The Myth of D-I-Y Spirituality

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“Me do it! Me do it!”  Anyone who has raised kids has heard those words. It isn’t hard to think back to when my kids were young and discovering new things. Now and again they would get determined to do something “All by myself!” So, as parents, we quietly step back and let them try. Some times they succeed, but there are other times when we watch them struggle, knowing with absolute certainty that what they are trying to do is not actually possible. We can rest assured that they will eventually give up and wander away, or say, “Daddy fix it!”

I can’t help but imagine that our Heavenly Father feels much the same way as he watches a cultural shift that is happening. More and more people and convinced that “Do-it-yourself Spirituality” is the better alternative to organized religion. I have also seen the term “Spiritual Democracy” used to explain that spirituality does not require, or is even hampered by organized religion.

One of the most common ways people describe D-I-Y spirituality is to say “I am spiritual, but not religious.” In other words, they consider themselves to be spiritually in tune and enlightened, but do not associate with any form of organized religion. No church. It is a growing trend. I know people who consider themselves to be spiritual people, but don’t believe that traditional church habits and rites offer anything to those who are already “enlightened.”

“About a quarter of U.S. adults (27%) now say they think of themselves as spiritual but not religious, up 8 percentage points in five years, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between April 25 and June 4 of 2017.” (link)

(If you want to dig deep and see more about those who claim to be “Spiritual but Not Religious,” here is a link to the Pew Research center’s study details.  It is pretty fascinating stuff.)

There is a problem with this approach to spirituality: It doesn’t work.

Self-defined spirituality is not God-defined spirituality. Proponents of D-I-Y spirituality might find “A” spirituality of sorts, but not “THE” spirituality that can change us and take us where we want to go. Not the spirituality as defined by God.

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7: 13-14)

Nephi taught the pure nature of the gospel and concluded with these words, “And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.” (2 Nephi 21:31)

Not long ago our dear prophet President Monson echoed these ideas when he said, “I testify of the great gift which is our Father’s plan for us. It is the one perfect path to peace and happiness both here and in the world to come.” (link)

I understand a temptation to “go it alone.” To want to be the monk who lives on the mountain top communing with God and reaching new levels of enlightenment. It seems like it could work – but it can’t.

In fact, the whole phrase “Spiritual Self-Relliance,” is a questionable idea to me. Now don’t freak out! I know the Church uses that phrase now and again in talks and lessons. I have studied them all, and what I take away is that whenever the phrase “Spiritual Self-Reliance” is used, it is to teach the importance of having our own testimonies which are not tethered to others. For example, a child can lean on his parent’s testimony, but will one day need to find out for his/herself that it is true. You can’t live on borrowed light forever. I see “Spiritual Self-Reliance” more as a “Testimonial Independence,” not to be confused with “D-I-Y Spirituality.”

Why doesn’t “D-I-Y Spirituality” work? Why can’t “me do it?” I suppose the best way to illustrate it is to explain who I am dependent on for my own spirituality. (And the list is longer than you might think.)

I am dependent on:

1- Heavenly Father and His plan for me. It is a plan that was decided well before we came to earth. It is and was Heavenly Father’s plan, and He proposed it as His way of fulfilling His mission, which is, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)

2- Jesus Christ. First, He made the aforementioned Plan possible by stepping up and serving as our Savior. His atoning sacrifice set things in play that can provide us with a real spirituality. He also taught us through word and deed what is required to attain spirituality.

And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten.” (Moses 6:61)

3- The Holy Ghost. To have a real testimony of any or all things, the Holy Ghost must be involved. To make that leap from belief to knowledge requires a spiritual manifestation – not just any spirit, but THE Spirit, aka the Holy Ghost. “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5)

Not only does the Holy Ghost testify to us and grant us knowledge, He also serves as a spiritual guide in our lives. He enlightens, prompts, warns, inspires, strengthens, and much more. All of those things are components of personal spirituality. Without the Holy Ghost, there might be occasional glimpses of all of them, but it could not become a way of living.

Most importantly, the Holy Ghost “cleanses, heals, and purifies the soul.” (link) Why is it so important? because “the soul, cleansed of sin, is in a condition to enjoy the abiding influence of the Holy Ghost, which ‘dwelleth not in unclean tabernacles.’” (link)

But to have the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we are dependent on other people as well…

4- The Church. Christ established his church anciently, and has once again established His church. Within that Church we find the authority and Priesthood keys necessary to conduct ordinances essential to salvation.

“Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh.” (D&C 84:21) (Did you notice the part I italicized and bolded?  Yeah – that.)

5- Priesthood Key Holders. For us to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we need to be baptized and confirmed. To help us get that done, we need a Bishop and a Stake President who hold the keys to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. With those keys other priesthood holders are authorized to perform the sacred ordinances of baptism and confirmation. When we make those covenants and participate in those ordinances, we can have the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which brings with Him a definitive sense of spirituality.

6- Deacons and Priests, or whomever is authorized to administer the sacrament to me each week also play a role in my spirituality. Without them, we would forgo the promise “that they may always have his Spirit to be with them.” (Moroni 4:3)

Simply put, no Church equals no ordinances. No ordinances or covenants equal no purity. No purity equals no companionship of the Holy Ghost. No companionship of the Holy Ghost equals a lesser type of spirituality.

7- Everyone in the world. What? Yes, we need all of those other people to have real spirituality. This is where the hermit in the woods, or the man on the mountaintop gets it wrong. We cannot do it alone.

Christ taught about the great commandments:  “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matthew 22:37)

Did you catch that? The #2 great commandment requires that we have neighbors to love. That’s right – our obedience depends on our associating with other people.

No obedience equals no purity. No purity equals no companionship of the Holy Ghost…etc. (You’ve got it now.)

Not only do we have to love our neighbors with thoughts and words, we have to actually roll up our sleeves and love them for reals. We must be “willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort…” (Mosiah 18:8)

Basically, the idea of D-I-Y Spirituality falls apart as soon as you look at it from God’s point of view. He has a plan. He has already figured it all out. He decided what spirituality, and how to attain it is. Sure, I can say that “I’ve found a way that works better for me than His plan does,” but I would be lying or living in a fantasy.

Coincidentally, I found a remarkable study from the British Journal of Psychiatry that reached this conclusion: “People who have a spiritual understanding of life in the absence of a religious framework are vulnerable to mental disorder.” (link)

It makes sense in a way, because God set things up this way for a reason. Any other way is not His, and is in conflict with His plan and purpose. As we progress in our spirituality, God’s way begins to make more sense, as it becomes less of a mystery.

“But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.”(D&C 6:23)

We can claim to be spiritual but not religious, but I wouldn’t risk it in the short or long run. It is not for us to define, or to try and D-I-Y.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8)

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14 COMMENTS

  1. And THIS is why I love to go to church. I can sit home and read my scriptures or other spiritually uplifting works but being with others who believe the way I do encourages me, uplifts me and lets me feel the love
    others have for me and my family. I love to go because I always hear something in Sacrament Meeting, Gospel Doctrine or Relief Society that pertains to me and I go away feeling renewed for the coming week.
    How could anyone do it alone? You are right, it doesn’t work. Eventually they wander. Maybe not to do something really bad or even break a commandment but they wander further and further away from the kind of thinking and behavior that will keep the Holy Ghost with them. I wouldn’t want to be without that protective and comforting help in my life. I have heard this for years from people that they don’t want organized religion. They don’t want a regular reminder from anyone what Heavenly Father would like for them to do. They think it gives them freedom when it really paralyzes them. Thank you so much for this. Another encouraging and important reminder to stay on the straight path.

  2. Great post! I think the phrase “Spiritually self-reliant” also includes the idea that we don’t go to the Bishop for counsel with every little decision in our life. I remember a talk (or talks) along those lines from Elder Packer and Elder Maxwell, that the saints need to be studying, praying and finding their own answers–being spiritually self-reliant. Anyway, because we are all at different points along the path we do need each other’s encouragement and insights. Thanks for yours.

  3. Great article and comments.
    I have used your first paragraph to help explain to both members and friends that we are each endowed with a creation gene — because we are indeed — children of our heaveny parents.

  4. Our former Stake president use to say Heavenly Father said we were meant to live together in groups. I believe it is so.

  5. Ah the non-wisdom of youth and young adults. I remember the comments of a nephew by marriage. He had just returned from a stint in Juvie. He said something like, I am not going to try to follow the laws of the government or the commandments of God, but I will never do anything to harm another person. At this point I wanted to shout, “That is what most laws and commandments are all about! And who are you to determine what will harm other people?” We need our God. We need a community of believers, a community of people who care about us. Those who “worship” out in nature on the Sabbath, are missing the communal nature of worship and the opportunities to serve and care for each other. Yes, I have a son in law who was raised without the need for religion, yet he is the first to offer his help to neighbors and friends in need. He is the one to call when stranded hours away in the middle of the night, and he will come and get you and fix your car and feed you. But I see how he could be so much more. Maybe one day.

    • Ironically, the younger generations are not getting sucked into this whole “D-I-Y Spirituality” as much as older folks.

  6. Having missed church today because of the flu, I truly get your point. I know the organization is perfect. It’s just us common folk who mess it up yet we find perfecting principles there. Service, Ordinances (The Sacrament), learning, and teaching to name a few. Thank you for the grand reminder. I have shared with with my family. Too good to miss out!

  7. Once again, you have crafted a post that is simple but deep in its order and progression. I am so often personally awed by the order and organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to support and carry out the work of Heavenly Father, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Yes, the doctrine and the Church are not exactly the same thing, but the Church and the doctrine are so molecularly intertwined. It’s kind of like thinking of our skeleton and our whole physical body. The skeleton alone is not the body, but the work of the body as a whole is dependent on the skeleton for effectively functioning as a body is intended. I don’t know if that analogy falls short of what I am trying to convey, but regardless, I marvel at the organization the Lord has put into place and is essential to the work of Heavenly Father’s ultimate goal.

  8. Great post and thoughts–love it! What is interesting is how things just keep coming around. I remember back in the mid 1960s the whole cycle of DIY spirituality was a big thing. Now here it is back again. Sigh

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