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Some thoughts about spirituality...

John Bean contributed the following.

Sam Harris, who wrote 'Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion', is one of the 'new atheists'; he is trying to create a non-religious (pseudo) spirituality based on reductionist neuroscience.  I agree with Harris that spirituality is important, indeed vital. The trouble is he draws on his neuroscience to follow the Buddhist idea of no-self, whereas I think the Christian idea is for a selfless self. We become selfless by dying to the ego-self as it were. This is what am trying to say in my paper. In terms of Sam Harris I am afraid I can't help thinking of what the Christian mystic Jean-Yves Leloup wrote “The ego is like a clever monkey, which can co-opt anything, even the most spiritual practices, so as to expand itself”."

I also agree with Sam Harris that spirituality is important (it is increasingly being recognized as a vital part of our humanity), but I think he misses an equally important point: as social creatures we need to share our spirituality, and shared spirituality is what we call 'religion'.  You can have your own private spirituality, but as soon as you try to communicate it, you need words; and as soon as you find a way which helps others discover and connect with (possibly) the same spirituality, you have tradition and ritual.

People often say they like spirituality but dislike religion; when pressed, this is often revised to a dislike of organized religion.  And what they dislike in organized religion is, for the most part, human failings.  In other words, they are comparing the simplicity and purity of their own imagined 'true' religion against the complicated, messy and often disappointing reality of someone else's religion.

But, if people feel a need for religion - even if it is expressed in modern, non-religious terminology, then criticizing the existing religions is not enough - the only useful thing  to do is to create a better religion which people are prepared to follow

It is worth remembering that religion and spirituality are not the whole picture here: many people also have some kind of supernatural experience - that is, an experience which they understand and describe as supernatural.  These take many different forms, and many people in the 'civilized' West feel very reluctant to talk about them, out of fear of what others might say.  But when I ask people about supernatural experiences, an astonishing number tell me of events they cannot explain from within the standard secular and scientific worldview we are all expected to share - and they often don't fit into a standard religious world model, either.

  • Kate Golembiewski in Atlas Obscura documents some supernatural experiences described by some ordinary people in Norway.


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