When The Old Becomes New Again: The New Idols of Culture 


All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.

 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?

  It has been already in the ages before us.

 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

—Ecclesiastes 1:7-11, ESV

The Preacher, identified traditionally as the ancient Israelite king named Solomon, recorded this observation: “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Something may be recast, the setting changed, a new coat of paint slapped on but, to one who is mindful of the past, there is truly nothing new. But that isn’t necessarily troublesome unless people fail to be reflective.

Modern man is woefully unreflective in his life, often making assumptions and assertions, never actually looking back at himself to see where he stands, what he’s assuming and asserting. Modern man is full of self-contradiction and self-refutation, but he fails to see this. This is seen clearly in those who identify themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” (SBNR).

That seems to be a very bold statement, but it is true, and it fails to recognize itself as a contradiction in terms.

According to 2014 Pew research, approximately 23% of Americans identify themselves as having no religious affiliation, the so-called “nones”. They are often identified as atheists and agnostics, however digging into the actual data, those who self-identified as such were still a very small portion of that number, with an almost equal number of those who identified as “nones” saying that religion, in general, plays some large role in their lives. Digging further into the research indicates that the majority of the “nones” have varied reasons for their religious-lessness. That seems to indicate that they aren’t necessarily opposed to religion but are not interested in it, in fact 18% of those “nones” seemed to identify as SBNR.

What is it about SBNR that poses problems?

The difficulty seems to lie in the definition of what is means to be “spiritual”. Webster’s defines it in the most general, adjectival manner, making it almost synonymous with being “religious”, which makes the statement somewhat incoherent. Over at Psychology Today, one writer defines it as,

Spirituality for some people seems to mean merely that they believe in ethical values such as caring about other people.

So, it seems that some want to disconnect the ethics from the connected symbology and ritual of organized religion, appealing to empathy. Even I would argue that there is, must be some type of disconnect between them; however, there is also a necessary connection because there is a flow between them. Also, appealing to empathy poses its own problems, as I’ve discussed here.

A general discussion/definition wants to try to link the spiritual to magical thinking , of course, depending upon ones philosophical starting point, all thinking, or observational reasoning, is necessarily magical. The article ends with this conclusion,

However, under close scrutiny, spirituality is no better than religion at making sense of the world in ways consistent with evidence and argument. There are effective secular ways of dealing with the world and issues from the medical to the psychotherapeutic to the cosmological. Motivated inference is hard to avoid, but people can realize that mystical spirituality is no more plausible than traditional religious views.  If you don’t like religion, you shouldn’t be spiritual either.

The article is clearly scientistic in its handling, so we cannot call it “unbiased”, but it clearly nails what lies at the heart of the issue: the person who claims to be SBNR is merely exchanging one religion for another. The assertion of “effective secular ways of dealing with the world” is itself a religious position falls into its own trap, asserting that it can provide answers to questions even though it is dependent upon outside sources to even say that there are problems.

Another insight is that is made, when it comes to the attempt to make some kind of meaningful distinction between “religious” and “spiritual”, is that,

Both connote belief in a Higher Power of some kind. Both also imply a desire to connect, or enter into a more intense relationship, with this Higher Power.

The question is, how does one do that apart from revelation?

It is noted that,

Many have had negative experiences with churches or church leaders. For example, they may have perceived church leaders as more concerned with building an organization than promoting spirituality, as hypocritical, or as narrow-minded. Some may have experienced various forms of emotional or even sexual abuse.


Forsaking formal religious organizations, these people have instead embraced an individualized spirituality that includes picking and choosing from a wide range of alternative religious philosophies.

Now, I’m probably one of the most critical people when it comes to church—the Christian definition of what constitutes a formal religious setting—and am not afraid to speak my mind when it comes to dealing with fellow believers and thinking through those issues carefully and logically. But there’s a clear problem with calling someone “narrow minded”, it is itself being narrow minded. Unfortunately, formalized structures can become havens for abuse, normally because once the system is up and running, there is a tendency to let it run on autopilot rather than keeping a hand on it. Then the rejection of externalized structures for internalized structures simply removes accountability. Religion then becomes a smorgasbord, a buffet line, where one can pick and choose what they want. Such systems are bound to be full of contradictions, often assembled ad hoc. It could best be described as idolatry. This is fitting for a society that has rejected a meaningful standard of truth. Religion—that is the Christian religion—, once seen as the outlet of absolute truth, has been relegated to just one of many truths. Spirituality, because it is predicated upon subjectivity, draws away from prohibitions established by God. It eschews the final and full revelation seeking, not truth and meaning, but self-focused enlightenment. It makes itself a personal religion. The person who identifies themselves as SBNR is essentially saying what the men of Babel said in their rebellion against God.

That is the reason why a Christian, a true believer, has no place for such empty and divisive sentiments. The spiritual life of the believer is tethered to his religion. It is so because the believers are family, united in Christ before our Heavenly Father. The author of Hebrews gave us a charge, saying,

[Let] us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to  meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (10:24-25, ESV)

It is only by coming together, encouraging one another, not neglecting the fellowship of the believer, that we can stand firm and do what God has called us to do.


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