Rejecting Spiritualism

Pizza is God

I hang out with a pretty spiritual crowd, which is somewhat surprising when you consider that I am among the most godless, irreligious, spiritually vacant people on earth. Most people draw a distinction, of course, between the specific notions of theism, which I categorically reject, and the more encompassing idea of “spiritualism.” What fascinates and perplexes me is the increasing tendency of many self-described spiritual seekers to define spiritualism so broadly that I no longer know what the term really means.

Spirituality should have, at its base, a belief in “spirit” — that is to say: a mystical, non-empirical faith that worldly matters are influenced, if not controlled, by forces beyond our ken. Few people who write about spirituality, however, can resist the impulse of casting a broader net. Whether this stems from the bubble-headed (but kindly) desire for inclusiveness or the equally bubble-headed (and narcissistic) desire to demonstrate that all good people are like them, I can’t say. What should be obvious, however, is that “spirituality”, never an easy concept, becomes all-the-more useless the more crap is thrown within its definition.

Wavy “New Age” spiritualists are not the only offenders when it comes to dumbing-down the otherwise legitimate and precise language of metaphysics and rendering it all-but-useless. How many times have we heard that “God” does not mean “first-mover” or “omniscient, omnipotent being” but, rather, that God is: beauty… wisdom… in all of us… in everything… fill-in-the-blank. It is not always the fluff-minded who engage in this sophistry. No less a genius than Gandhi-ji loved to proclaim that “God is truth.” That may make for nice poetry; but it isn’t very helpful theologically.

In this ideologically fractured and Balkanized world, it always produces a warm-fuzzy to come up with a notion that we can seemingly all embrace. But we should not be so tolerant of this impulse to universalize by co-opting the meanings of existing, useful words. If “pizza” were to be included within the definition of God, I might have to grudgingly concede my theism. (I have an abiding belief that pizza exists and even have faith in its curative powers.) But will we have succeeded in increasing the fold of believers or simply have made it impossible to speak of God in a meaningful way?

Because a non-defining definition of spirituality has the lovely ideals of inclusiveness and universality at its heart, those who engage in this practice fail to see that it can be personally offensive. I suppose I travel in particularly mush-brained circles, but several times a month I have people who barely know me insist that I am “deeply spiritual” because I occasionally emerge from my den of self-absorption long enough to do something nice for someone else. They intend this as a compliment, of course; but I have no desire to be included in their cult of self-righteousness and do not enjoy hearing this over-and-over.

Spiritual seekers will have found the higher plane they are looking for when they realize that not all ethical, right-thinking people believe exactly as they do. This is a far more empathetic, tolerant, and pluralistic notion than the false universalism they seem to strive for.

2 Responses to “Rejecting Spiritualism”

  1. 1 Tareq 14 March 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I guess I posted the reply for this post on your “About” page because I didn’t know that you have already on your blog! . Here it is in the right spot!
    I really enjoyed reading your post ! and it inspired me to add my two cents!
    I will start with a recent psychological experiment on gifted kids. Dr. Carol Dweck at Columbia University studied gifted children and found that praising their brain power of being intelligent wasn’t a good motivation. That is when you praise their smartness they will link the result of their success with their brain performance. Hence, when they don’t do good or fail they will turn back on themselves and make the only rational link that: they are not smart enough, thus, their brain is defected!
    Now, this looks pretty simple and straightforward. But how is this linked to the debate about “spirituality”?. We are all different in the way we perceive the environment and our selves, and this has to do with our unique cultural conditioning and the embedded genetics of the individuals. The only door of perception and understanding the world around us goes through our nervous system and ultimately the brain. What makes spirituality a tough subject is that it’s all a mere sensation of the presence of a super power that connects and protects and its totally tailored to the individual unique feeling system of emotional complexity. Trying to convey information of “knowing” from an individual to the other requires a familiar sharing platform that both can access and identify with on the same level of sensation. If I would have met “x” on a trail and told him that I have heard a wolf howling, “x” will probably validate my experience but wont necessarily agree that what I heard could be true, as “x” himself didn’t have the same experience that I had. Simply, “x” didn’t hear any howling! But in the same time he can’t deny my experience because he wasn’t in the place I was at. Now, to be objective about my experience of hearing the howling wolf I can’t insist that “x” should be hearing what I just heard otherwise there is something wrong with him!. But if I took “x” from the hand we both went looking for the wolf and eventually found a one! Then “x” will agree with me that my experience was totally true, because we have evidence now. That’s exactly what distinguishes science from spirituality. Science is not unique! Because its evidence based. Find the evidence and prove your theory and then you have one scientific fact. But what is unique is the process of finding the evidence itself. This involves the whole human experience of emotions, psychology, history, social science, environment…etc. Its an infinite process of that reflects the human ever deepening complexity. Our brain interacts with the environment through infinite possibilities of complex systems of firing neurons that goes through phases of “chaos” then leading to stability with a new emerging more complex system than the previous one. In other words your brain is never the same after any emotional experience. Spiritually is the process of consciousness that arises from our awareness of ourselves and the surrounding. Its never static to be tested in a lab . At the very moment we are testing a thought process there is another bigger and more complex thought is being born. I think any attempt to try to find “evidence” for a spiritual experience is like trying to kill the process of thought is self. Whoever call themselves a Spiritual and trying to convince others that this is the only way to perceive our world and share our views is a sheer reductionist who is trying to reduce the whole complex experience in some meaningless form of words. I don’t see any different from these so called spirituals and a group scientists trying to make everything testable in their narrow lab! . Spirituality gains its momentum from being un-testable. If I can prove spirituality then it will become another dead idea and an era that is ending. To relate to the kids smartness research that I mentioned at the beginning of my post, being smart has no meaning if its measured by the results of the work. On the contrary being smart have all the meaning when its measured by the “experience” and the process that leads to the results. I think what Mark trying to say is rather than to waste the time jargoning about spirituality, he is trying to get into the process of being alive and help someone that is need. It is totally his choice to label his experience of being a “spiritual” one or just for the sake of being a compassionate human.
    That “his” unique experience and I honor that! I consider myself a spiritual but I find myself totally agreeing with your post!

  2. 2 twistleton 1 April 2011 at 2:27 am

    absolutely loved it! And agree completely…

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