New Thought Editorials > Religion and Spirituality


Autumn 2013

Religion and Spirituality

How are religion and spirituality related? Many New Thoughters are uncomfortable with the term religion, usually because of an experience with a particular religion that for them was toxic. They prefer to think in terms of spirituality. But let’s take a closer look, starting with some definitions. Religion literally means to bind together, re ligio. One of the Boston personalist philosophers defined it as "a set of beliefs, attitudes, and actions with respect to Ultimate Reality"; and you can see that one binds those together into one’s own religion or borrows someone else’s. This definition covers the waterfront from pantheism to atheism.

Unity’s Charles Fillmore defines religion in a way that has already outlined his own: "A systematic exposition on the awareness of a deity who is the supreme ruler of heaven and earth; that which arouses reverence and love for a supreme being". The Philosopher defines religion thus:

New Thought is not religion in any narrowly ecclesiastical or dogmatic sense. New Thought recognizes that spirit cannot be confined to any fixed creed or organization, and it recognizes worth in all religions. While various forms of New Thought, such as Divine Science, Religious Science, and Unity, use church forms of organization, New Thought never has been confined exclusively to such forms. New Thought is open and free, and it strives to surpass itself in its understanding and formulation of the truths on which it is based.

Scholars have considered New Thought a cult, but before you get your feathers all ruffled, remember that the term cult did not always have the negative overtones that it has acquired. Christianity began as a cult of Judaism and grew into a full-fledged religion.

The Philosopher liked to define spirituality as "the raw material from which one forms one’s religion". Fillmore defines it as "The consciousness that relates man directly to his Father-God. It is quickened and grows through prayer and other forms of religious thought and worship." So it isn’t either/or; it’s both/and.

Process philosopher David Ray Griffin helps us through a complex subject, this being a complex world, by explaining that the modern worldview, which lingers even though we are now living in postmodern times, "provides no basis whatsoever for spiritual discipline. It, in fact, promotes what can be called an antispiritual spirituality. In a strict sense, "spirituality is a matter of degree, and some people are hardly spiritual at all". In a broader sense, everyone "embodies a spirituality", even thought that spirituality may be materialistic rather than endeavoring to instill a spiritual discipline in oneself. But spiritual discipline in Griffin’s strict sense "refers to any effort through which one seeks to become more spiritual". Surprisingly, even conservative Christianity contributes to that antispiritual spirituality.

Rather than open that can of worms, let us as New Thoughters take pleasure in our efforts to continue to develop our spirituality in a postmodern world, using the time-tested tools and techniques provided by the loosely-structured religion known as New Thought.