Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Not religious, not spiritual

It's quite trendy these days for people to claim that they are "spiritual but not religious." This sentiment is even widespread among materialists who don't believe in any sort of supernatural spirit. On one level, I love it. It's reflective of society's individualism and disillusionment with organized religion. As for the spirituality claimed by materialists, which I will dub "secular spirituality", that's even better. Secular spirituality recognizes that spiritual experience are real, are rewarding, but are not evidence of a spiritual realm. I strongly agree with this position. The reason I reject arguments from personal experience isn't because I think that such experiences don't exist.

On a personal level, I don't feel the same way. I am neither religious, nor spiritual.

Pause. I should first note that there is some degree of uncertainty when I say this. I'm very young and have a life ahead of me. Also, spiritual experiences are rather hard to define, so how would I know whether I've had them? The nearest I've ever had to a spiritual experience is the feeling I get when solving puzzles (thus why I blog about puzzles). It's when I get that "Aha!" moment. But most descriptions say that a spiritual experience is very profound. I would not describe the "Aha!" moment as profound. It's more like a little rush of pride and accomplishment. I don't think that qualifies.

So I don't consider myself spiritual in any sense of the word. Spirituality, secular or not, is not my thing. It's not what motivates me to study science. I study science because I like it, not because I feel I'm one with the universe. There's not much more I can say about it. I'm not going to wax poetic on my lack of awe of the cosmos. I guess I'm not much of a Carl Sagan.

I feel like I'm holding a minority position here. Even the most rabid atheists (ie Richard Dawkins) will declare a profound wonderment of science. And I'm okay with that. If it's a matter of personal taste, how could I possibly object?

What I do object to is when people--both theists and atheists--declare that spirituality is universal. Religious people talk about a God-shaped hole. Atheists, when prompted, will usually admit that not everyone is spiritual, but other times you can echoes of denial (and it's always from the "humanists"). Frankly, I'm hurt by the implication that I'm less human merely because I feel less of a particular emotion. Again, maybe I'm wrong, and I have a subconscious craving for spirituality. But what makes people so sure? There is variation among different people. The Pope is probably more spiritually inclined than your average person, so why can't I be less spiritually inclined?

If you want to talk about human nature, aim wider.


MuseSusan said...

"Spiritual" is such a loaded word. I definitely have moments that seem to fit the description of "spiritual", but I'll admit that most of the time it's because I'm making myself feel that way. I certainly wouldn't claim that the feeling is universal. (Besides, how do I know that what I feel when doing math is the same as how a religious friend feels thinking about Jesus?)

At a religious discussion group I attend, we were once discussing the idea of "spirituality" as separate from religion, and one of my (atheist) friends commented that it sounds like spiritual experiences are nothing more than a really strong sense of "ooh, neat!"

MuseSusan said...

By the way, I'm having trouble posting as "intrinsically knotted" with OpenID (wordpress). I don't know whose end the problem is on, but I thought I'd let you know.

Anonymous said...

I've had amazing experiences stone cold sober at rock festivals listening to R.E.M.. I've described them to two people, one who is religious who said it sounded like a spiritual experience, and another to a rave veteran who said it sounded like I'd take Ecstasy.

I bet that all humans can have profound experiences. Whether any given person ever does may differ. And it's still essentially like saying "ooh, neat!".

Linda said...

I think it's quite normal for a person your age (at your physical prime) to have the views that you describe, especially when one leads a comfortable lifestyle with no significant struggles to speak of.

It would be interesting to see how your views change in about 20 years. :)

miller said...


Maybe I'll have some experience in the future, maybe I won't. I am a little doubtful. But I don't think it matters a whole lot either way. If I were to coldly rank emotions in terms of their usefulness, "spirituality" would be near the bottom, whereas "love" and "happiness" would be on the top. Now, if I never loved, I'd be worried.

Side note: I had referenced something about "crappy movies" but apparently I had edited out the thing I was referencing, so now it's all been deleted. Sorry for any confusion.