The need for spiritual, not ritual worship

Armstrong Williams

8/3/2004 12:00:00 AM - Armstrong Williams

When John Kerry addressed the nation last week, he expressed hope that "we are on God's side." As when Lincoln first used the quote, it proved to be an effective piece of theater. Attendees pumped their fists in support, reminding us all that most Americans both believe in God, and are victims of a terrible spiritual illness.

That illness is the excessive entanglement of Christianity and dogma at the expense of genuine spiritual enlightenment.

The root cause of this problem is embodied by Paul's invocation that Christians need only believe in Christ (Romans 10:9). This little invocation has been floating around the zeitgeist for a couple thousand years, leading Christians to proclaim their belief through rituals (even political), but stopping them short of enjoying a personal (or mystical) experience of God.

I fear that modern Christianity has become so focused on the external practice of religion - on simply proclaiming our belief through ritualistic worship - that we have lost touch with the true word of Christ. Many of us blindly follow the rules. But the Bible implores us to move beyond simply adhering to a biblical moral code so that we may enjoy an authentic spiritual existence. This is possible not through external rituals, but through an internal process that focuses on awakening the "spirituality" within.

We can achieve genuine spiritual enlightenment by pursuing the mystical, rather than the external religious experience. Sadly, many of the true teachings of Christ have been systematically exorcised from formal Christian doctrine. In particular, the Council of Nicea (A.D .322) fixed Christ's teachings in the European tradition. This allowed Emperor Constantine to use Christianity as an opiate to unify his empire and establish a white ruling structure that subverted the true teachings of Christ. In America, slaves were taught a perversion of Christianity aimed at nurturing their subservience.

The Bible offers hope of something greater for God's children. Jesus says in Mathew 16:24 that if we are to be his followers, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. In other words, we must move beyond our own egocentric and vain rituals to discover the truly spiritual possibilities of life. Whereas Paul talks more about faith as an intellectual belief, Jesus implores us to have a "personal experience" with God by removing ourselves from the materialistic trappings of society.

In doing so, we achieve a spirituality that connects us to the significance of life and provides an immutable foundation from which to judge right and wrong. This foundation is not transient like the vain and materialistic trappings of life. It is eternal because it connects us to God. Even during the worst hardships, when the other things in our lives seem to crumble, we can still find peace in the eternal love of God. People who understand this will feel God's love reflected back. That is to say, we cannot love God without loving ourselves.

This is a spirituality that is well beyond the vain and egocentric trappings of modern politics. It is a spirituality that requires us to purge our own eccentricities so that we may enjoy the truly beautiful possibilities of life.

That is why it is disturbing when politicians use this kind of spirituality as an instrument to control the masses. And that is why it is also so disturbing when we follow along - because it suggests not that we lack the ability to believe in God, but rather that many of us have simply spared ourselves the rigors of seeking genuine spiritual enlightenment. We call ourselves Christians because our parents call themselves Christians. This is not religion. It is inertia. And it represents the sort of decadence that has preceded the fall of all great civilizations.