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Apr  2011 26
Spiritual but Not Religious

Spiritual but not religious. I’ve heard that descriptor for years. If that is the way persons wants to describe themselves, okay. But I wonder how many so-described persons actually practice any kind of spiritual exercises without benefit of institutions, those places where the religious gather. As a person who has been closely associated with institutions over the course of my life, and serving as president of one now, I confess I am skeptical about how spiritual someone can be apart from all institutions.  

Institutions are human-created entities that carry values across lifetimes. If we want particular values to endure generation to generation, to survive after we die, we support institutions. Marriage is an institution. BP is an institution. First Church of _________ is an institution. Each institution transmits values across generations.  

Today, we wax romantic about movements. We attribute spirit to “movements” and numbness to “institutions.” Understandable. Institutions have disappointed us, have become misshapen, need to change or seek a dignified death. Granted. Movements arise both to call “fallen” institutions back to their founding values and to press institutions to change. But a movement needs to become institutionalized or it will die with its generation.  

Great spiritual practices have survived for millennia because of institutions and their agents. The spiritual may need the religious to fund and support the retreat centers, Bible societies, publishing boards, monasteries, schools, councils of elders, websites, houses of worship, and the equivalent of all these in each religion. So, three cheers for institutions, for the renewal of institutions, for institutions that carry spirit and enduring values from generation to generation.


Browse more posts by: Gary Peluso-Verdend, Phillips Faculty
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