Today, Ellyn vonHuben delves more deeply into the relationship between Christ and His Church, the emerging distinction between being "spiritual" and being "religious," and the idea of "free range believers." Read her insightful commentary below.
In the beginning paragraph of his epic satire, Love in the Ruins, Walker Percy describes the tenor of the time as being both Christ-forgetting and Christ-haunted.  Apt terms that come to mind as I survey our spiritual and/or religious landscape. Anyone who reads popular literature or tunes in to television understands the and/or; that the terms spiritual and religious are no longer used interchangeably. In many instances spiritual is used to denote a higher degree of, well, spirituality. And religious is just for those who are stuck on the idea of organizations, rules and all their guilt producing machinations.
Approximately one in five Americans self-identifies as “spiritual but not religious
.” These are often the people who have problems accepting the teachings of an organized church, regard organized religion with suspicion and may even carry with them some history of hurt and legitimate grievance in their experience with religion. Since there is no governing body that sets the parameters for what is regarded as spiritual orthopraxis, the beliefs of this group can run the gamut from Wiccan magic circles, Tibetan singing bowls and leprechauns... all the way up to their Own Personal Jesus.
Spiritual, but too cool for church. Church: “The community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization." ...The Church is at the same time:
- a "society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ;
- the visible society and the spiritual community;
- the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches."
These dimensions together constitute "one complex reality which comes together from a human and a divine element" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 771)
We can’t be free range believers. We cannot profess that we love Christ and turn our backs on his Church. For “the Church “is the visible plan of God's love for humanity," because God desires that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit. “ (Catechism of the Catholic Church 776)
To those who love Jesus but dismiss the Church, I would ask that they revisit their Bibles, for instance, Matthew 16:18-19: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (my emphasis)
Simple and beautiful. So why all contentiousness?
Though his yoke is easy and the burden light, sometimes the rules chafe. Because Jesus tells us to deny ourselves to follow him. Like the rich young man in Mark 10, we succumb to the temptation to have it ‘our way.’ Detached from Christ’s body, our ways become merely Christ-haunted, not Christ-centered.
This vaporization of Christianity has a particularly American history. “The empty prairies and endless skies have bred in us a gnostic magnetism to the uncreated, to the as-yet-to-be, to the conviction that we can begin all things innocently anew, escaping not only the burdens of old Europe but the storied past as well,” states Ralph Wood in Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South. 
Wood goes on to describe a type of religion that is “a personal matter between the soul and God. Such privatized faith leaves the solitary believer to intone, even when singing in chorus, a perfectly gnostic hymn: “I come the the Garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I’m His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” 
Hazel Motes, the nihilistic preacher at the center of Flannery O’Connor’s classic novel Wise Blood, chose a different course. Not just devoid of treacly hymns and saccharine sentiments, he wants to deny God and his salvation outright, as he begins to preach his gospel of “the church of truth without Jesus Christ Crucified.”  The words he heard from his preacher grandfather had convicted him since childhood. “Did they know that even for that boy there, for that mean sinful unthinking boy standing there with his dirty hands clenching and unclenching at his sides, Jesus would die ten million deaths before He would let him lose his soul?”  Motes knows the power of the incarnation and that Jesus cannot be made to conform to his needs. This is the Jesus who demands a radical decision. And Hazel’s decision is to run with abandon in the opposite direction.
It is not difficult to see some resemblance of Motes’ Christ-denying church in the Christ-forgetting churches of today. Churches that advertise that they won’t tell you how to think or what to do. Churches which one has difficulty identifying as particularly religious based on the observation that their denominational websites don’t even invoke the name of Jesus Christ on their home page. Churches which tempt me to invoke the phrase that there is “no there there.”
A church without Christ at its center is adrift. Without Christ, they are left with good intentions and tenderness to guide them. Flannery O’Connor, in her introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann, put her finger directly on the problem of an uncentered tenderness: "When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness [i.e., Christ] its logical outcome is terror. It ends in forced-labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber." 
The truth is that Christ cannot be separated from his Church. Like the Christ-haunted Hazel Motes, we may be tempted to run from the healing cautery of grace. We may wish to set up Christ-forgetting social organizations, hierarchies and activities that we call a ‘church.’ Or to excise ourselves from the body of Christ and to cling to a vision of a God created in our own image. The internet has certainly made it easy for anyone to become an armchair Luther and post his theses on the virtual church doors of the world. Any which way, it doesn’t work. As Joan of Arc said to her judges, "About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they're just one thing, and we shouldn't complicate the matter." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 795)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers an elegantly simple summary of the definition of the Church. It “is this Body of which Christ is the head: she lives from him, in him, and for him; he lives with her and in her. The Church is the Bride of Christ: he loved her and handed himself over for her. He has purified her by his blood and made her the fruitful mother of all God's children.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 807 & 808) That is where we find the sacred deposit of faith! Like the girl-saint said, let’s not complicate it.
Ellyn vonHuben is a regular contributor to the Word on Fire Blog.
 Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1971) p. 3
 Ralph C. Wood Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South (Grand Rapids Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004) p.158
 ibid., p. 159
 Flannery O’Connor, 3 by Flannery O’Connor (New York, NY: Penguin Books, by arrangement with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, Inc., 1983) p. 28
[5 ] ibid. p. 10
 Sr.M. Evangelist, O.P. with an introduction by Flannery O’Connor, Mission Accomplished: A Memoir of Mary Ann (New York, NY: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1961) p. 21.