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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 recognised 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 organised religion. And what they dislike in organised 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 criticising the existing religions is not enough - the only useful thing to do is to create a better religion which people are prepared to follow