|My favorite photo from Thailand: a RBNS macaque in Lop Buri.
If spiritual but not religious (SBNR) is the movement that lulls the secular masses into a false sense of spiritual security, then religious but not spiritual (RBNS) is the equivalent amongst regular church goers. Whether it is the temple-going-returned-missionary whose apostasy you never saw coming, or your Christian friend whose lifestyle betrays no evidence of their born-again-and-go-to-church-every-Sunday faith, it is far too common for comfort. These are ever-present reminders that outward religiosity does not equate to actual spirituality.
Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient.
In Mormon circles, there is a great tendency to equate regular church attendance with having it all together spiritually. Most of us are guilty of going to lengths to cover our blemishes prior to showing up at sacrament meeting. Like a good actor, we’re ‘in character’ for at least three hours every Sunday. Often, we become so good at it that our audience starts to believe it.
In all honesty, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We need as much practice as possible in being the person we would really like to be. But there is a fine line between putting on our Sunday best (literally and figuratively) and trying to appear to be someone we’re not.
I love the assessment of Fr. James Martin who speaks out against the perils of both RBNS and SBNR:
Religion without spirituality becomes a dry list of dogmatic statements divorced from the life of the spirit. This is what Jesus warned against. Spirituality without religion can become a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community.
RBNS is every bit as unproductive for the pious as SBNR is for the secular. In truth, outward religious behavior that is not mirrored by internal spirituality is an “abomination” in God’s eyes. The Lord said “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Joseph Smith History 1:19).” For the purposes of this post, the Good News Translation of Isaiah 29:13 is very instructive (here for KJV):
The Lord said, “These people claim to worship me, but their words are meaningless, and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorized. (GNT Isaiah 29:13)
The Lord is not interested in lip service, but “requireth the heart and a willing mind” (D&C 64:34). It is far easier to memorize the rules and customs of a religious tradition and intermittently perform it’s associated rites than it is to actually be spiritual—at least as defined by God (Romans 8:5-8). To do so is the essence of being RBNS. The RBNS have “a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof” and spend their efforts “ever learning [but] never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:5, 7). In some cases it is a deliberate attempt to appear to be something we are not. In most cases, it is unintentional. Either way, it amounts to Christianity-Lite. Though it may taste great, it is less definitely less filling.
Elder Hallstrom went on to say: “we need the gospel and the Church. In fact, the purpose of the Church is to help us live the gospel.” You can’t have one with out the other.