Culture

The paradox of Millennial "spirituality"

by Kenneth Chew // April 3, 2017, 12:24 pm

Millenial Spirituality

It’s said that we fear what we don’t understand. For Singaporean Millennials, it seems that fear has grown into avoidance, with more youths shunning religion of late.

Younger Singaporeans are more likely to identify as having “no religious affiliation”. Source: The Straits Times

The reality is that we live in a post-truth culture. In this post-truth society, “religion” and “spirituality” become completely separate entities, given that religion is the cultural tradition built around man’s understanding of “God” – a streamlined attempt to attain spirituality. Modern psychology will tell you that they’re not entirely the same: a venn diagram of intersecting circles.

These days, the circles no longer touch.

In a world eager to break free from the ancient chains of superstitious, fearful fathers, religion, as popularly understood, no longer satisfies our spirits. With the spiritual impulse stronger than ever, Millennials prefer to pursue it apart from “religion”.

The result is confusion, where masses pick and choose elements of religion they resonate with. Faith becomes customised, built-to-order and consequently detached from both a priori (logical, rational) and a posteriori (empirical, experiential) foundations. It is running blind.

A recent article asked 11 millennials to define their spirituality. The results capture the essence of this paradox.

3 GREAT MISCONCEPTIONS MILLENNIALS HAVE ABOUT RELIGION & SPIRITUALITY

MISCONCEPTION 1: RELIGION IS BAD FOR YOU

  • “I still believe in God and pray (although I avoid organised religion)”
  • “Being spiritual gives me a sense of being that I lost along the way (due to organised religion, labels).”

This first category suggests a deep hurt caused by organised religion, and therefore a persistent bitterness. While we try to accommodate one another, hurts are inevitable due to clashes of personality and the imperfections that characterise our human condition.

It’s understandable if we need a break from church sometimes, but that pain shouldn’t determine for us what is good and true. Refuse the temptation to become enslaved by your scars.

MISCONCEPTION 2: RELIGION IS INSUFFICIENT

  • “Religion is for people who are scared of going to hell (Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there).”
  • “What feels true and ‘right’ for me (Karma, be good, just love).”
  • “Spirituality evolved from my religion.”
  • “To seek connection with other life regularly practice it (friendship, nature).”
  • “Being in tune with the narrative of human life, not just that of a specific theology (explain our motivations, actions and feelings).”

This second category suggests that standardised theology often fails to process the fullness of our experience.

For instance, when we sell a hyper-prosperity gospel, real brokenness and suffering become huge barriers to belief. Likewise, when faith communities become detached from the rest of humanity, nature, history and science, you can’t help but feel deluded.

Churches can do better in equipping their leaders with theological foundations to wrestle with new ideas and stay relevant, but young people need to realise that they too have a responsibility in working out their salvation with fear and trembling.

If God is really God, you’ll find Him relevant wherever you find yourself, but to go further you must take a leap in good faith.

MISCONCEPTION 3: SPIRITUALITY IS WHATEVER YOU WANT IT TO BE

  • “The better your energy, the more positive your life (an impersonal divine energy).”
  • “Being in (and part of) the flow of it all.”
  • “Self-improvement.”
  • “I follow my soul.”

The final category is the vague postmodern notion that spirituality is whatever you make of it – a freedom of choice, anything that feels good. And I mean anything: Yoga (without the Hinduism, thank you), chanting unfathomable mantras (no Buddhism here), donating to humanitarian relief, playing with cats, sports, exploring wilderness and getting high.

No doubt our spirits could be stirred by activities that give you a sense of wonder, thrill and meaning, but they would hold much more weight when placed in the context of religion.

Because while our modern reflex is to shun, fear or hate what we don’t understand, true religion forms a basis of “truth” for our spirituality. Of course, that truth claim has to be discovered, wrestled and pursued by the individual.

I’m not suggesting we just choose one the big religions so you’d be better off. Neither am I condemning the seemingly endless search for the transcendent truths of our existence through “spirituality”.

Rather, dear seeker, I humbly propose that your quest for the spiritual doesn’t have to be a leap in the dark.

There are footprints in the sand, trails cut out in the forest and maps drawn by brave men who ventured far beyond the boundaries of what we would consider “religion”. A torchlight is now offered to you.

Of course it isn’t as simple as saying yes. Religions are unique, and many are mutually exclusive. Saying “yes” to one equates to “no” to all others. The many interpretations within one faith also tend to cause confusion and division. But a ship built for open seas must leave the harbour.

My point is this: It’s possible to be religious and yet spiritually dead – missing the point entirely. But spirituality devoid of religion is blind.

Truth is not something we create; it’s a reality to be discovered. Your pursuit of spirituality should be grounded on truth.

Many religions make bold claims that aren’t easily taken by minds trained for scepticism. But earnest scepticism must be driven by a pursuit of truth.

Not senseless solipsism. Not intellectual pride. Not our ignorance, hurts and frustrations.

Imagine a thirsty forager refusing to look for the great river because he was too used to gathering the morning dew with an old sock.

But truth is not something we create; it’s a reality to be discovered. It seizes us, holds us, whether we like it or not. Your pursuit of spirituality should be grounded on truth.

WHAT IS TRUTH?

But here our hearts echo the frustrations of Pilate (John 18:36-38). Truth’s often offensive, divisive and elusive. Not many will search long and hard for it.

Truth embraces my painful reality, binds my broken pieces and places me in a world worth loving and fighting for.

We desperately need clarity. Dare to question if you must. But while you heed your hungry spirit, consider also tradition, for it is the democracy of the deceased and the collective wisdom of civilisations past. It’ll get messy and things might change, but curious hunger for truth is no solo quest.

This might sound intellectually arrogant, but I found true spirituality within the boundaries of orthodox religion. Now, it’s not easy to be religious, let alone follow Christ in a faith of self-denial and suffering. The burden rarely feels as light as it should be.

The church is so far from perfect and the urge to rebel is ever-present.

But as a Christian, Truth for me is revealed in a Person: One sought and found by men who searched with heart, soul, mind and strength (2 Chronicles 15:1-4, Jeremiah 29:13). One whom we cannot see directly, but through whom, everything becomes plain as day.

Truth embraces my painful reality, binds my broken pieces and places me in a world worth loving and fighting for. Truth suffers beside me and tells me to not be afraid of the darkness.

Truth doesn’t always spell everything out clearly, but resonates with my innermost nature, body, soul and spirit. In Him, the clarity by which I see most things gives me confidence for what remains unseen (1 Corinthians 13:12). Truth is relationship, hope and grace.

Don’t settle for the truisms of modern spirituality. You are better than that. As you search for the truly spiritual, I hope Truth will find you too, as it found me.

About the author

Kenneth Chew

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.