What do you think of when you hear the words ‘spiritual’ or ‘spirituality’? For many people, it brings to mind religion and mysticism. But is there a more meaningful and relevant way to interpret these words? Can the concept of spirituality be re-claimed and make sense in day-to-day life? I think it can.
After a lengthy search I found a radically different way to view spirituality. An interpretation that doesn’t take away the sanctity from the concept, it merely removes the need to believe in anything without reasons or any evidence. There is an interpretation of spirituality that makes sense, that works and is practical. It doesn’t mean that unexplained experiences are discounted as unreal and it doesn’t require you to ‘have faith’.
What is faith?
I was raised in the Christian tradition as a Catholic and was told a story that did not make any sense at all. The nuns who taught me at my convent school insisted, however, that we all had to believe in the story anyway, without any rational explanation or logical understanding. I was told that I had to ‘have faith’. But what is Faith?
Faith is belief without reasons. It is the idea that reasons are unnecessary.
Faith is what children have in Father Christmas (Santa Claus), the Easter Bunny, or the tooth fairy. There is no evidence to be persuaded by, only the observation that people (other children and parents) hold this belief. It is a combination of the appeal to authority and appeal to the majority. Two classic logical fallacies that persist in and dominate most peoples thinking in later life. Meaning, two reasons to hold something as true with out any evidence what-so-ever.
The dangers of faith
If different people live by conflicting ideas that they take on faith how can we close the gap and resolve differences? The answer is they can’t. How can we agree on anything if we abandon reality as the ultimate arbiter of truth? You can’t. In fact, the concept of truth is destroyed. If you have faith that something is true, but I have faith that the opposite is true, all there is left is disagreement without resolution. Force becomes the only means of asserting one idea over another. This is the way it has been done throughout history.
On the other hand when we all agree to stick with the facts of reality, facts that can be demonstrated and proved, then we are all effectively on the same page. Now we can use reasoned argument to solve differences instead of violence. Faith and force (violence) go hand in hand for this very reason. Peace can only be achieved by rational people who implicitly agree to ‘meet in reality’. And remember there is only one reality. Reality (the Universe) is everything that exists. There is existence or non-existence, there is no third alternative. Reality is what exists.
The good news is that reality can be discovered, and it is our capacity to reason that enables us to discover it. Reality is knowable. On the other hand, mystic beliefs and other realms or dimensions are not knowable. If our concept of spiritual and spirituality pertains to some other dimension then we are implicitly living in an frighteningly unknowable universe – like a haunted house with spooks and demons that cannot be seen or dealt.
What is spirituality?
The rational meaning of spiritual is ‘pertaining to consciousness’. Your spirit is your consciousness. Or if you prefer, your soul is your consciousness. You have a physical body and you are conscious. There is no third bit. When people feel that there is more it is an emotional response to their specific life context.
This approach holds that your consciousness is inseparable from your body. When you die your body dies and your consciousness ceases to exist. This is because you exercise your faculty of consciousness through your physical senses. They are your means of consciousness. In spite of all the many anecdotal claims and stories about other lifetimes, reincarnation and heaven and hell, etc, the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that when you are dead you cease to exist.
It is understandably tempting to believe that we will live on or reincarnate, but this simply reflects the pain and difficulty we all have in accepting our own mortality and the fact that when loved ones are gone they are gone. One thing you can be certain of in life is that you are going to die – however unpleasant that fact may be to grasp.
The traditional religious idea of spirituality implies another reality, somewhere other than the world in which we live – spirit world, or heaven. The concepts of spiritual and spirituality have always been the exclusive prevail of religions and mysticism. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Traditional christian spirituality that I grew up with also gives us the idea of the trinity – mind, body and soul. Without getting pointlessly bogged down in theology, for the purposes of this discussion the soul is another name for the spirit although religious people might argue this point.
The Cambridge English dictionary defines the soul as “the spiritual part of a person that some people believe continues to exist in some form after their body has died, or the part of a person that is not physical and experiences deep feelings and emotions“.
I was taught that this is the part of us that is eternal, whereas our body is just something we inhabit for a while. The rational explanation is that there is no soul. There is consciousness and there is matter (the body). Although it may be challenging to our condition to consider this, we have to be very careful when we believe things for which there is no evidence and when we are called upon to have faith.
For many years I believed I had a spirit or a soul and that I existed in some greater context than my life in my body here on Earth. But when I was reminded that it is understandable to want to cling to this belief I began to question it. It is understandable that we want there to be more than just a brief existence in one body and that is all you get. But if we value the truth, if we are committed to differentiating between truth and falsehood we must grasp this one no matter how much we want to believe in something contrary.
It was Ayn Rand who taught me to question my most fundamental beliefs. She is one of the most fundamental thinkers in recent human history. When we abandon the mystical, the fanciful and the desired, in favour of what actually is – the metaphysically given – everything begins to make sense. Assuming of course that we think and ask questions. Assuming that we want to know the truth and use our basic means of human functioning, our mind and its capacity to understand conceptually.
Modern day Spirituality
Over the past several decades church attendance here in the UK has been declining. But this has not meant any decline in mysticism, it has merely changed form. People may no longer believe int he god of the traditional religions – particulalrly christanity where I live – but they still hold views and ideas that are mystical in nature. New Age mysticism has taken its place. For example, it has become very popular to believe that we create our own reality, or to accept channelled messages that are allegedly passed to some speacial people from another reality as true. There are so many modern forms of believing in things that cannot be demonstrated as true, such as Shamism and Reiki healing. Even emotional freedom technique (EFT) erroneously has a spiritual aspect in its conventioal exlanations. However, this is dangerous. It fundamentally disconnects those who hold such beliefs from reality.
Duff steer within the Matrix
Spirituality is a source of much mysticism within the mainstream cultural download. Consider this. If I spoke about my experiences with the fairies or with the easter bunny you would rightly consider that I had departed from reality and needed help. Yet many people still believe things for which there is the same amount of evidence – i.e. none.
It is a massive duff steer that can catch many people otherwise rational people. But if we are truth seekers, if we want to know what is real, we must be prepared to question all of these fundamental assumptions that we have been conditioned with all our lives. It is the only way that humanity can move forward towards peace freedom and abundance.
Being spiritual means being conscious
When we understand the concept of ‘spiritual’ as pertaining to consciousness, as Ayn Rand did, things make a lot more sense. Your spirit is your consciousness.
To be more spiritual means to be more conscious. To be conscious one must know what one thinks or understands about reality and why. One must practice an integrated existence accumulating an ever-growing sum of contextual knowledge, affording an ever-expanding view of one’s experience of existence.
I often hear that someone is allegedly “very spiritual”. If we consider spiritual matters as those pertaining to conscious then this would imply that this person was a thinker and very conceptually aware, very knowledgeable and wise. However, this is not the traditional meaning. Instead saying that someone is “very spiritual” can mean anything and therefore means nothing. It probably refers to the fact that they are a mystic – believing in things for which there is no evidence.
Spiritual values are values pertaining to consciousness. Values such as friendship, purpose, satisfaction, understanding, self-esteem, knowledge, sense of achievement, companionship, love, are not required for our immediate bodily survival in a literal sens. However, they very much are required for a fully human life. These spiritual values are very important. They are the difference between existing in slavery or servitude, existing in solitary confinement or a forced labour camp, and living a human life. They are the difference between misery and suffering on the one hand and happiness and the enjoyment of life on the other.
When we reclaim the concept of spiritual and spirituality we can begin to understand that the condition of freedom is essential to the achievement of these spiritual values. Anyone or anything that threatens your freedom, meaning anything or anyone who would initiate the use of force against you, threatens your spiritual values and the achievement of your happiness.
Spirituality should be practical
We must reclaim the concept of spirituality and grasp that it doesn’t pertain to any other worlds or dimensions or anything unreal. It doesn’t mean meditating, praying or lighting josticks and chanting incantations. On the contrary, spirituality is entirely real and practical.
To be happy we must thrive we must flourish. But to flourish we need the condition of political freedom. This means the absence of force preventing us from acting on our judgment. If we become more spiritual in the true sense of the word we become more conscious and the world would be a more peaceful, more abundant and happier place.
Question your understanding of spirituality and the assumptions at its base. Question your definition of spirituality and try the one suggested here to see if it makes sense for you.