Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Righteousness" vs. "Spirituality"

As I was contemplating this month's resolution, something struck me quite forcefully - something I had never considered previously. I was struck by the difference between "righteousness" and "spirituality". Since this is a new concept for me, I hope I can articulate it properly and it will be instructive - both for myself and others.

My search of the scriptures was incredibly instructive. (Have I said I love our on-line scriptures with the search option?) "Righteous" had 214 references in our canon; "spiritual" was listed 45 times. That was interesting. However, "righteousness" (the actual result of being righteous) appears in our canon 274 times, while "spirituality" (the actual result of being spiritual) appears a grand total of . . . . . . . 0 times. Nada; not once; zero; nil; never. That alone told me something profound.

When I looked up "spirituality" in the dictionary, the most interesting and comprehensive definition was, "of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material". In other words, to "be spiritual" means to be focused on the spirit - and, by extension, away from the body.

"Righteous", on the other hand, is defined as "characterized by or proceeding from accepted standards of morality or justice". In other words, to "be righteous" means to be "right with or living in accordance with proper standards **of action, not thought**" - which implies actions that, of necessity, are accomplished by the soul - the connected and united body and spirit.

The thought that hit me was that there is a real difference between being "spiritual" and being "righteous". There is an even bigger difference between pursuing "spirituality" and striving for "righteousness". If I have to choose between one or the other, I need to choose righteousness as the object of my hunger and thirst. Spirituality can be a motivating factor in pursuing a connection to the Holy Spirit, but it alone cannot produce a perfect (complete and whole) life lived in harmony with God's standards for all His children. Again, we are not commanded to seek spirituality as an end goal - to hunger and thirst after it. Why is that?

In a very real way, "spirituality", alone and isolated, is selfish, inwardly focused, susceptible to gluttony (constant spiritual feeding with no service to burn away spiritual calories), insular, and not inherently active or giving. It is understanding without application; it is the spirit divorced from the body; it is belief without action; in a way, it is like faith without works. Furthermore, if pursued exclusively, it can lead to a hermit-like existence away from the world - like a monk sequestered in a monastery living a life of isolated introspection - doing no bad, but also doing no good - never finding completeness and wholeness.

On the other hand, "righteousness" is selfless, focused on actions, high spiritual energy consuming, service-oriented, producing fruits that can feed one's self and others and bring the Holy Ghost to replenish personal spirituality. "Righteousness" is the physical application of true "spirituality" - the "proof" of real faith - and the difference between the "fruits of the Spirit" and the "works of man". (The last comparison is the topic of my next post.)

No wonder the command is NOT to hunger and thirst after spirituality, but instead to hunger and thirst after righteousness. In fact, what hits me as I type this is that righteousness can be phrased as "being right with God". That is a good way of describing the effect of God's grace - since it is God's grace that allows "being right" to mean being as complete and whole as one can be at any given point on the path that leads eventually to becoming truly complete and whole. One can be "righteous" all along that path, all the while hungering and thirsting after perfect righteousness.

That is a noble pursuit, worthy of our hunger and thirst.

9 comments:

adam said...

This is a nice way to conceptualize interaction with the church as related to my marriage. My wife is definitely more righteous than I am, while I think I am more spiritual. In a relationship it is nice to have the balance, because I tend to waver, while she sometimes needs a boost in doing right WITH feeling, rather than just doing it because it's right. At the same time, when I think I'm wavering she is a rock.

Hungering after righteousness is something that I love working on, and need more of, but I just need more consistency.

Jim said...

I enjoyed your comments as always. Based on Adam's comment and my own experience and observations, I wonder if men, in general, are more prone to spirituality and if women, in general, are more prone to righteousness. As Adam said, it does make for a good balance.

You mention that righteousness is the application of spirituality- would you say then that some degree of spirituality is a pre-requisite to true righteousness? Or, is it more accurate to say that spirituality is a by-product of developing righteousness?

Papa D said...

Interesting comments, Adam and Jim.

I'm not sure if I would link gender in that way, even broadly as a general stereotype. I haven't thought about it, since I like to focus these types of distinctions at an individual level. That's where true growth and progress occur, imo.

As to the relationship between spirituality and righteousness, as I have thought about this I lean toward them being (at the core) competitors in nature. One (spirituality) denies the importance of the body and actions; the other (righteousness) emphasizes the importance of the body and actions.

I see this split in most of the foundational conflicts in Christian theology. One camp claims creation ex nihilo (how more "spiritual" can you get than "creation out of nothing"?); the other claims creation through organization ("active, physical creation"). One claims original sin (and uses it to decry sex and all other aspects of physicality; the other sees the body as an integral part of this life and eternity. One sees the resurrection as strictly spiritual (thus overcoming once and for all this disgusting, evil, "fallen" body); the other sees the resurrection as truly tangible (thus finally joining spirit and body in an immortal, glorious state). One claims what we believe defines salvation to everlasting rest; the other believes what we become (through the application of our physical bodies and "fruits") defines exaltation to never-ending action.

I am beginning to think that the way we view physical matter says more about our theology than just about anything else - and that leads directly to whether we pursue "spirituality" or "righteousness".

Papa D said...

I forgot to add:

I think that's why "spirituality" is never mentioned in our scriptures. Being "spiritual" simply as being aware of and in touch with the spiritual part of our nature is one thing; striving for "spirituality" as an end result is quite another.

Jim said...

Ray,
Thanks for the additional comments. About the gender comment, I was mainly referring to your description of spirituality as being less "active" and "doing" than righteousness. I'm sure you have heard the jokes, although there is more truth to them than we would like to admit, that when something needs to get done in the church we just get the relief society involved. And I don't know whether it is necessarily an indicator of righteousness, but in general, women are often more compassionate and service-oriented than men.

And not to belabor the point, but there are other references such as this one from President Packer that seem to indicate that women indeed have inherent qualities that facilitate the development of their righteousness: "Virtues and attributes upon which perfection and exaltation depend come naturally to a woman and are refined through marriage and motherhood." (Elder Packer, For Time and All Eternity, General Conference Oct. 1993)

As to spirituality, I agree with your assessment than by itself and to the extreme, it is of little value. Perhaps it is just a misunderstanding of the connotation that we each ascribe to the word, but I have a hard time thinking of "spirituality" in negative terms, as long as it is balanced with righteousness.

In my own words, I would define spirituality as an ability to understand things of a spiritual nature. I realize this is very general, but I see it as very compatible with righteousness. In my mind, things such as prayer, studying and pondering the scriptures, fasting, etc. as ways of developing spirituality and contributing to righteousness.

Since I'm sure that you also see the value in these types of activities I can only conclude that our definition of spirituality is vastly different....And maybe the key is that spirituality (with my definition) is not the end but is the means to righteousness.

Papa D said...

Thanks, Jim, for the input. I have thought about it overnight, and the following is what came out of that thought.

I think women generally might be more in tune with their "hearts" than men, which tends to be connected historically to compassion, empathy, etc. - which leads to service, and action. Men, otoh, generally might be more prone to analyze things - framing issues in mental/intellectual ways more naturally than women.

(NOTE: This does NOT imply that women are more emotional and men are more intellectual. It just means the general default foundation might be different. It also might be conditioned heavily by each distinct role in the creative process of biological parenthood and the cultural roles traditionally associated with fathers and mothers. Iow, it might not be inherently gender-specific, but rather part of the "natural (wo)man" result of the Fall.)

In that sense, women generally might be considered more naturally prone to action over thought - when considered strictly as extremes. The issue, however, is that the ultimate objective of life is to become perfected (complete and whole), so I don't think it really matters what one's default setting is; what counts is progressing from that natural default to a proper balance. That balance would include the spiritual (being in touch with one's spirit), but it would not end there. It would be pointed toward righteousness - an awareness of the physical AND the spiritual and that one's changing one's actions is the key, not just one's thoughts or intellectual understanding.

In that sense, spirituality can be seen as an aspect of true righteousness, but it also can become the evil alter-ego of the pursuit of perfection if it trivializes the physical aspect of our eternal progression - which has happened to a real and deep degree in much of historical theology, including Christianity.

I'm really thinking right now about how this might impact my reading of Mosiah 3:19 and what "the natural man" might mean at a deeper level.

Papa D said...

I'm moving a comment from Stephen and my response to this thread, since it fits best here - and I want everyone who is interested in this topic to read it.
------------------------------------
"Righteousness" vs. "Spirituality" is a good theme, the usual one is religiosity vs. spirituality.

I think the one goes to form, the other to substance.

Good thinking.
-----------------------------------
When I read your comment, this scripture came to mind immediately.

"Having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof." (JSH 1:19)

Wow, Stephen, I had never put this together like that - the "spiritual foundation" of Christianity providing a "form of godliness" while lacking the substance that is necessary to understand the power of godliness.

Thanks!

Sojourner said...

Hi, popped in from paradox out of curiosity. Tackling the spirit body question I see. I have known hunger and I have known thirst because I live in this physical body. It is easier for me to conceptualize focusing these physical drives toward doing good for others than it is for me to focus my spirit toward being spiritual. Although, my spirit is what connects me to my Heveanly Father. I practice sprituality through prayer and quiet listening. We are body and we are spirit. We just happen to have an easier frame of reference through our bodies because we live in this physical world. Spirituality means many different things to many different people (right?) Nailing down an agreeable difinition is the hard part. That is where the mind enters into the equation which brings on a whole different perspective for your discussion! I won't touch upon the gender discussion except to say that it is probably more to do with personality traits than gender. Hope you don't mind my 2 cents worth :0)

Papa D said...

Thanks for dropping by, Sojourner.

"I won't touch upon the gender discussion except to say that it is probably more to do with personality traits than gender."

I agree, which is why I like to tackle progression individually and in conjunction with the Sermon on the Mount - by identifying those traits that are lacking or weak and seeking to develop / strengthen them.

I don't mind your ten cents worth. *grin* I appreciate any input you can provide.