An Opiate for Me?

The question is this: am I a quietly spiritual person, or am I kidding myself?

The context is this:

I was raised Methodist.  I was an angsty kid, but I loved church camp.  I was a very curious student in my confirmation class.  I never went to church in college (except for maybe three times with evangelical friends).  After graduation, I found a Methodist church in DC that I liked (i.e., I really liked the pastor), but my attendance came to an abrupt end when a rather unfortunate DC scandal rocked my professional and emotional world, leaving me unable to face pretty much anyone outside a small circle of family and friends.  That circle did not include anyone at church.

Fast-forward about two years.  An LDS man for whom I was utterly head-over-heels dumped me because he realized after knowing me for a year and dating me for 5 months that the whole non-Mormon thing was an issue.  I coped, in part, by reexamining my own beliefs so that I could be sure I was standing my ground on the right principles.  I found Methodist church Number Two, where I’ve been extremely happy.  I began volunteering, I sang in the band once in awhile.

Fast forward a year.  I moved back to Idaho for the summer so that I could study for the bar exam.  Although I’m very much a career-driven woman, the feeling of peace and happiness I feel in my home state are hard to put into words.  Even now, the night before I fly back to the job I love and friends I adore, I’m a little emotional.  I attend church here once in awhile because I enjoy the sermons (seriously, I do), but that pull is noticeably gone.

And now I’m back in DC.  My church is still there, but the pull is…mostly gone.  I feel very driven to volunteer with the immigrant and homeless communities, but other than going to church to get an hour of spiritual nourishment (I still like the pastor and his sermons), I don’t feel the same excitement I felt even a year ago.

The common thread is this: the happier I am, the less I feel like going to church.  And I have been unbelievably happy for the past 6 months.  I still care about spirituality; I just care less about being a normal church member.

So to rephrase the question: did I really have the reconnection with God that I thought I did after my emotional spiritual search, or am I using church and/or faith as an emotional crutch?

I already know what Hitchens and Marx would say.

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8 Responses to An Opiate for Me?

  1. Whitney says:

    I should note that there were two notable exceptions to the more happy=less church equation…college was super-angsty, but I reacted by being a typical stupid college student rather than letting myself find strength in my faith. The Badness was ridiculous, but as discussed on my personal blog here, I think a total withdrawal was the only way I could process what had happened.

    Then again, those periods represent two of the toughest times of my life, and I zero interest in going to church. So maybe the real problem is that I’m just getting lazy?

  2. Katie L. says:

    Whitney, I think everyone reaches out to God more during periods of distress. Does that make it an opiate? Maybe. I never discount any possibility and I think it would be dishonest not to acknowledge this as one.

    But, to repeat my question from the other thread, even if it is, who cares? So it gives you some powerful tools for dealing with heartache and disappointment. So it provides your life meaning and purpose. So it fills you with joy and offers a narrative which helps you find peace in the face of humanity’s most challenging questions and offers a template to help you interact charitably with others. From my perspective, you’ve got nothing to lose and all of this to gain. And if it really is true, which I have faith it is (despite my doubts), so much the better!

    I don’t know if that’s helpful to you, but those are some thoughts that help me when I wonder similar things.

  3. Jared C says:

    Not going to church makes me feel much better than going to church. I get a warm fuzzy feeling sometimes when I realize I am missing church.

    Maybe that is my opiate.

  4. Jared C says:

    I don’t think attending church is a great gauge of spirituality, the act of going to church itself may be the crutch for ailing or artificial spirituality.

  5. Kullervo says:

    I don’t think attending church is a great gauge of spirituality, the act of going to church itself may be the crutch for ailing or artificial spirituality.

    Oh, I heartily disagree. I think its impossible to say definitively what the One True Authentic Spirituality is. I think there’s immense spiritual value in tradition and corporate worship, and even in the act of losing yourself into something greater.

  6. Jared C says:

    My point is not that attending church is a sign of lack of spirituality, or that tradition for its own sake can not be important and spiritual. It is that in some cases mere church attendance can be a place holder for deeper spirituality.

  7. Kullervo says:

    Agreed, wholeheartedly.

  8. Jared C says:

    did I really have the reconnection with God that I thought I did after my emotional spiritual search”

    I think that church going and reconnection with God are two separate things. One can lead to the other but you can have either independently.

    What Hitchens doesn’t and Marx didn’t get is that spirituality really isn’t just an emotional crutch, it is a very common and important response to to human life. Just because they don’t “get it” doesn’t mean that it isn’t real or valid. Spirituality can be a response to life just like being contemplative can be a response to life, or being intellectual. Like being intellectual, spirituality can distress as much as it soothes.

    I think Kant’s arguments are persuasive that our senses and intellect’s can never get to the real phenomena. Spirituality can be a way of getting in tune with what is happening in life where intellectual or limited scientific explanations of phenomena are naturally limited.

    in this context, even if you use spirituality as a crutch, this does not really detract from whether or not your spirituality is authentic or real.

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