the religious, the spiritual and the christophers

during today’s Bible study (which was supposed to be over colossians 1:8-14, but also included 15-20 and a wide variety of other topics) the term “spirituality” came up.  to me this seems to be the new pet term for describing the fact that you’re something other than an atheist.  you might not know what the heck exactly you believe, but you believe somethin’, baby.

so i asked michaelangelo, n8 and bekah what they saw as the difference between the terms spirituality and religion.  basically the answer was that “religious” people are seen as hard-nosed, legalistic, frumpily-dressed types who adhere to a strict set of rules and never have any fun or say any cusswords.  they also drive buicks, vote republican and don’t dance.

okay, maybe i expanded on what they said just a little.  but i’m sure you’re thinking of “religious” people you’ve known who fit that description to a t.

“spiritual” people, on the other hand, are all about experiences and emotions.  they laugh, cry, yell or do whatever they have to in order to express themselves.  they wear dreadlocks, have multiple piercings, smoke cigarettes (or, gasp, hookah) and listen to rock music or weird african tribal stuff.  they ride bicycles because they’re hippies and can’t afford cars, or don’t want to pollute the environment; vote democrat or for ralph nader, or don’t vote at all, and have a happy stream of choice vocabulary words.

yes, i am intentionally exaggerating in order to get my point across.  the truth is, though, that both of these terms are loaded and no one really seems to know what they mean.  persons formally known as “religious” adopt the term “spirituality” to describe their faith because they don’t want the bad taste of “religion” (which does indeed require the little air scrunchy-fingered apostrophes) in the mouths of the people with whom they’re trying to share Christ’s love.  and the “religious” people who want to stay “religious” (heaven forbid they should ever understand the concept of grace through faith) think that anything with the term “spiritual” reeks of incense, pot and free love.  then they shield their children’s eyes.

am i being judgemental?  oh yeah, i totally am.  but i’m trying to explain the reasons why i don’t find either of these terms to be particularly my cup of tea.  i suppose it doesn’t really matter whether i like them or not, though, because someone is always going to consider me one or the other without first consulting me about it.

in the end, however, whatever we believe is not supposed to be self-centric, but Christ-centric.  and here comes the term i do happen to be quite fond of.


“that’s a term?” you say, a look of incredulity on your face (don’t try to wipe it off — i see it there).  “i thought that was a name.”

yeah, it is.  the same way that “christian” is also a name.  christian, as i’m sure you know if you’re up on your latinate endings, means “little Christ.”  as Christ’s followers, we’re supposed to be “little Christs” in the world.

christopher, while having a similar construction, means something slightly different.  it means “Christ-bearer.”  the catholic/anglican story is that a fellow actually carried the Christ child across the river on his back without knowing Who it was he was carrying, and that he became known as christopher after his adventure.  i don’t know whether that’s true or not, but my oxford names companion says that the name became popular in the early church since people were meant to bear Christ’s message to the world.

gandhi is supposed to have said that he would’ve believed in Christianity had it not been for the christians.  at bible study we also discussed how the term “christian” in itself has become ambiguous and no longer necessarily denotes someone who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who came to earth as a being fully God and fully man, took the sins of the world upon Himself, was crucified, buried and rose again three days later.  today, someone who calls himself a christian might mean that he went to church as a kid, was baptized or vaguely believes that there might be a God up there somewhere.

maybe we should save ourselves the trouble and just say we’re christophers.  i’d like to see the looks on people’s faces upon hearing that.

(note:  i consider myself and call myself a Christian.  i’m not seriously quibbling with the term; i’m just trying to point out that all names we name ourselves are equally corruptible no matter how much sense they make in the beginning.  and i’m trying to say that “religious” is usually a term associated with works-based belief, that doing enough good things earns you a place in heaven.  and that “spiritual” is associated with the very emotive, holy laughter and writhing on the floor crowd.  neither of these terms, of course, is associated with these stereotypes all of the time.  i’m just illustrating by use of extremes.)