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Spirituality

Any topics that are primarily about humanism or other non-religious life stances fit in here.
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Spirituality

#1 Postby God » July 17th, 2007, 1:18 am

{This thread is actually two threads on the same topic merged into one. The newer thread starts with Fia's post on this page - admin}


Anyone hear Beyond Belief today (yesterday now)? It was on atheism. I was pointed to it by allybalder - thanks al!

The host is Ernie Rea, two of the contributors were Anthony Grayling and Linda Woodhead. there was also a muslim guy. What interested me most about the programme were the two different definitions of atheism:

Anthony Grayling

ER: How do you define atheism?

AG: Well quite simply its a rejection of of claims to the effect that there are any supernatural agencies or entities in the universe. In a way its rather an unfortunate label because as somebody who doesn't think there are supernatural agencies - now that would include the Olympian gods and godesses and fairies and pixies and so on - is not best described as an atheist, which moves immediately the discussion on to the ground of whether or not there's a god of the traditional kind. Such a person would simply say: all there is is the natural realm and the natural laws that govern it, and such a person might very much better be called a naturalist, if that didn't suggest he liked (running?) around with no clothes on.



Linda Woodhead

LW: I'm just an average kind of Britain in that I don't define myself as atheist, nor do I believe in a personal god, but I would describe myself as spiritual.

ER: Are you an agnostic?

LW: No. I believe that there's a richer and more wondrous dimension of existence that contains truths and powers that aren't immediately obvious to us, but which becomes available through understandings and particularly through appropriate action.



Now what really interests me is this business of being a "spiritual person" as mentioned by Linda Woodhead. What is meant by spirituality? Is it real? Is it relevant to humanism?

I regard spirituality as being the "motivational essence" of a thing or person. The treeness of a tree, the cupness of a cup, and so on. Of course, with inanimate objects this motivational essence is purely assumed, it doesn't really exist as an experienced quality of being The tree probably does not "want" to be a tree, and I'm sure the cup has no capacity for such subjective feelings. However, there is nevertheless an intrinsic quality (or I suppose its a set of intrinsic qualities) which is common to all cups, which can be called "cupness".

With people its more fluid. A human's spirituality is I suppose the principal motivating force central to that particular personality. Like say Bob Maxwell's spiritual essence was probably basically greed (probably mixed with fear). And so on.

To what extent is there a mystical association with the idea of spirituality? Is there something transcendent about the spirit, over the matter, of a person's identity? Above all, is this something we humanists have to take account of in our attitude to and relationship with the external world? If so, how to do so?





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Last edited by Maria Mac on January 28th, 2008, 3:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: To announce merge with older thread on same topic

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#2 Postby God » July 17th, 2007, 11:53 am

Maybe we are adopting the wrong approach to religion.

Why do people (think they) need religion? Isn't it to satisfy certain inner needs, such as: communal activity (singing etc), moral guidance & support, rituals (weddings, funerals etc), charitable organisation? Also perhaps, for many, some kind of sense of identity with a group.
I suspect many folk are not actually concerned about the "god" bit. That's just something you have to go along with in order to get all the other benefits.

Does religion actually need to involve worship of some kind of supernatural force (eg god)? Wikipedia says
A religion is a set of beliefs and practices generally held by a community, involving adherence to codified beliefs and rituals and study of ancestral or cultural traditions, writings, history, and mythology, as well as personal faith and mystic experience. The term "religion" refers to both the personal practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction.


Here is a wee extract from Sunday's Polly Toynbee interview on Radio Ulster;
Q: Well how many humanists are there in the United Kingdom?

A: I don't know. Vast numbers if you ask people. But we don't have churches, we don't have services, we don't have meetings and people don't go to political meetings much. We rely on people's common sense and reasonableness, which they mostly are when you ask them about questions like abortion and contraception and right to die and all of these very important things about how we come into the world and how we leave it, the great majority take the humanist view and not the religious view.


Is it enough to "rely on people's common sense and reasonableness"? Perhaps people don't want to always be common-sensible and reasonable. I know that on some occasions in my life that in order to find the kind of moral/emotional support I needed, I have been unable to find any place to go for it other than the local vicar or minister. And I have always found such people, in the full knowledge of my own (then) agnosticism, to be kindly and supportive. Not perhaps offering anything of practical value, but definitely very helpful in what I can only describe as a "spiritual" way. That is to say, helping me "lift my spirit" out of whatever black dog of a hole it had got into, on account of bad stuff happening at the time.

The point at such times is not for someone to offer specific, practical assistance. The point is for someone to genuinely seek some kind of understanding of what you are going through, and above all to care about the fact that you are inwardly suffering. And perhaps thereby help you to summon up some extra inner resource that maybe you didn't know was there, or just needed a bit of a boost to get hold of it.

People might say that's what friends are for, but sometimes it can be that one's friends are not appropriate or up to it or possibly are even part of the problem. And some people, don't forget, may not have any friends, or anyone with an available "shoulder to cry on".

What I am getting at here is that religions do offer certain types of emotional support facilities which are not readily available elsewhere; particularly in regard to emergency situations. Indeed, humanist organisations are beginning to recognise this to some extent by providing "officiants" to preside at humanist rights of passage ceremonies. But what they are not providing is any kind of replacement for the personal support services available from religious organisations.

So when Polly T says "we don't have churches, we don't have services, we don't have meetings" then perhaps our response should be more than to nod sagely and sigh about it and bemoan the fact that organising humanists is "like herding cats"; perhaps we should consider forming some kind of a church-like organisation.

I did have an idea in that regard, a few years ago. The name of the organisation I had in mind would be CHURCH and that would be an acronym, eg:

"Concerned Humanists Undertaking Really Challenging Help"

or something. I even designed a logo for it, comprising a number of question marks all arranged in a circle and all sharing the same dot in the middle - it came out looking a bit like a mystical symbol, flower-like and quite pretty I thought. The idea being that life involves a lot of questions.

What this organisation would do would basically be the same sort of stuff as any ordinary church, but without resort to a supernatural entity and, of course, no prayer or worship. There could be songs, though, and perhaps readings and thoughts for the day/week whatever and so on. Plus the kind of mentoring and provision of other services already mentioned.

Does this sound potty? Probably! One thing about me some of you folks might have realised is that I simply don't care about that.

Anyway, I used to be God so reckon I can say more or less what I like!

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#3 Postby Titanium Wheels » July 17th, 2007, 12:35 pm

No, God, this does not sound silly but a rather good idea. You describe a number of people I know who attend church to sing and for the people and not to worship you. Whether we could go as far as the sort of organization such as you describe is something that would have to come much later.

For now, there exist some Bright Groups who meet in person. No such meetings would start to provide some of the social part that churches provide to their members. We would have to try and extend the groups around the country and would need a little organisation but well worth thinking about. Such groups could decide what they wanted to do and could easily run to all sorts of useful support to their members.

Would that be a good start?
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#4 Postby Titanium Wheels » July 17th, 2007, 4:01 pm

OK, I've now listened to the broadcast and it was very good. Grayling was very clear in what he said and I felt that the others were not quite sure how to tackle the issue. The lady, Linda Woodhead, a socialologist was particularly wobbly, not seeming to have much religion herself.

I loved the idea of Militant Atheism that was mentioned by the presenter; I had images of you all thinking especially hard that there was no God. Well worth a listen though.
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#5 Postby Maria Mac » July 18th, 2007, 5:14 pm

I'm just dropping by to say that I will contribute to this thread when I have caught up on some sleep. Suffering severe deprivation at the moment. Would like to add the word 'spirituality' to the thread title, in case it attracts attention.

In the meantime, I am posting a link to a widely read essay by David Eller:

Why I am not spiritual

and a piece by Michael Shermer:

Atheists are Spiritual Too

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#6 Postby Maria Mac » July 20th, 2007, 5:46 pm

OK, I've caught up on my sleep but am still finding it hard to articulate my thoughts so I'll just make a brief post.

I think many atheists reject the whole idea of spirituality and censor the word - and its derivatives - from their vocabularies because of the mystical association with the idea. What this seems to boil down to is that it's a word strongly associated with religion, therefore we shouldn't use it.

To me there is no mystical association with spirituality. It's about the human spirit, and one of the things that distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Spirituality depends on a combination of emotions, on memory and on imagination. I really like these definitions:


So, what might spirituality be for a humanist?
It is an emotional, intellectual or physical response to an engagement with the world beyond our immediate needs. It is the shiver of insight at the mystery of paradox; for we are both ubiquitous and unique; both insignificantly small in the vastness of the universe and yet so large and crucial in our own existence. It is the transcendent quality of locating ourselves within a larger pattern of human and general evolution. It is to be found in the process of rendering our existence meaningful through science and art. It can be aroused both by the making of them and by the witnessing of them.

(Josh Kutchinsky)

Spirituality is a way of being in the world, a sense of one's place in the cosmos, a relationship to that which extends beyond ourselves. There are many sources of spirituality; religion may be the most common, but it is by no means the only. Anything that generates a sense of awe may be a source of spirituality-art, for example.

(Michael Shermer)


Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit - such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony - which bring happiness to both self and others.

(The Dalai Lama ‘Ancient Wisdom, Modern World’)


I'm going to change the titile of this thread. Hope you don't mind...(tough if you do :twisted:

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#7 Postby God » July 20th, 2007, 6:46 pm

Maria wrote:I'm going to change the titile of this thread. Hope you don't mind...(tough if you do:twisted:


Ah no! An unresolved parenthesis. We are in a limbo. ... ) Ah, that's better!


Maria wrote:I think many atheists reject the whole idea of spirituality and censor the word - and its derivatives - from their vocabularies because of the mystical association with the idea. What this seems to boil down to is that it's a word strongly associated with religion, therefore we shouldn't use it.

Atheists who think like that aren't doing humanism any favours; it just gives the godnicks something to beat us up with. "You humanists have no feelings", "You are godless materialists", etc.

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#8 Postby Zoe » July 21st, 2007, 3:29 pm

Goddy wrote:
Maria wrote:I think many atheists reject the whole idea of spirituality and censor the word - and its derivatives - from their vocabularies because of the mystical association with the idea. What this seems to boil down to is that it's a word strongly associated with religion, therefore we shouldn't use it.

Atheists who think like that aren't doing humanism any favours; it just gives the godnicks something to beat us up with. "You humanists have no feelings", "You are godless materialists", etc.


I agree. For me spirituality is about what appeals us as emotional, imaginative and empathic human beings. The classic example is the impact art and nature can have on us, giving us a sense of something "bigger and greater than ourselves". Or, in the case of meditation, some sort of inner peace or flashes of "intuition" seeming like something greater is at work. Any of these appeal to my spiritual sense:


- Art - if I can use the term to cover the product of human creativity. Can be painting, poetry, music, architecture...

- Walking in the hills or by the sea

- Watching some great achievement of mankind, it could be one the wonders of the world or something like a shuttle launch.

- People coming together for a good time, like at the recent Diana memorial concert.

- Self-reflection. Realise what I might be capable of and contemplating what I might work towards.

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Spirituality

#9 Postby Fia » January 26th, 2008, 11:35 pm

Another thread has got me thinking about spirituality.

I know for some here the word is meaningless. But a long-standing (Quaker, dunno if that's relevant) friend told me recently that I am the most spiritual person she knows. I'm tempted to ask you whether I should feel offended :) but what I really want to know is whether a spiritual aspect to life is something I can reconcile with my Humanism of half a century?

Is it just a matter of semantics? I don't feel spiritual, but I do feel a Jungian connection with my fellow human beings...

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Re: Spirituality

#10 Postby Lancaster_Daf » January 27th, 2008, 1:35 am

I'd notch that up in the compliment's column.

For a lot of people, 'spiritual' and 'a sort of philosopical and generaly thoughtful outlook culminating in general decentness' are synonyms.
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Re: Spirituality

#11 Postby ColinAngusMackay » January 27th, 2008, 1:36 am

I used to be spiritual, but I stopped drinking 2948 days ago. (Not that I'm counting)

Sorry - Now my serious answer:

I'm not really sure what it means to be "spiritual". If you look in the dictionary it has so many meaning it is almost a completely worthless word.

–adjective
1. of, pertaining to, or consisting of spirit; incorporeal.
2. of or pertaining to the spirit or soul, as distinguished from the physical nature: a spiritual approach to life.
3. closely akin in interests, attitude, outlook, etc.: the professor's spiritual heir in linguistics.
4. of or pertaining to spirits or to spiritualists; supernatural or spiritualistic.
5. characterized by or suggesting predominance of the spirit; ethereal or delicately refined: She is more of a spiritual type than her rowdy brother.
6. of or pertaining to the spirit as the seat of the moral or religious nature.
7. of or pertaining to sacred things or matters; religious; devotional; sacred.
8. of or belonging to the church; ecclesiastical: lords spiritual and temporal.
9. of or relating to the mind or intellect.
–noun 10. a spiritual or religious song: authentic folk spirituals.
11. spirituals, affairs of the church.
12. a spiritual thing or matter.


Definitions 3 and 9 don't have anything to do with what I would have defined as spiritual - yet, there they are. I would have said the remaining definitions would describe what I would have throught of as spirituality.

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Re: Spirituality

#12 Postby Lifelinking » January 27th, 2008, 11:38 am

In the project I am working on I thought long and hard about whether even to use the word. I decided to do so along with an explanation of what I meant, as it seemed necessary to explain what spirituality could realistically mean to a humanist. I wrote:

What I would refer to as spirituality is a human quality arising from the mind, human consciousness, thought, experiences and feelings. All contingent on having material existence and a functioning human brain. The things about ourselves that we may think of as spiritual, such as the ways we feel when we have some kind of 'peak experience' are part and parcel of how we have evolved. Thus the spirituality I speak of arises from the very human capacity to constitute meaning. It lies in our capacity to love and our relationships with others. It can be seen in the pursuit of truth and justice. It is found when we advance politically, morally and socially. It touches us, moves us and inspires us in our art, our writing and our music. We feel it when we stop to appreciate the world we live in and how we are part of it. It is demonstrated in the history of human kind and our place in it.



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Re: Spirituality

#13 Postby Maria Mac » January 28th, 2008, 3:59 pm

I love that definition, L.

I've merged the newer thread with an older one on the same topic and have moved it to the humanism forum because I think that spirituality, using L's definition, is very relevant to humanism.

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Re: Spirituality

#14 Postby Fia » January 29th, 2008, 10:16 pm

Maria wrote:I love that definition, L.


So do I - thank you L. It is a lucid definition which makes me feel far more comfortable with the term. I will share it with my friend.

Having read through the thread I should have posted on (cheers for merging, Maria :) ) we seem to be agreeing that spirituality is part of human experience and not a term to be owned by the religionistas.

But I have met many Humanists who vehemently deny that spirituality could or should be compatible with Humanism. Perhaps any of you out there could elucidate?

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Re: Spirituality

#15 Postby Lifelinking » January 29th, 2008, 10:39 pm

I think that is the very reason I thought long and hard about using the word Fia. For some the superstitious connotations of a religious definition make the term redundant and unnecessary. I understand and sympathise with that position. By using a definition of spirituality or for that matter 'human spirit' that denies any place to mumbo jumbo however, I hope in a small way to counter religious attempts to 'hijack' what one might think of as among the most joyous and profound human experiences. Hope this makes sense,


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Re: Spirituality

#16 Postby Alan H » January 29th, 2008, 11:06 pm

What he said...


I agree with the others here — that's the best definition I've seen! :happyclappy:
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Re: Spirituality

#17 Postby Maria Mac » January 30th, 2008, 3:50 pm

Lifelinking wrote: For some the superstitious connotations of a religious definition make the term redundant and unnecessary.


Yes. In fact, for some it goes further than that. June Maxwell writing in Humanism Scotland magazine in Autumn 2005 argued that, "First, we need to come up with central Humanist ideas and concepts and, when discussing them, we must use our own frames, our own language that reflects our own values. Adopting the frames of the 'other side' only promotes their cause. (snip) Many Humanists are turning from referring to 'spirituality' to expressing a 'sensory gratification' or an 'aesthetic appreciation' etc."

I recall arguments over the word at no fewer than three HSS conference workshops I've attended (including one I was leading) and one main conference session. Those who opposed it seemed roughly divided into two camps: those who didn't get what non-religious people could possibly mean by the word and weren't interested anyway and those who more or less understood but still rejected the word because of its use by religious people. I recall one person suggesting we have a national competition to find a new word that would do instead!

:headbang:

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Re: Spirituality

#18 Postby Maria Mac » January 30th, 2008, 10:52 pm

I've just found this paper on Spirituality by Marilyn Mason of the BHA.

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Re: Spirituality

#19 Postby jaywhat » January 31st, 2008, 5:49 am

Thanks for that, Maria. I shall print it off to read. I have been looking for the BHA responses to this question but could not find anything. There was an earlier paper written by the first Robert Ashby which was very good. Cannot find that either.

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Re: Spirituality

#20 Postby Thomas » January 31st, 2008, 7:29 am

Fia wrote: But a long-standing (Quaker, dunno if that's relevant) friend told me recently that I am the most spiritual person she knows.


Did you ask her what she meant, Fia? To me the word - if describing a non-religious person - conjures up someone who is empathic and "arty", by which I mean creative and sensitive to others' creativity.

Maria wrote: June Maxwell writing in Humanism Scotland magazine in Autumn 2005 argued that (snip) Many Humanists are turning from referring to 'spirituality' to expressing a 'sensory gratification' or an 'aesthetic appreciation' etc."


Is it really the case that "many humanists" are using those terms where others might use the word 'spirituality'? I can't say I've noticed.

My own difficulty in describing to Fia what the word brings to my mind and June Maxwell's rather clinical definitions (which I have no doubt are hers alone and not used by anyone else) as well as Colin's helpful list of dictionary definitions underline the problem with the word.

The Marilyn Mason piece is excellent, in my opinion. On spiritual and spirituality she says:

These nebulous words almost always require to be further explained if they are to communicate clearly. In most cases it would be better to abandon them altogether and use one of the many more precise alternatives: moral, psychological, emotional, inspiring, beautiful, life-enhancing, joyful, thoughtful, reflective, abstract, mysterious, weird, exciting…. Many of these could stand in the place of "spiritual" in the examples I have given - the difficulty is usually to know which one to choose because we can only guess at the intention of the original.


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