Thoughts on Solitary Christianity: Go For It!
After immediately leaving Christianity, I still felt a spiritual impulse to do something religion-y with my time. I still kind of have that impulse. I mean, it's really hard to make the jump from complete observance to complete atheism all at once. So my stepping stone was Wicca/Paganism, which is where I first heard of the term "solitary practitioner". Do my ears deceive me? I can be spiritual by myself and don't need the moral approval of a bunch of uptight grannies? I can become in tune with the wisdom of the world's religious traditions and the harmonious flows of nature, without ever having to label myself or give someone else money? Where do I sign up? Oh that's right, you don't! How marvelous.
A big draw for me with Wicca was that I could "be my own boss" at it. I decided when to do a ritual and which ones to do. If I didn't want to use a besom, I didn't. If I wanted to I could be naked, I could wear a robe, or I could wear my pajamas. I've always thought that a being as big and powerful that it should be worshiped by humans should not care whether we appear before him or her wearing a bed sheet, a buckskin, or nothing at all. So while some people prefer the structure of organized religion, I loved Wicca allowing me tremendous freedom in choosing what structure to place on myself. And to decide when the rules were meant to be broken.
But can Christianity be Practiced Solo?
When it comes to Christianity, however, it's less clear about whether someone can be a "true Christian" without belonging to a church. What I believe is that the soul and God are bigger than anyone's stone walls and stained glass, but the fact remains that most preachers say that Christians must be a community, the "body of Christ". There's a reason the word "congregation" makes you think of a church. Christians congregate. But why? And is that a necessary requirement?
Many of the earliest Christians were in fact, solitary or in very small, very isolated communities. When Christianity was persecuted by the Romans, there could be no big, public gatherings. Jesus also told people to pray in secret, rather than in public. In his day, he saw the Pharisees and other Jews making a great big spectacle out of their piety for social brownie points. What he said was that Christians, his followers, should not be like that, because it's more righteous to be righteous when no one is looking than to make a grand display of one's devotion to God for their own self-aggrandizement. And yet, there are many Christians who could be accused of just that same hypocrisy Jesus was preaching against.
So, if the earliest Christians were solitary or members of small, secretive discussion groups meeting in people's houses rather than in big, public buildings, how can anyone say they weren't true Christians? I think that people who say a Christian cannot be solitary is either showing ignorance of their own religion's history, or they are exploiting the ignorance of others for the sake of increasing their own herds.
Remember that even Jesus himself went "solo" for a while to meditate and pray in the desert. So if solo Christians are not true Christians, was Jesus?
Pitfalls of Solo Practice
In any religion, that's not to say there are not dangers to trying your hand at solo practice. For one, just like with working from home instead of at an office, you don't have someone else to which you're being held accountable. So, it can be hard to maintain the discipline and focus of spiritual practices at home, without a rabbi, priest, guru, etc. to make sure you're on the right track. There's also the issue that what you think is right might be a false belief. In Christianity, many people will tell you that without a church, you could be tempted more easily and led astray from God more easily. That depends on you as an individual though. And plenty of people with a congregation are probably misled or thinking the wrong thing. I say, at least if I'm alone and making a mess of it, it's my own mess.
There's also with any Abrahamic faith, the whole part where God says "it is not good for man to be alone". Which is why God made Eve in Genesis, so that Adam would not be alone. And while pagan worship has always been sort of private and either practiced alone or in small groups, the Judaic tradition on which Christianity rests emphasizes community, family, and other groups over individuals. The gospels reflect this mentality when they call someone "a woman from Damascus" or "a Samaritan man" or "a Pharisee" or whatever. People were known by their social status, city of origin, and profession much more than by any sort of individual identity. Their identity came from what social groups they were a part of, not from themselves.
But as this article points out, being part of the mystical body of Christ should not have to mean you are given an official stamp of approval from any particular existing Christian organization or group. I feel that Christians should feel free to read the Bible and practice their own Christian rituals at home without the need for a political organization ruling over them. If people really do want to seek God, sometimes meditation, deep reading, and solitary prayer might be necessary, and organized religion can sometimes hamper these efforts more than they help. Sure, Christianity is also about giving and charity, but these also can be solitary efforts. I think whether it's a quote from now or a quote from a thousand years ago, people saying that Christians need church are just saying that they want political and economic control over Christians. Don't feel like you have to choose a church or denomination to be a good Christian.
So while there are dangers with self-discipline and correct belief, there are many positive aspects of trying your hand at practicing religion alone. If there's two churches in town and you don't theologically agree with either, practicing alone is probably better for your sanity than picking one you disagree with and pretending you do agree with what's being said. For a while, I pretended to agree with Catholic doctrine when I went through RCIA, but I could not bring myself to believe in their belief that I need confess my sins to a priest. After all, is God omniscient or isn't He? He probably remembers my sins better than I do, assuming He exists. The idea of tallying up the number of times I flicked my bean and telling a man didn't seem very spiritual to me. Was I going for a high score? Better break out that naughty Haruhi fanfic I saw earlier... hehe.
My point is, don't pretend to agree with a church if you don't. You can find truth, a relationship with the divine, and spiritual meaning on your own, you just have to be bold enough to try.