Spirituality, A Critical Look At The Middle Path
The faith landscape is not as black and white as one might presume; theism and atheism are not the only ideologies competing for market share. As it turns out, there is the middle path of Spirituality. Spirituality has an incredibly large following when compared to atheism, it’s totally bazaar how overlooked it is when considering the matter of faith. From the outset it does seem like a very attractive option, it is not as restrictive as religion or as “emotionally void” as atheism and has human well being at its core. In this article I would like to take a critical look at spirituality and give a speculative appraisal of its merits or lack thereof.
The Levels of Spirituality
It takes very little effort to quickly recognize the various subsets of Spirituality. It is when trying to reconcile with these doctrines that one just as easily begin to realize the issues present in this belief system. It appears to be riddled with fallacies for something that has such large stock in philosophical foundations. These diverse set of ideals can range from complete hocus-pocus to something that tries to be indistinguishable from reason. It is the latter pseudo scientific spirituality that I find most intriguing, as it is from this point that Spiritual reasoning seems to descend into a mystical spiral of madness.
The most reasonable adherents of Spirituality will often draw parallels to real world phenomena and then stick a spiritual label onto it as to make it more meaningful. Most of these parallels seek to anthropomorphize naturally occurring phenomena. They can include and are certainly not limited to:
- Spirituality is about personal wellbeing and a well balance life – Everything in moderation? Take a Break? Don’t work yourself to death? Basic good life advice
- Spirituality is about the flow of energy – Yeah, It’s called the conservation of energy, nuff said
- Spirituality is about believing in something greater than you, the universe! – Again, it’s called the universe
These pantheistic arguments are much the same as saying, God is love, or God is peace, God is anything you want him to be; over and above re-assigning labels this doesn’t really do much to solve anything… I am partial to the analogy of the tree; to which I am physically and inextricably connected, such that my existence is dependent on that of the trees. This is a tangible, demonstrable connection that does not lose any significance by this type of rationalizing. Yet, somehow this needs to be embellished by adding a spiritual connection between me and the tree. Then there is the matter of enlightenment, as loosely defined as spirituality itself. I wouldn’t dare to speculate as to what it actually means, suffice to say that it talks about some kind of expanding of the mind/spirit in hope of achieving a type of transcendence… Through this process we somehow obtain out of this world wisdom and peace through the subjective experience of meditation, I think? It’s all very confusing… I would personally imagine that becoming enlightened or expanding one’s mind would simply require reading a book regarding the true demonstrable nature of reality. It is also at this point, where spirituality begins to digress into the realm of the super natural, but we’ll come back to that. My real concern is this bazaar need to anthropomorphize things that we have perfectly good meaningful and rational explanations for. “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” – Douglas Adams
The Spiritual Identity
It is usually at this point where many spiritual adherents begin to loose me. A crucial part of spirituality seems to be the distinction drawn between a physical existence and another reality outside or above the physical. This supernatural attributes are applied to everything from inanimate objects to most crucially, that of the human experience. It seems that most spiritual adherents believe that they have a true identity or self that will extend the utility of their biology. Some kind of after life is central to many spiritual beliefs. It is at this point where we start getting into dangerous waters of irrational thought. When confronted with the issue of the soul or human spirit, the first line of defense goes along the lines of: “We experience it all the time”. Which frankly is like saying: “I experienced a 1 million foot marshmallow castle in the sky, there for it must exist”. This quickly escalates to something that sounds like arguing from ignorance: “The experience of spirituality cannot be quantified or measured” the equivalent of which is “we don’t know what it is, there for it is spirituality”. This also insinuates that the absence of evidence for some type of spiritual existence equates to 100% evidence that it does in fact exist. As unreasonable as it may seem, this is what we cling to with zero regard for the flaws in this thinking. In my opinion the appeal to spirituality lay not in reason, but purely that it feels as nice as religion without its restrictive and destructive nature and not as completely opposed to the status quo as atheism. Admittedly it does require a fair degree of critical thinking to break from organized religion to spirituality which can often give it the illusion of being rooted in rational thought.
Simply put, any type of spirituality that invokes the super natural cannot be taken seriously; it is as devoid of evidence as the organized religion it so desperately tries to break free from. Though this is not exactly grounds for dismissal, it certainly cannot qualify for absolute certainty of a thing. This is one of the great flaws in all faith based systems; applying supernatural cause to inexplicable phenomena usually becomes the end of the conversation as opposed to the beginning. Rationally, perception should be preceded by demonstration; this is what it means to follow the evidence where ever it may lead. Spirituality for the most part, seems to start with a favorable familiar construct, and then proceeds to take a series of philosophical short cuts to assert its claims. I would certainly not assume to measure Spirituality with the same ruler as I would organized religion, after all we don’t see Guru’s putting out bounties on cartoonists and holding up “The cosmos hates gays” posters. I would however say that it has a high risk of inducing the same type of mental paralysis as organized religion, by providing a framework in which to settle on a construct of reality that has no basis in, well reality. We face even more difficulty with putting any kind of stock in Spirituality when considering that both religious and irreligious spiritual people claim to be deeply spiritual, both based on nothing more than subjective experience. And, most will tell you that the other has no notion of what true spirituality is. There is just too much “touchy feeliness” to reasonably make heads or tails of the things put forward by Spirituality.
In the evolution of biology and indeed the mind; progression seems to be a painfully slow process and does not simply go from monkeys to people as is often presumed. There are several iterations that lead up to the present state of a given system. This is where I think spirituality might find some value, in my opinion it serves as a perfectly reasonable transitional faith system as we move away from organized religion. One does simply not become an atheist, undoing years of indoctrination takes a lot of hard work. Upon abandoning my own religion I too favored spiritual beliefs subscribing to some kind of conservation of consciousness, which seemed too align with other natural systems. Much like atheism, Spirituality should never be the end of ones journey to Enlightenment. We should apply the same vigor to our own ideals as we do to the ideals and beliefs of others. It gets us nowhere to root ourselves in ideals that arise from mystical assertions carried through generations. Personally I don’t think is there anything wrong with spirituality, you can certainly believe what ever you see fit. But, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised after holding your perception of reality to the objective standards of demonstration. This can be far more fulfilling than its faith based counterparts, and furthermore can lead to the tangible betterment of yourself and humanity as a whole.