Spirituality

I am always late for The Buzz. I just can’t blog on command.
Jason, Jason again, Mike, Mark, PZ and their numerous commenters have chimed in on time.
But the “sprituality” buzz is long gone and I am only now getting to the topic. Ah, well.
Anyway, it’s late at night so I will be short and only semi-serious….


When asked “What’s your religion?” who answers with “I am spiritual”? Here is a Borges-like Chinese Classification:
A) People who really believe in ghosts, spirits, talking with the dead and Ouija boards.
B) People currently under the influence of LSD
C) People who get the strong emotional feelings of awe when contemplating the vastness of the Universe, the endlessness of Time, the beauty of a mountain, the elegance of a mathematical proof, the amazing adaptations of a tapeworm, or the complexity of the human brain.
D) People who get into a trance when dancing
E) Atheists when asked by an angry mob of aggressive, dangerous and heavily armed believers.
F) Believers when asked by an angry mob of aggressive, dangerous and heavily armed atheists.
G) Dogs after marking the fire hydrant.
H) People whose goal is to alienate the least number of potential matches on online dating sites.
I) People who bought into some New-Age crap.
J) Westerners who practice an Eastern religion.
K) People who read their horoscopes, burn the incense, use untested health products from Health-Food stores and keep their dentures under pyramid-shaped toys.
Jokes aside, the term “spiritual” is used by some people all the time and by other people sometimes. It is designed to deflect the conversation to another topic – there is no good follow-up question. If the answer is “Christian”, you ask “What church?” If the answer is “Atheist”, the follow-up question is “Do you really eat little children?”
But what do you ask a person who just stated he/she is “spiritual”?
“What kind of music do you like?”, of course.
Thus, it is a term used to avoid the topic. It is a polite way of saying “I’m not tellin’ you, buddy”, or “There’s nothing here to see, move on”, or “You don’t wanna know….”, or “Whatever you want me to be, as long as we can move to the next base stage….”
It is a term used by people of vastly different religious persuasions. It means many different things to many different people, but most of the time it is meant to mean nothing. Purposefully vague. It is one of those words where it is up to the listener to fill in the blanks with his/her own assumptions, not a word that clearly states what the person using it really believes.
A word that means everything, means nothing.
But it’s useful when chased with pitchforks….

14 responses to “Spirituality

  1. Thank you for this beautifully written entry which has made me feel an overwhelming sense of oneness with the infinite thingness of the beingness of the realityness of the universeness.
    Namaste.

  2. J) Westerners who practice an Eastern religion.
    K) People who read their horoscopes, burn the incense, use untested health products from Health-Food stores and keep their dentures under pyramid-shaped toys.

    Well!
    For something that is meant to mean nothing, you took extra effort to be gratuitously insulting to some of us. Go ahead, pick on those of us emotionally in tune with the universe. Make light of it even.
    If it makes you feel better.

  3. I’m not making fun of anyone. All of those people (except the dog, perhaps, we don’t know), legitimately use the phrase some times or all the time.

  4. The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
    Sometimes the message a reader or listener receives differs from the message we intend to send. In our culture it seems fashionable to blame the recipient.
    That doesn’t work for me.
    The frame of reference a writer has in mind while writing is not necessarily the same frame of reference a reader has in mind while reading. I know a number of good, caring, competent people — people I respect and whose well-being I care about — whose frames of reference would make it nearly impossible for them to interpret your words as anything other than insult.
    To me, insult seems like a predictable, foreseeable outcome of the choice of words in this post.

  5. Oh, I was joshing. Geez, you folk are defensive. I would have thought that closing paragraphs indicated some levity and a certain judgmental ambiguity

    It is one of those words where it is up to the listener to fill in the blanks with his/her own assumptions, not a word that clearly states what the person using it really believes.
    A word that means everything, means nothing.
    But it’s useful when chased with pitchforks….

    Do many of your neighbors even have pitchforks?

  6. Yup! With crosses engraved in the handles. But I have to go about a mile out to see them….

  7. “Spiritual” is also the word used by those Church Growth Gurus when they’re latching onto yet another “20 years past its prime” American fad as they desperately try to get a few more flabby suburban asses into their megachurches.
    Fifteen years from now these dopes are going to tell all the churches that what they really need is a “blog,” which is shorthand for “web log,” and is the latest and greatest way to connect with parishioners.
    Barnum was right. There’s a sucker born every minute, and a surprising number of them become pastors.

  8. An insightful post. I spent a good many years circulating around AA meetings, where there is lots of talk of a “spiritual program” or of spirituality vs. religion. Yet there is a strong social pressure to say one believes in god, even though each person’s higher power is said to be of his own devising.
    I long ago reached the conclusion that almost anyone can say he believes in god, if he is allowed to have his own definition of god.
    But two questions arise (1) will you be allowed to have your own definition of God? (2) can you live with the perpetual misunderstanding of people who think you believe something you don’t (because after all people will take your words at their own -personal- face value. Under such cicumstances the term spiritual can indeed serve as a useful conversation ender. That is not to say that it cannot be given a distinct and reasonable meaning, in terms of inwardness, self-relation, subjectivityy, etc. But I have always regarded it as a sort of deflector shield in certain social situations.
    It seems that some of your commenters have become needlessly offended by your remarks.

  9. Yup! With crosses engraved in the handles. But I have to go about a mile out to see them….

    I’m thinking it’s that whole Vlad/Vampire vibe you’ve got going. You leave the old country, and settle down within a mile of people with pitchforks.
    I guess we all gravitate toward the familiar…

  10. H) People whose goal is to alienate the least number of potential matches on online dating sites.

    No wonder I haven’t been successful! I always check the box that says “other.” 😉

  11. Ah, but “other” means either something like Islam, or it means you worship yourself. Or money, fame and power. Putting down “spiritual” indicates that you are capable of noticing stuff and people outside of yourself and your own narrow interests. Code.

  12. JohnnieCanuck

    I was using my pitch fork a day or so ago. I didn’t ask if the victims were spiritual or not. I heard no complaints and expected none, from the winter fallen detritus of an Acer Macrophyllum. It wouldn’t have made any difference to their fate, which is garden mulch.
    Any day now I will hear and stop to watch the geese flying high overhead. Once again that will give me the special feeling of connection to the universe. I get the same feeling on a more regular basis, from http://www.apod.com which is the Astronomy Photo Of the Day, atheist that I am and insignificant in all that is in reach of our minds.

  13. Bora, I think we part company here slightly. If I have misread the tone of your post, do set me straight. And at least take comfort that you are hardly the last one to catch this topic’s blog-burst. And thanks for the inspiration, this will make an appropriate post for my blog of reconnection and reconciliation [which is very much in the sketchy phase just now]
    Other behavior we would mostly agree was “spiritual”:

    L) People bearing up with something more than the shrug of stoicism when they are facing the crushing harms that living inevitably dishes out: loss of health, wealth, friends or life itself.M)An inclination to experience, when in the presence of particular harmonious groups of persons, the additional presence of that harmony itself.

    The term “spiritual” is vague enough to cover belief systems I find laughable but by the same token vague enough to encompass unaccountably compassionate behaviours too. So the basic point of this post is a pretty safe assertion. But there is more than a whiff of cynicism in the post, as if the falibility of intuitive operating is per force always inferior to some more rational view. Not always. Wanting logic in its workings, the intuitive ways cannot guarantee or explain why they sometimes achieve benign states and consequences yet that is a baby some are unwilling to toss with the bathwater.
    To imply that acting on anything but logic and verifiable facts is always a wrong or inferior way to live is arrogance…the data simply is NOT available for some conclusions which we must none the less reach. Are we answering the arrogance of fundamentalists or their self serving delusions with more arrogance? The inclination to question does not make one better than the 95% of humanity who are, after all, doing the best they can within their scant resources. Skepticism without humility or sympathy is less effective than it imagines itself to be.
    The burden here should be on the mockers of the “spiritual” to use, by coining new categories if need be, accurate labels for the things they disrespect and can prove to be detrimental or selfish. When those are pared away, something may still be left to respect. We who know enough to think it a trivial exercise to debunk the intellectual laziness of new-age healing quackery and appeals to impossible miracles should be wary of the laziness of tossing a blanket category that covers the follies and then castigate by association everything that has fallen under the blanket.
    We can not blame our own catch-all for what it caught.

  14. I agree. That is why new terms have to be used in order to distinguish different kinds of spirituality, some of which are ripe for mocking and others are not.