When it comes to spirituality, which is best: the communal or the individual?

Today’s question comes from Stevie.  She writes: “You spoke in your sermon [this week] about dwindling [identification with religious traditions] in the past few years. Influenced by my strong belief in separation of church and state, I truly believe that the introduction of Religion into the government during the 80s caused a big divide in this country.  So I was thinking.  Did this do damage to society, or was it good that people started exploring their own spirituality and discovered that there were more paths than those they had been taught?  What do you think about this, Pastor Craig?”

For those who didn’t hear my sermon last Sunday, in it I referenced an article in the June 7 edition of the Los Angeles Times called “Faith?  There’s an App for That” written by Stephen Asma.  In the article, the author discussed Millennials move away from communal forms of religion toward largely individualist expressions of spirituality.  The author – a professor of Philosophy, not Theology – bemoaned that shift.

This gets to the crux of Stevie’s question: is the shift from communal religious expression to individual explorations of spirituality good or bad?

My answer to that question is, “It’s more complicated than an either/or approach – communal OR individual.”

As a person who has a STRONG commitment to nurturing my personal relationship with (or connection to) God, I think it is critically important for people to first develop and then engage in their own spiritual practices.

But is that enough?

For myself, the answer is, “No.”

While individual spiritual practices are important, it can be dangerous to think the totality of God can be captured solely in one individual’s spiritual awareness or practice.

That’s where one’s participation in religious tradition can be helpful.  Participating in a religious tradition brings the individual into contact/conversation with the recorded spiritual experiences and practices of those who have lived for thousands of years.  Those contacts/conversations can inspire and challenge us to think about things we would otherwise NEVER consider on our own.  A religious tradition – when engaged in a healthy way – can expand and inform our concept of the Divine, and ourselves.

So my answer to Stevie’s questions would be, “A BALANCE between the communal and individuals is healthiest for me.”

So what does Stevie’s question raise for you?  I’d love to invite you into the conversation!

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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1 Response to When it comes to spirituality, which is best: the communal or the individual?

  1. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    This is one of the problems atheists have, because for a long time atheists defined that identity as being antithetical to communal spiritual practice of any kind, and many still do. But it’s become clear to me and many others that rejecting both community and spirituality can leave us isolated and too much in the logical, abstract parts of our heads. Many of us miss the community support organized religions have, and also the sense of belonging to a holistic tradition that cares about the physical and emotional well-being of self and others as much as it does about thinking and debating.

    I hope we can one day build an atheist community and tradition that is as supportive and enduring as what churches like Craig’s have, so we too can balance communal and individual practices.

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