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I recently had a conversation about spiritual vs. religious (Christian) with an evangelical, semi-literalist friend. Her opinion that I could not be spiritual without being a Christian, that God only could be defined via Christ and that one could not have a relationship with God except as a Christian through a Christ centered belief served to reinforce my personal exile not only from Christianity but from all religious doctrine and dogma.
As John Shelby Spong writes about being in exile when one leaves 'the church.' Wright refers to his own inability to totally shake the invisible man in the sky mentality that is so deeply engrained in Christian and other religious thinking.
I would disagree, however, with Wright's opinion that as the world has become more global in its interdependence that the concept of God becomes more compassionate. As American politics have become more politically aligned with Christian right, the divide and condemnation of "right" thinkers vs. "left" thinkers parallels doctrine.
My friend was quite dismayed when I "came out" about no longer being a Christian or sharing Christian belief. When I raised the question posed by Epstein in his book "Good without God", "Am I immoral without a belief in God, or more specifically, a belief in a Christ-based God?" my friend side stepped the answer. She replied that morality can only be defined in Christ based teachings of the Bible.
I am currently reading Stephen Batchelor's new book, "The Autobiography of a Buddhist Atheist." He writes about his internal conflict- a trained and practicing Tibetan Buddhist monk who could not believe in the fundamental Buddhist precept of rebirth and reincarnation. He was told he had to believe in what the higher enlightened monks told him was "true". As I have been reading this, if I substitute "salvation" and "heaven" , his process is much the same as mine.
I think it's essential to ask the question "What don't I believe." and "Why" instead of "What do I believe."
The total rejection by Christians like my friend, who remains a cherished friend of mine, that I can not have a deeply personal and spiritual life without believing in the Christian God is the repeating theme in this ongoing debate of spiritual vs. religious. She rejects my claim that I have a spiritual practice through mindfulness and metta meditation, through QiGong practice and walking meditation, and personal reflection. This total ownership attitude only serves to mark the divide that will continue to exist and widen between Christian ownership of God and the potential of spiritual awakening that lies outside its narrow doctrine. I don't think it's about science vs. religion, but about rational thought, personal reflection and experience of self vs. brainwashed, supersitious non-thinking required by all religions. I have come to believe that if "it" is recorded in some kind of scripture, if "it" is organized by rules of participation and greater rewards for such participation, if "it" includes only the selected few to lead the multitudes, then "it" is dogma. "It" was created by men to control people, to control ownership of real estate, property and wealth, and to control political power. That ultimately is religion.