The title of this slim volume with a question mark is a direct challenge to the frequent self-description of many young and not-so-young (mostly liberal) people who claim that they live a spiritual life but do not belong or do not want to belong to any particular religious institution or church. Locklin does not dismiss people making this claim as intellectual or moral slackers; indeed, these may be "loyal friends, loving parents, responsible citizens of the nation and of the world, activists for peace, advocates for protecting our natural environments" and that their refusal to join a religious institution is based not infrequently on "rather profound grounds of justice and intellectual conviction" (3). Nevertheless, he claims that the disjunction between "spiritual" (whatever that may mean) and "religious" (commitment to an institution) is a self-contradiction: "At least, if it is not an oxymoron, it should be. Not only should the terms 'spiritual' and 'religious' not weigh against each other, but it should be unthinkable to claim one without also claiming the other" (4). He categorically states that "to be spiritual is necessarily to be religious" (133).
Locklin defends his thesis not with philosophical and theological arguments but with a narrative of his own spiritual evolution from a "spiritual-but-not-religious" East Tennessean undergraduate to a Roman Catholic professor of theology at Saint Michael's College and the University of Toronto. Midwifing Locklin's birth into the Catholic Church and his "spirituality of institutional commitment" were four pivotal figures whom he calls the Professor, the Priest, the Guru, and the Guide. The first conveyed to him the uniqueness of Christ, the second the appeal of the Roman Catholic Church, the third the need for shared communion, and the fourth the necessity of both rejection and acceptance, critique and welcome toward the religious institution.
Throughout the book Locklin skillfully weaves into the narrative of his "institutional commitment" to the Catholic Church a set of theological insights concerning religious quest and the dynamics of conversion (chapter 1), the "indispensable" yet "inessential" role of the teacher for the discovery of truth (chapter2), the importance of the church as "a shared communion" despite its imperfections (chapter 3), and the necessity of interreligious dialogue even if one is convinced that two mutually contradictory religious views cannot be both right (chapter 4).
The book is an eloquent apology for personal commitment to a religious institution as an essential part of spiritual life, for being spiritual and religious. However, the looming question remains: Which religious institution? Not infrequently, the expostulation "I am spiritual but not religious" is not an outright rejection of the necessity or usefulness of institutional belonging but an implicit admission of one's perplexity about which religious institution one should commit oneself to and even a desire to belong to several religions at the same time. The author happened (the word is used advisedly) to be a Christian, and then decided to join the Roman Catholic Church. But why Christian and, more pointedly, why Roman Catholic? Is it possible to be both Christian and Hindu? The question his classmates in East Tennessee once asked "What makes Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, so special?" (3) still hangs in the air. Is the drawl of the Professor ("There is something unique, Christ") convincing to those who are not already Christian? The book does not deal explicitly with this question, but no doubt Locklin's account of his personal religious journey will be a fruitful launching pad for a discussion about being spiritual and religious.
Another great merit of the book is its discussion of Augustine and Chankara (the subject of Locklin's dissertation at Boston College) and its insightful interpretations of the Johannine Gospel, especially the passages about the Samaritan woman (4:3-28) and Peter and John (21:20-22).