"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Thursday, November 15, 2012

How Does Your Spirituality Make You a Better Person?

Does your spirituality (or religion or faith) improve your character? This question comes to mind often in my studies, and I’m intrigued by what others think. But let me first offer some hopefully helpful clarifications.

First, character. What I’m getting at by "character" is the kind of person you are, your virtue, and the effect you have on others. Maybe “sanctification” is a better way to think of it. Maybe holiness. Maybe moral progress. Maybe goodness. Is there anybody you know that you look at and say something akin to “wow, what a really good person.”

I mean thoroughly good, not somebody you also kind of find hypocritical, shallow, doing good things for selfish reasons. Somebody who is, for example, exceptionally patient, gracious, courageous, sacrificial, tactful, creative, organized, joyful, detached, etc. I want to leave open what “good” and “better” mean because I’m not convinced there’s one right answer to that question.

Secondly, there are other benefits to being religious or spiritual that I’m not asking about here. For example, perhaps your faith has “saved” you in a cosmic or spiritual sense, setting you on the path toward eternal bliss and/or peace. That’s awesome! But that’s not really directly (as much as indirectly) about how you are “better” in a way that positively affects others.

You may have found inner peace through your faith, or the fulfillment of a longing, or something to keep you entertained, or a place to belong, etc. Spirituality and religious faith can fulfill all sorts of needs, temporal and eternal. Those are important and central to why we believe and practice what we do. I don’t dismiss them.

But my question here, and maybe a hard one because it potentially involves thinking/talking about how great you are: how has your spirituality specifically improved your character? How has it made you a better person? Answering this question might first mean asking yourself how you construe “goodness” in yourself and others.

If you’d say that this isn’t the point of your spirituality—that the purpose of your spirituality is to humble you and show you how you can’t become better and can only rely on the grace or favor of God—then I guess this might be an irrelevant or odd question for you. Because in that case, spirituality is not really supposed to make you better because spirituality can’t make you better; that’s not its goal. Or maybe you'd admit that there's a place for character formation, but it's not as important as simply living with gratitude for the grace and goodness of God. Maybe that would affect how you'd answer this question.

I welcome feedback. And, if you are more comfortable talking about others than yourself for fear of sounding proud (or for whatever reason), maybe talk about someone you know: how do you think your friend/acquaintance’s spirituality has made them a better human being? What quality/qualities do you/they possess that probably wouldn’t be present in them were it not for their religious/spiritual devotion?

(For example: “I used to be very self-entitled and possessive of my stuff, but my spirituality has enabled me to release control of things and made me a much more generous person, and I feel like people around me experience that generosity. Or, “my friend really took herself too seriously until she found God; now she is much more lighthearted and laughs a lot…her sense of humor and ability to laugh at herself and help others laugh at themselves is a huge blessing to all who know her.” Don’t get too distracted or bound by my format…just trying to generate ideas, ways of articulating a possible response.)

I certainly think spirituality can make you better in a way that benefits others. As a Christian, I believe God desires all to become more fully human, more fully alive, more fully in tune with the divine, and, as a consequence of these things—more goodI just don’t know that people's spirituality always does make them better people. But where it does, I’m eager to know how. What does that “character improvement” look like in your life and the lives of those you know?

My main goal of asking? Curiosity, I guess. I try to be a good student and ask lots of questions. :)

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