Healthy spiritualities are positive, in the sense that at their heart are teachings that convey what to do – practices, beliefs, works, and so on – rather than what not to do – sins, improper beliefs, and so on. In other words, a healthy spirituality should have a list of “dos” at its core rather than “don’ts.” That isn’t to say that a healthy spirituality won’t have within it things that an adherent should avoid doing, but it is saying that those things won’t form the core of the spirituality. If you look around today, particularly in the Christian arena, many people have corrupted Christianity to the point that you would think that all God cares about is who you sleep with and whether you carry your pregnancy to term.
The problems with prohibitions is that they can’t teach the Spirit behind the Law. If I tell you not to sleep with your neighbor’s wife but don’t tell you why I am saying that, not only are you in fact more likely to seek her out but you won’t be able to generalize the principle behind the rule. If, on the other hand, I tell you to treat your neighbor the way you would like to be treated, not only are you less likely to sleep with your neighbor’s wife but you also will understand the values of compassion and empathy and apply them to other situations as well. Perhaps even more important, teaching positive principles tends to make us think of ourselves in a positive light, as opposed to giving you lists of things to avoid and having you view yourself as a problem to be avoided.
Decades from now, when we look back at the many reasons for the death of Institutional Christianity, I believe that chief among them will be the impression that the more conservative segments of the Church has conveyed that Jesus offered no positive path for living, only a list of prohibitions. The irony in that, of course, is that it was that very tendency within the Judaism of his time that Jesus sought to correct! It has only been the focus of some of the Protestant reformers at the time of the Reformation on total depravity that has muddied the waters and led to the mess we currently find ourselves in.
As Marianne Williamson, whom I happen to like very much and respect, has said very often, “God doesn’t make junk.” Would that we would take that in and appreciate all of its implications for our spiritual teaching and living!