This is a response I wrote to an article by Natalie Reed at FreeThoughtBlogs.Com. Hers is a thoughtful and well-written piece about God, religion and skepticism, with over 170 comments from readers. But I was surprised that there was absolutely no mention of spirituality, as opposed to religion. Where were all those people claiming to be "spiritual not religious?" Anyway, here's my response, slightly edited from the original.
Excellent piece, Natalie. I agree with every word. As well as most of the words of the responders.
A couple of thoughts:
There is one word that is strangely missing from this entire conversation (unless it whizzed by me unnoticed). That is the word SPIRITUALITY.
As many of you are aware "religion" and "spirituality" are even more different than "sex" and "gender."
Religion has been defined, I think quite accurately, as "institutionalized spirituality." And what are institutions? Big. Rigid. Conformist. Authoritarian. Ugly.
But spirituality, ah, that’s something entirely different. My definition of it is: "bonding with the universe." You are free to define it as you choose.
In every human culture, present and past, there seems to have been some component of spirituality. I can’t say it’s a strictly human characteristic. Animals may share this trait, as they do a sense of morality/ethics/compassion/empathy/sense of justice – MORALITY IS NOT AN EXCLUSIVELY HUMAN TRAIT. Indeed, as Mark Twain so eloquently said, man may be the least moral animal!
So we don’t need religion to be moral. Perhaps, as many of you have suggested, we need to supercede religion to be moral.
Spirituality perhaps is still closely associated with religion and/or mythology, but it is far larger than these human creations. Reason and science may offer even better portals to spirituality. The more we learn about the universe, the more wondrous it seems. Not fear and awe of the supernatural. But amazement, enchantment, and love of the natural ALL.
What we see in the structure of the microcosm and the macrocosm is energy seeking order, emerging complexity, inconceivable beauty and vast oceans of that which is still unknown. Marvelously unknown. It’s the Great Mystery. But unknowable? I’m not sure I would go there. Aren’t we the universe coming to know itself?
Science itself now points to a universal energy – the quantum field – that connects everything, so that electrons light years away from each other "know" what the other is doing. There is a unity. There is form, and order, and beauty. And all of this is, to use a loaded word, "sacred." To me the entire universe is sacred, and filled with meaning. There is no such thing as meaninglessness.
I am not willing to abdicate the word "sacred" to the religionists. Nor "spirituality." Nor even "faith." I can’t fully explain gravity, no one can. But I have faith in it. I have faith that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. I have faith in myself, and in my true friends. So you see, I have rational faith. Believing that "God" came to earth 2000 years ago through a "virgin birth," was crucified, died for my sins, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, and now is my lord and saviour is mythological faith.
They can have the word "religion." I have no use for it. Nor any of their dogma. If they would like to meet to discuss the golden threads that run through all religions of: love for one another, forgiveness, non-judgment, justice for all, and unity, I would be more than happy to share in that conversation regarding universal values. But I walk away when they get divisive talking about chosen people, and final prophets, and the only way, and heaven and hell, and original sin, and only-begotten sons, a worldview based on dualism, and literal readings of ancient myths.
These are the components of religion that do not lead to spirituality, they lead away from it. Only the pathway of reason, which is another word for "truth," leads toward real spirituality. And then, as you go through the portal, reason itself is transcended and you merge with the ALL, perhaps just briefly, but that’s enough to change your life. That’s the dark night of the soul. That’s looking into the abyss. That’s touching for just a moment the field of the eternal. It’s something that should be done by yourself. No intermediaries. No priests. No rabbis. No gurus. No self-help authors. Just you and the universe, one-on-one.
If you make it back, you’ll have a spirituality worth talking about.