A friend of mine who follows my blog asked me a very important question that is, itself, worthy of a blog post:
“Hey David how you doing? I am just curious. Now that you have moved beyond religion, do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person any more?”
This was such an important question, I didn’t feel that I could just pop off a quick response in an email without giving the consideration it deserves. In one of my last sermons from the pulpit, I described myself as a deeply spiritual person. I stated that religion was the number one impediment of spirituality. I think I still believe that, but a few definitions are in order.
What exactly do we mean by spirituality? Different people will have different definitions of the word. A religious person might think of spirituality as a deep connection with the other worldly entity that we think of as the third person of the godhead. In Christian parlance, he dwells within us and guides our non-corporial spirit. in the ways of righteousness.
Others think of spirituality as a non-physical connection to the spirit part of other human beings. This understanding still requires a believe in ontological dualism. That is to say, we are made of bodies: the stuff of the natural world, and spirit: the stuff of the world beyond. Some will even extend the spirit world to include all of nature, a kind of pantheism where god is in everything.
Needless to say, I do not believe in these definitions of spirituality. I do not believe in spirits, ghosts, or disembodied eminations of personhood. No. I do not consider myself the spirit brother of the rock, the antelope, of the cosmos. If it must be understood in some metaphysical sense, then no, I am not spiritual.
However, I do not believe that metaphysics is the only way to understand spirituality. I am a humanist and a naturalist. That does not mean that I am bereft of a sense of owe and wonder. I study science, and physics in particular. I’m not so good with biology. I am amazed by every aspect of the universe, and of life. I do not worship it in any religious sense, but I most certainly appreciate the majesty of it.
Without religion giving me a false sense of dominion, I am more free to explore and appreciate my true place in the universe. I am not the center of it. It does not bend to my will. It does not notice my presence, and will not shed a tear when I am gone. Neutrinos flow through my body, detecting me no more than they detect a rock. My essence will be preserved after death no more than that of a single-celled organism.
If that sounds depressing, you might be missing the point. The same stuff of exploding stars that produced every element on the periodic table, is the stuff of which I am made. I am not brother to the rock; I am the rock more evolved. Just ask anyone who has suffered kidney stones. I am not a little lower than the angels, but a little higher than the apes. Everything in this ecosystem, including me, is a part of the continuing story of the universe.
I do not own nature, nor am I above it. I am as much a part of it as a blade of grass. Recognizing my place in the universe serves to keep me grounded. I, therefore, recognize my place within humanity. I have no special revelation that makes me superior to other humans. I was not granted superiority by birthright. The universe does not favor me any more than the lowliest peasant in some unpronounceable country.
When I look into the face of another person, I see myself. Religion did not allow me to do that. Wearing the religion tented glasses, I saw a sinner in need of saving. I saw someone who was separated from god, and therefore, from me. Without such glasses, I just see me.
I see myself in the drug addict, the prostitute, the mentally disabled, homeless person, the despot king of some uncivilized tribe in deepest Africa, in Hitler, in Gandhi, in Manson, and Mother Teresa. I also gain a greater understanding of myself when I study the pig, the rat, and the chimp. Teachers have been telling us for years that we are what we eat. That gives me an appreciation of what I put into my body to sustain it. When I see the field of grass and lilies, I get a sense of what will become of me when I am gone.
That is my idea of spirituality. With that in mind, I am more spiritual than ever.