Friday, April 9, 2010

Spirituality vs. Religiosity

Although I am a heretic (and maybe even an unofficial apostate) when it comes to the church, I still consider myself a spiritually-minded person. I think my sense of spirituality and my perspective regarding my place in the universe have become deeper due to grappling with my disaffection. I may not share my ancestors' beliefs, but I appreciate their devotion to what they saw was the best way to live a good life and do right by their fellow human beings. Their focus was observance of religion. Mine is a search for spiritual meaning.

Spirituality and religiosity overlap for most people. But they are distinct. The dictionary is only a starting point, but here are a couple of definitions as food for thought:
Religiosity: excessively, obtrusively, or sentimentally religious

Spirituality: sensitivity or attachment to sacred matters and things affecting the spirit
How have devotion to religion and/or exploration of the meaning of spirituality in your life affected you?

I used to accept LDS religious doctrines as absolutes, believing that questioning was an act of ungrateful defiance. When something challenged my understanding, I tried to reconcile the best I could. I was a devoted religious person, an embodiment of religiosity. Eventually, there were just too many contradictory or non-sensical ideas to reconcile. Now I embrace my defiance. I'm generally a nice guy, I think, but I don't just accept things as given anymore. Questioning and Mormonism don't mix very well.

This hasn't been just an intellectual exercise. This is about the core of who I am and how I experience life. It is also about thoughtful observation of the lives and experiences of others who I know to be good people trying to do the best they can in the world. I am happy for anyone who finds a religion, philosophy, way of life or perspective on human existence that works for them. That includes people who find that Mormonism works for them.

Mormonism in its current state just doesn't work for me anymore. That saddens me. But I can't wallow in sadness either. A few generous people have tried to help me find a place at the table with the saints. I appreciate their efforts, but it feels like I'm being sponsored as a guest in my own community. Conforming to the narrow definition of "Mormon" that seems to prevail in the church simply isn't something I value or wish to do. Even if I were to be accepted, I would be pitied for for not be "in harmony" enough with the church to gain eternal life. This wrong-headed kind of pity has always frustrated me since according to LDS doctrine (not policy or practice), it is God alone, not men (yes, only men) in the church, who will judge us for how we lived our life. Because of who I am and what I believe and don't believe, I am not fully part of the church. I'm not really big on the whole second-class membership thing.

I can't remake the church in my image. I have no standing or right to do so. I have no power to single-handedly reshape Mormon culture. But I can live a life with meaning and just as much legitimacy as the most devout religious person. And I hope to have some small influence in the world--Mormondom included--with my one voice. As Margaret Mead said so well, "A small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that has."

I've tried for most of my life being inside the church. It's too agonizing to keep working for change on the inside, so I'm a self-designated outsider for the most part. And as painful as that feels sometimes, letting go of the fear, self-loathing and obsession with perfection is a far better alternative. If the cost of being spiritual and true to myself is being a religious outsider, I think that's a good (and emotionally healthy) trade-off.


  1. Hey Pablo. I have just found and finished reading through your entire blog and am speechless at how much of it I could have written myself. I even met and had lunch with Steve Benson once when we lived in Arizona. And I see from your Followers list that we have a couple of mutual friends.

    My blog is at if you would care to have a look. And if it's okay with you, I'd love to correspond directly and talk about experiences and insights and how each of us have gotten to where we are.

  2. I left the church a few years ago and I really appreciate your post. Not many people understand the huge difference between being religious and being spiritual. I've come to the conclusion that just like physical and psychological health, spiritual health is equally important because it reflects our most intimate intents that derive from our souls. I have been compiling a list of all the things that are important to have inorder to maintain good spiritual health:

    Appreciation of nature
    Value of life
    Recognize individuality/self worth

    I stumbled upon your blog while researching this topic. It's always nice to be reminded that I'm not the only one who has felt the repercussions of leaving the church. Thanks.

  3. Thank you Mike. I appreciate your comments and kind words. We're all too familiar with the "You can leave the church, but you can't leave it alone" nonsense. But there is a bit of awkwardly-stated truth in it, just not the meaning that is usually intended by those who use that phrase with disdain. Anyone connected with the church for a significant period of time--whether born into a multigenerational Mormon family or a person who joins the church later--has some aspect of Mormonism in them for life. How we process what that means for us, in a way that is healthy for our souls, makes all the difference. For me, blogging and two message boards in particular have helped. And reaching out in those ways has put me in touch with so many good people. Hope to read future comments from you.