The church: not spiritual enough?

So, when I was checking through the list of scheduled posts at Mormon Matters, I was excited because I saw a post about the “Role of the Church in the Pursuit of Righteousness: Why it works for some and not for others.” And oh boy, I was so excited, because it was a topic that was about those for whom the church doesn’t necessarily work out…and of course, Ray’s generally fair in all of his posts — he reminds me somehow of my tax professor. This guy is so nice, a student can say the most wrong answer in class and yet he’ll never embarrass a student by bringing so much attention to the wrong answer, yet somehow he’ll have fixed every misunderstanding.

I’m not going to say I was disappointed, because it was still a good post when I read what it actually was about. Still insightful, and still fair. But I still think it was directed at a different crowd. It didn’t really capture why the church didn’t work for me, for example. This post and a few others seem to have these preconceptions, I want to say, that exmormons ‘should’ still be religious or spiritual. So the idea is, “If somehow I found out the church were untrue, I’d still find another religion” and people scramble to wonder why some exmormons are comfortable going on their own paths.

There were a couple of lines that kinda got me…let me find them…

Tying all of this back to people leaving the Church, I believe that the proper pursuit of righteousness is a combination of proper religiosity (being in line with a religious institution) and proper spirituality (being in tune with the working of the Spirit). I think that we cannot be “righteous” if we aren’t pursuing both – and I also believe that “sprituality” is something that the institutional church cannot provide.


Many people leave the Church because, “It lacks true spirituality.” I agree; the Church, as a disembodied institution, does lack true spirituality – since true spirituality is found spirit to spirit.

So, I guess I’ll get to the latter quotation first and then the former.

See, I can’t say I left the church because it lacked true spirituality. My problem was realizing that the church is intrinsically spiritual, and if you aren’t, then you’re always an outsider. I like that the church can sometimes seem less spiritual — as many will recognize, the church can give some practical guidelines for life that require little spirituality at all. However, I don’t think it is the case that the church lacks true spirituality. The church backs its religion on spiritual precepts…and if you don’t accept something like the eternal nature of gender, the preexistence or heaven afterwards, the necessity of salvation and the like…then you will run into spiritual walls in the church.

Now, I understand that there are those who leave the church and become active in other churches and denominations…and perhaps for them, they left because they felt the church wasn’t spiritual and their new churches are. Many people who try to proselytize to Mormons might say, “Your church is so concerned about works that it deemphasizes Jesus. You’re more concerned about the organization than the spirit.” And then there’s a war over whether that is true or not, but the idea is that, for certain exMormons that leave the church and go to other places, they did find something that they felt was more spiritual that they couldn’t find in the church.

But I don’t know if that necessarily fits the profile of all of us. The way I see it, for me, the church was oozing with spiritual precepts and foundations that just did not square with me. I think it takes a strong spiritual foundation to be able to say what some of the commenters said in another Mormon Matters post I wrote on celibacy and sexuality — to keep with the Gospel and the church, sometimes people have to be celibate and just hope for the best in the afterlife. Without spirituality, I don’t think someone would find this sacrifice to be worth it.

Now…to start controversy…let’s look at the former quotation from Ray. This one…I just don’t get. I don’t believe that righteousness is tied to religiosity and spirituality. And what got me was…when Ray gave a definition of what righteous things/people/acts are, his definition did not include anything that I thought could be connected to religiosity and spirituality.

“Righteous”, on the other hand, is defined as “characterized by or proceeding from accepted standards of morality or justice”.

Now, I begin to understand from the rest of his post and his other comments what he means by righteousness…but it just seems like this idea is backed from his religiosity and spirituality. If one isn’t so spiritual or one isn’t so religious, then one might not suggest that “accepted standards of morality or justice” require religiosity and spirituality. Maybe it’s just that good ole guilt. (ok, I really strained to make that link fit).

Andrew S

Andrew S grew up in a military family, but apparently, that didn't make much of an impression upon him because he has since forgotten all of his French and all of his Hangungmal (but he does mispronounce the past tense of "win" like the Korean currency and thinks that English needs to get it together!) Andrew is currently a student at Texas A&M who loves tax accounting, the social sciences, fencing (epee), typography, presentation design, and public speaking, smartphones, linux, and nonparallel structured lists.

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22 Responses

  1. chanson says:

    My problem was realizing that the church is intrinsically spiritual, and if you aren’t, then you’re always an outsider.

    So so so so true.

    I think this is in the same category with your observation that some people just can’t conceive of not believing in God. It’s often hard to believe in the existence of human perspectives that you don’t understand or can’t relate to.

    Personally, I don’t have any particular inclination towards spirituality or any interest in pursuing it (see Sexuality vs. Spirituality: Which is more intimate?). That’s not to denigrate the people who value spiritual experiences in their own lives, it’s just to say that people vary, they have different inclinations and interests. For example, a chocolate-lover might have a hard time believing that there exist people who don’t derive ecstatic pleasure from delicious chocolate, and yet such people exist…

  2. Andrew S says:

    and going on your idea of sexuality vs. spirituality vs. chocolate loving, I have heard people try to argue that spirituality is so “universal” that it should have some kind of precedence (as opposed to say, chocolate loving).

    But then in appears to me that sexuality is much more universal than even spirituality. Does that mean, by this very reasoning, that we should pay more attention to sexuality?

  3. Wayne says:

    Spirituality and “spiritual experiences” are “spiritual” because they exist outside the confines of Sociocultural constructs.

    What makes the L.D.S church less spiritual than say a Shoshone medicine man on a vision quest, is the latter tries to confine the how spiritual experiences occur and then narrowly define them in the “proper” context.
    On the other hand the medicine man puts the out come of a vision quest up to the universe. Yes, he still interprets the experience based on culturally understood symbols but those symbols are not as confined. Much more room for interpretation.

    Also, What I have found in my own journey to understand the spirit (I am still on the fence on whether or not there is one, most of the mystical traditions I have come across have mostly the same types of practices, similar symbols and creeds. Also, truly spiritual people tend not to exhibit prejudice against traditions other than their own.
    The Mormons are too insecure and defensive for me to believe that theirs is a true path.

    “Righteous”, on the other hand, is defined as “characterized by or proceeding from accepted standards of morality or justice”.

    I agree with this, and further assert that spiritual is above righteousness. Morality and Justice are culture bound,as stated above, spirit is above cultural constructs.

    Not to say that spirit is above ethical behavior, to truly be on a spiritual path you have to be able to see beyond cultural constructs and Morality…(morality brought us prohibition….I mean who the heck needs morals that keep us from taking in spirits)

    To evolve spiritually one must be able to recognize the humanities commonality and not get hung up on perceived differences. (something organized religions are all too good at)

  4. Lisa says:

    Does that mean, by this very reasoning, that we should pay more attention to sexuality?

    Hear, hear!

    (I totally intend to write a more well-thought out response later. Couldn’t resist 😉

  5. Wayne says:

    Don’t pay more attention to Sex. Just have more good sex!

  6. Andrew S says:

    Re 3: Interesting way of looking at it, Wayne. I especially like the idea of spirituality having to be above culture, because it is easy to see how the morality du jour can change with cultural whims and emphasize differences.

    An interesting thing that Ray comments against is pursuing JUST spirituality for its own sake. He claims that spirituality without religiosity (being in an organized religion) and putting spirituality into action with others is what allows people to think that they could be monastic/monks/nuns/hermits and still be “spiritually” fit. His idea is that a righteous person cannot be “alone” or “cloistered” or whatever.

    What do you think, Wayne?

  7. Wayne says:

    I am not sure where he gets the idea that a monastic is alone. Monasteries are microcosms of society; you are able to avoid people who really drive you nuts in general society, in a monastery you will be working with the one person who pushes your buttons.

    That has happened to me on meditation retreats.

    As for hermits not being “righteous?” that is up to interpretation, In Buddhism at least, the belief is that when sitting in meditation you are, in fact in enlightenment and not causing Karma, so that would be the pinnacle of ethical behavior. And by continuously practicing, Such as Buddha Shakyamuni and Bhodi Dharma, the impact on the world is perceived great, even if they don’t talk to anyone.
    I don’t even know many Buddhists who want to just sit forever, even the monastics get out and have a beer. Plus many are compelled by spiritual practice to try and do good, Karma be damned.

  8. chanson says:

    I have heard people try to argue that spirituality is so “universal” that it should have some kind of precedence (as opposed to say, chocolate loving).

    I think that chocolate-loving is more universal than spirituality. Seriously, I’m not kidding. I don’t have any data on it, but I suspect that disliking chocolate or being totally indifferent to it (as opposed to liking it) is more rare than being indifferent towards spirituality (or uninterested in it, or disliking it).

    As for sex, there are quite a lot of people in this world who really don’t like it. Weirdos.


    But seriously, I think that the inclination to derive philosophical meaning from a “spiritual experience” is one particular character/personality trait that some people have more strongly than others. It’s not so universal.

    Look at this thread: Wayne obviously has a very strong spiritual side that’s important to him. I don’t — I have other ways of exploring emotions and philosophy. And it’s not that one of us is wrong or broken and needs to strive to be more like the other — it’s that we’re different.

  9. Andrew S says:

    Re 7:

    Well, his entire idea is that “microcosm” is basically insulated from the macrocosm. And he, I guess, opposes that because he thinks that righteousness (if I understand him correctly) involves action with the larger society. It’s been an idea that he’s kinda hit upon in a couple of his posts, so that’s why I bring it up.

  10. Craig says:

    While in the church, I always thought of myself as spiritual, so much so, that it became a part of the way others perceived me, and I myself. Of course, you’re expected to be spiritual, and if you’re not, you’re not just a bad Mormon, but a bad person – because all humans are inherently spiritual (thus saith the LORD TM).

    …to keep with the Gospel and the church, sometimes people have to be celibate and just hope for the best in the afterlife. Without spirituality, I don’t think someone would find this sacrifice to be worth it.

    Very soon after I started questioning everything because of that very problem, (beginning with the church’s stance on homosexuality and gender conformity), my theism just fell apart. It was then that I realised that I just wasn’t a spiritual person, that I never had been, and had been faking it without even knowing it (unlike a lot of the other faking I was cognizant of).

    And now, I often feel that I’m not taken seriously as an atheist by many orthodox Mormons (especially my family), because of the way they’re taught to view “apostates”. Because I’m gay and have filled my life with sinful sex and alcohol, well it makes *sense* that I would lose the “spirit” and stop believing in god. It’s not because I have actual reasons for my atheism, or because it’s something I have thought through very thoroughly, but because I’m sinning, and it’s *easier* to not (or pretend not) to believe in god.

    Like Chanson, it doesn’t bother me when another person is spiritual (or even religious – as long as they don’t harm anyone else in the process), but the idea of trying now to be spiritual creeps me out. Perhaps because I was forced to be as a Mormon, and it brings back bad memories.

    I agree about the trait of “spirituality” being much less ubiquitous than religion wants us to believe.

    I’d always rather have chocolate. Or best of all, chocolate + sex.

  11. I could make a scriptural case that religiosity has nothing to do with being right with God. This says more about the pliability of the scriptures than about the merit of my viewpoint, but it’s nice to be supported by holy writ when talking to a believer. 🙂

    To wit, to be right with God, all that is necessary is to be right with our fellow human beings.

    “…when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17)

    “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)

    “…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40; also D&C 42:38)

    That last scripture is quite telling when read in context. The “righteous” inherit the kingdom of God strictly based on their care for the poor and needy, not based on ritual baptism or participation in organized religion.

    The New Testament records no organized church as far as I can tell. Jesus seems to have organized a missionary organization to spread his teachings instead of a church as we think of them today.

    It seems to me that the unchurched can take comfort that if there is a God, they have reason to believe that he will reward them well for a humane life. Being religious is insufficient to curry his favor. (That is if you ignore all the scriptures that flatly contradict the scriptures that I selected.)

    Scriptures aside, I feel largely right with the world and it has nothing to do with my relationship to a church. In a certain respect, I feel more “righteous” now than when I was LDS.

  12. Andrew S says:

    I think that, Jonathan would ultimately make me feel better if that’s how everyone would see religion. And to be honest, Ray did begin to dabble in that (Righteousness still for him is about right actions towards others — I think it’s just that he feels the right actions are best told of from religion). I dunno, I guess the disagreement is…where do people best learn what “right actions” are? And I would say too that it has nothing to do with my relationship to a church.

  13. Hellmut says:

    The correlated church ignores the fact that human beings are thinking and feeling organisms. Of course, that results in frustrations. Somebody with a religious socialization might refer to the lack of vitality and authentic experiences as a lack of spirituality.

    When people have the opportunity to be creative and feel life, there might be other problems but I bet you that complaints about the lack of spirituality are going to go way down.

  14. tn trap says:

    I have a hard time engaging (and even understanding) the Mormon Mentality post as it looks like another in a long line of “People leave the Church because they are defective” posts; and they all conclude with, “if only”: If only ex-mormons had learned to do what I did, they would have found what they were looking for in the church and wouldn’t have left.

    “where do people best learn what ‘right actions’ are?”

    First, from their parents and later, from experience. But there are other ways, of which religion is one. You learn from your parents growing up and eventually you move out of the house and figure it out on your own.

    Some people do the same thing with their church–one of many valid reasons people leave. And those valid reasons boil down to, they honestly, in good conscience, felt like they should leave. And I think that scares the hell out of many Mormons, hence all of the attempts to explain it away as something else.

    Like all lasting organizations, one of the “missions” of The Church is self-preservation. Do you need The Church in order to be righteous and spiritual or does The Church need you?

    A little in line with Helmutt’s comments, ultimately, I don’t think The Church has a lot of faith in its members; or at least, it’s needy: instead of being content as a source of edificiation, it wants the membership to need it as a source of edification.

  15. Craig says:

    @tn trap

    I think you’re totally right. The church as an institution does everything it can to make life w/o the church the most horribly and evil seeming thing it can. It abuses people into an unhealthy dependant relationship with the church (through the guilt and feelings of inferiority, never being good enough, righteous enough, etc.) I think the church leadership somehow knows that if they were honest and non-manipulative, they wouldn’t have a church. Many people would realise that they would be happier w/o it, that they don’t need the church to be good, or to feel spiritual, and there would go all that $$$ and power. So, the church controls its members by controlling what kind of information they are exposed to (nothing “anti-Mormon”, which actually means nothing that isn’t church-produced propaganda), keeping the members a part from normal society by the way they eat/drink, their and other habits that make the members feel different from the rest of society – and that helps keep people in the church where they feel comfortable and accepted.

    It’s so obvious from the outside, but almost impossible to see the manipulation for what it is when you’re in the middle of it, and when you’ve not known any other type of lifestyle.

  16. tn trap says:

    I don’t think it is quite intentionally as sinister as that, Craig. I think the church does fear something negative would happen if it was more open, less correlated, etc., but I just don’t (edited based on comment in 17 ~Andrew) see The Church today as the result of a master plan. Even if the outcomes you describe are accurate, I don’t believe the authorities act out of the motivations you describe, or at least, they are not aware that those are their motivations.

  17. tn trap says:

    that is–I don’t see The Church today as the result…

  18. Craig says:

    I’m not saying that it’s concious on the part of the leaders (or all of them), but that the institution (corporation) has evolved these techniques to keep its members – they know what works, if not exactly the why.

    So yes, I agree that the church leaders are not aware of all this, probably the vast majority really do believe in what they do, but have convinced themselves that the ends justify the means, if ever they are aware enough to have the realisation that a hell of a lot of what goes on is unethical.

    I don’t there’s some “master plan” either, but I do think that a few of those leading the church have to be a little aware than the others. Exactly who or how many that would be though, I’m not quite sure.

  19. chanson says:

    I have a hard time engaging (and even understanding) the Mormon Mentality post as it looks like another in a long line of “People leave the Church because they are defective” posts; and they all conclude with, “if only”: If only ex-mormons had learned to do what I did, they would have found what they were looking for in the church and wouldn’t have left.

    I agree that sort of attitude is frustrating.

    Keep in mind, however, that we exmos have a bit of an advantage in this debate:

    The idea that leaving the church (disbelief) can be a reasonable and ethical move is threatening to the proposition “the church is true.” The idea that Mormonism works well as a worldview for some intelligent, ethical people isn’t threatening or in conflict with the proposition “the church is not true.”

  20. Lisa says:

    I have to admit a degree of ??? while reading the original post, but I do have a reaction to the idea:

    I hate that I have to defend myself and my choices; because others will undoubtedly make their own assumptions, for some reason, I’ll be compelled to “prove them wrong.”

    They’re going to believe whatever the hell is more expedient for them to believe, no matter what I do or say.

    Personally, I find myself disaffected because (a) I refuse to have my life and thoughts micromanaged (b) No matter what others insist, this is exactly what is happening (c) I disagree or am at least highly unsure about core doctrine (d) I don’t even know what is doctrine anymore. Everytime I point something out on my blog, the more liberal members dismiss it as opinion or the fallible interpretations of man. The orthodox members insist everything is somehow true no matter what, which I totally reject. If I can’t *really* trust what a prophet or apostles say, then why the hell bother?

    I do know, at this moment, that if and when we do leave I have zero desire to find another Church unless it is of the Unitarian persuasion (because I do like the idea of church, but I will not be indoctrinated with ridiculous dogma again). I’m done with it all, you know?

  21. chanson says:

    Lisa — As far as I’m concerned, there are many different paths, depending on the individual. I’m not Unitarian myself, but quite a lot of good people find solace with them; it’s a great faith community for a liberal. For potential alternatives, Wayne’s pretty convincing with Buddhism…

    Wherever your journey leads, we’re happy to hear about it at MSP, to get a range of different perspectives.

  22. chanson says:

    Oh, yeah, and don’t forget the CoC (formerly RLDS) if you still have an attachment to the Restoration and the BoM. I hear they’re pretty lenient on precise beliefs. If I felt compelled to join a faith community, they’d be among my first choices.

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