Readers of this website will know that feral spirituality is being explored mostly as a corrective to the domesticating effects of conventional believing. It is not used to denote ferocity or savagery. The thesis is simple: the practice of religious observance can have the unintended effect of an anaesthetic, a tranquillizer, or opiate....
Some object to this claim. The ways of organised religion (here I am concerned only with Christianity) have, they say, only beneficial effects upon believers. I don’t disagree that following the practices of organised Christianity can have beneficial effects. I have known them myself. I have been valuably shaped by patterns of prayer and liturgical life over decades, before and after I was ordained priest, and in that adventure I have met many impressive and wonderful friends. Without doubt this exposure has made me a better person, a listener and lover of silence, more able to escape the gravitation pull of my ego, better able to serve and love others, more able to respond to the wonder of being alive in this glorious but perplexing creation. It hasn’t lessened any suffering that has come my way, but it has placed it in a context.
Yet organised religion brings dangers. Do they really need to be spelled out I wonder? Seemingly yes. One of them is conformity. Never underestimate the power that religious organisations exert over the individual to conform to dominant orthodoxies and behaviours. Or the subtle (sometimes not to subtle) means by which waverers are dealt with. ‘Othering’ and ‘gaslighting’ are not new. Church life can be cruel, even brutal. Just ask the casualties.
Another dimension is the way church life domesticates God. We may mockingly cite the mantra of ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ yet look at some of what we do to this uncontainable, unconstrained source of all being: we talk (and behave sometimes) as though S/he resides only in churches, rarely venturing out. In different branches of the church, we may confine Him/her to the sanctuary, or hidden behind an iconostasis, or insist He/She is primarily encountered in the consecrated host. God is packaged, commodified, confined in so many ways. I understand how and why these habits develop (an unpredictable God can be scary, and a problem), but the unintended consequence is to suggest that this untamed, fierce, loving God is not really to be found abroad, in our homes or workplaces, or in the routine muck and muddle of our daily lives.
Yet another aspect is how power is distributed in the life of the church-as-institution. For the most part it resides in the ordained class. Some church people find this an extraordinary and ridiculous claim, presumably because the laity and clergy model is one so familiar and ‘normal’ to them. To me it is plainly the case that clergy are seen as the professionals in the adventure of faith, and over the centuries this has been at the expense of the laity.
What I am trying to express may be this: the practice or organised religion can lead to a gentrification of the spirit and heart which occludes the elements of enquiry, curiosity, exploratory playfulness, and even godly recklessness which the true life of the spirit requires. I accept that this is a broad-brush claim. There are countless examples amongst both clergy and laity that dodge these oppressive features.
Does cultivating a feral spirit bring anything useful to the adventure of faith? Yes, when understood as a move to (re)connect with the edgy spirit of the Gospels and escape (some of) the domesticating effects of church life. View it as a tool in the spiritual adventure, or more precisely, in seeking to know and follow Christ.
Hugh's blog www.passingthrough.uk
Comments about the site
Just wanting to say “yes” to this. You will be speaking for, and to, many. I will certainly be passing this on to others, and will contribute some thoughts myself later.
So, I was delighted to see Feral Spirituality make an appearance. I'd think you could find many wanting to join in