The reasons Christianity has become irrelevant to the spiritual quest of many people in the West are complex. They begin, however, with the fact that being a good Christian is not the same as being on a spiritual journey. Even more alarming is the fact that being a good Christian does not necessarily make you a good human being. Of course, this is equally true of other religions. I quickly think of people I have known of other faiths where their religious life has made them less than winsome human beings. Regrettably, a commitment to religious beliefs and practices does not always produce a life-enhancing spirituality. Holiness does not automatically translate into wholeness. Nor do pietistic practices necessarily lead to an authentically transformational spirituality.
Being a good Christian – or, in language more often used by Roman Catholics, being a good Catholic – often means nothing more than being reasonably regular in attending church services or going to mass or confession. If the bar is raised higher, it might additionally include personally believing the major dogmas of the church. And if it is raised higher still, it might include the religious practices that are particularly valued within the community or tradition – such things, for example, as personal prayer or Bible reading, Sabbath-keeping, receiving the sacraments, or active involvement in social justice projects. In some Christian traditions it might additionally take the form of an active commitment to become Christ-like. But unfortunately, all of these things can be nothing more than external conformity to the behavioral norms of a church, community or tradition. All can be present in the absence of an inner transformational journey and all can be undertaken in ways that fail to deepen one’s humanity.
Being a good Christian is not enough to become a vital human being if you are living without awareness. Tragically, it is remarkably easy to go through life mindlessly. The default state of consciousness for humans seems to be preoccupation and distraction. While Christian spiritual practices should awaken us – awakening being a core feature of authentic conversion – often they do not. Unfortunately, we will never be more aware of God or other spiritual realities than we are of our bodies, our emotions, and our experience in the present moment. Living with awareness is a pre-requisite to becoming deeply human, but not something that comes automatically with being a good Christian.
Good Christians can also easily go through life in a somnambulistic fog that blinds them to enchantment of the world in which they live. We often fail to experience the radical amazement that life should evoke. The most obvious marker of this is boredom. However, most of us become quite adept at warding off this inner sense of deadness and so may have no awareness of just how boring we actually find life to be. Compulsive busyness is a particularly good way of defending against boredom. Many people only feel bored on holidays when they find themselves unable to fill the time with enough things to do. But if boredom is the negative face of a spiritual way of living, the positive expression of this life posture is seeing life through eyes of wonder. Spirituality should transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Religious practices that fail to make us truly alive and deeply human are ones that restrict the wonderful and the extraordinary to the religious realm of life. But this is too small a container and soon it also proves to be a leaky one. Wonder either fills the world and our experience of it, or seeps out of life entirely.