woman he meets at a well in Samaria. They touch on the long-standing religious dispute between Jews and Samaritans about which is the holy mountain, and where God ought to be worshipped.
Jesus refuses to take part in this dispute, and looks forward to the time when it will be obsolete. He says, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem;… a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth…’. It seems to me that the free-flowing spirituality of our time is a fulfilment of what Jesus longed to see.
Though I welcome this new spirituality, I would rather that it rejuvenated religion than replaced it. There is much of value and beauty in traditional religion, if only it can get its priorities and focus right. There are huge resources locked up in religion that could be harnessed to support a renewal of spirituality in our society. A marriage between the two could be a marriage made I heaven.