You need a map to cross the ocean; religion necessary for spiritual fulfillment


Famed Christian writer C.S. Lewis once gave a talk to the Royal Air Force. When Lewis began to speak about theology, a man in the audience stood up and objected.

I’ve no use for all that stuff,” the man said. “I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him.”

Lewis responded in empathy. A direct experience of God, he conceded, is more real than a creed. Likewise, the Atlantic is more real than a map of the Atlantic. “But here comes the point,” said Lewis. “[The map] is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic.”

Today, nearly one in five Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” These Americans are not atheists: they’d like to get across the ocean. But they are committed to doing so without a map. Having perhaps been mislead by one flawed map in the past, they’ve apparently decided that maps themselves are oppressive. So while they may fleetingly experience the beauty of the Atlantic, they’re unlikely to make it to England in one piece.

As Lewis indicated, a religion is an accumulated body of knowledge that has already faced for generations whatever issues a spiritual person might seek to resolve. If one is seeking a relationship with God, then, the rational course of action is to stand on the shoulders of giants by becoming religious. A spiritual person who does not become religious is like a scientist who ignores all the research already done in his field: he’ll be hard-pressed to make new discoveries if he refuses to build on the findings of others.

So-called religious pluralists often argue that religion is invalid because it is influenced by the place in which one happens to be born. This argument shoots itself in the foot: if you had been born in Qatar, you would likely not be a religious pluralist.

You might point out that, had I been born in India, my thinking could have lead me to become a Hindu. Although I am committed to the truth of Christianity, I freely admit that this is the case; I recognize that, as a metaphorical sailor, I would do better to start with false directions than to reject the concept of directions entirely.

Sure enough, the data suggests that people who are spiritual but not religious don’t fare as well on their journey as those who are both. A January 2013 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that people who are spiritual but not religious are more likely to suffer from any neurotic disorder, mixed anxiety/depressive disorders or depression than their religious counterparts.

“People who have spiritual beliefs outside of the context of any organized religion are more likely to suffer from these maladies,” said Michael King, a professor at University College London, in a Jan. 19, 2013 CNN article.

The Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton, who played an important role in Lewis’ conversion, wrote that he admired those non-Christians who “long for the old feasts and formalities of the childhood of the world.” But there is something about these people, wrote Chesterton, that “suggests that it is just possible that they do not keep Christmas … if this is so, let them be very certain of this, that they are the kind of people who in the time of the maypole would have thought the maypole vulgar.”

If spirituality is important to you, I hope you’ll agree that our society is poorer for its lack of it. You should appreciate, then, that it is those people who are both religious and spiritual that have always kept spirituality alive.

Conversely, those who try to cross the Atlantic without a map are being lost at sea. If you insist on reinventing the wheel with open-ended abstractions, you’re unlikely to make it very far.

Ian Huyett is a senior in political science and anthropology. Please send comments to