Religion versus Spirituality part 2: How to reconcile commitment and scepticism…

I’m getting into the sociology of modernity, for my bachelors paper. Anthony Giddens is one of the primary sociologists in that field. He wrote:

The problem for us – those who wish to see a cosmopolitan world prosper – is to reconcile commitment and skepticism.

(From Conversations with Anthony Giddens: Making Sense of Modernity, p. 132)

This is relevant to our discussion of religion versus spirituality, because spirituality often doesn’t have commitment at all. Spirituality is deeply skeptical towards any and all authority. Spirituality only implies a commitment to ones own spiritual growth, and perhaps to the development of quality relationships with other people, perhaps the world.

Religion on the other hand implies commitment to a specific tradition, perhaps a church. Religion in a Christian sense implies community building. Communities can be stifling in their judgement of certain behaviors, but they give a home as well.

Theosophy is somewhere between the two. Our lodges are meant as places for community building, but as Chris mentioned, sometimes they aren’t so open to outsiders. In fact, community usually implies a firm marking of ‘insiders’ versus ‘outsiders’. It does take work to become one of the insiders. Sects invest a lot in getting people to feel welcome and only show their ugly side when people are trying to leave. The TS does not make that mistake, but I do think it’s one of the duties of lodges to make newcomers feel welcome – which does mean that they should make a commitment to at least initiate a conversation.

How does skepticism fit into all this? It’s part of our modern lives that we mistrust all kinds of things we are in fact dependent on. The government is consistently mistrusted in the US, yet it obviously has responsibilities people depend on. The same goes for banks. They give people loan’s, and people trust in their own ability to pay them. They trust in the banks to be reasonable. That system got a big blow recently and the international stock markets are in turmoil because the trust is gone. When the trust is gone, there is less reason to invest – to commit.

Commitment builds trust. A relationship where both partners commit fully is one in which there is also likely to be trust. But it’s a gamble. The relationship doesn’t start out with trust on both sides. It starts out with a bit of trust – a bit of commitment – the dating system. At some point the jump to full commitment has to be made, in order for the relationship to succeed. But that is still a gamble: what if I commit and the other person is actually cheating on me?

Spirituality in its radical sense distrusts organizations to such an extent that there is no way people will make a long term commitment to a religious or spiritual organization at all. Many organizations therefor offer courses and retreats that only require a temporary commitment. Yet, like in any relationship, a spiritual organisation will give more back, if you do commit.

First published and discussed here.