Spiritual Pillar #1: Religious Naturalism
Wikipedia has a good article on Religious Naturalism. I mention this because that pretty much describes me. The basic definition states,
All forms of Religious Naturalism agree that the natural world must be placed at the center of our most significant experiences and understandings. [...] Religious Naturalists affirm the human need for meaning and value in our lives, drawing on two fundamental convictions in those quests: 1) the sense of nature’s richness, spectacular complexity and fecundity and 2) the recognition that nature is not only the realm in which we live out our lives, but that we and who we are – our physical bodies, our amazing brains with their capacity for human sensibilities and understanding, and even our predisposition to be religious – are actually part of nature.
Religious Naturalism is “religious” in at least the sense that it honors the experience and expression of the human emotions of awe, reverence, wonder and gratitude at and for the magnificence of the cosmos and the human possibilities for participation in it. Some who describe themselves as religious naturalists participate in the social traditions of religion, including communal gatherings and rituals, to foster a sense of community, to reinforce their understandings and to provide a base for other activities.
Another key statement in the article notes that religious naturalists look to empirical science to examine the measurable world while recognizing “science’s limitations in accounting for judgments of value and in providing a full account of human experience.”
I have to say, this describes perfectly my own position which I’ve more or less had since I was a kid. I’ve always been deeply uncomfortable with the idea of the objective existence of gods, angels, demons, and the like. There was a time when I got caught up in things like subtle bodies, crystals, spirits, astral planes, change at a distance, divination, et cetera. While I rarely agree with Freud, I think he was right on when he said that all such beliefs are basically driven by wish fulfillment, the desire to experience oneself as effective and powerful (or rather, to avoid believing one is powerless and in danger). I can say at least that this was true for me—I can look back and see that I adopted those ideas and practices because they acted as a balm for my depression and insecurity.
Spirituality writer John Welwood calls what I was doing spiritual bypassing—a “tendency to use spiritual practice to bypass or avoid dealing with certain personal or emotional ‘unfinished business’.” He goes on to say, “Spiritual bypassing is particularly tempting for people who are having difficulty navigating life’s developmental challenges… While still struggling to find themselves, many people are introduced to spiritual teachings and practices that urge them to give themselves up. As a result, they wind up using spiritual practices to create a new ‘spiritual’ identity, which is actually an old dysfunctional identity—based on avoidance of unresolved psychological issues—repackaged in a new guise.” As it happened, I got into psychotherapy at that time and made great strides after about two years. When I came out of that, I found that my motivation to focus on those beliefs had faded dramatically.
As my need to escape from myself declined, I found myself replacing the desire for power with that of forming connections, meaning, and joy. Perhaps not coincidentally, a few short years later I gave up my design practice and went back to school to become a clinical psychologist. Here I learned even more about the human mind while gaining intense experience in personal connections as a practicing therapist. It was during this time that the last remnants of my supernatural beliefs winked out.
And yet, I now consider myself to be more spiritual than at any time in my life. In part, this is because I see wonder in the world and in human endeavor. The ability for us to create and thrive is astounding to me—art, music, theater, dance, writing, cinema, cuisine, architecture, engineering, sport, philosophy, science…just amazing. And the simplicities of daily life are achingly beautiful. And the universe! What a wondrous, stupendous place! And as far as we can tell, the most complex, unlikely thing in that universe resides in our skulls. Just wow.
To my mind, no supernatural theory about the nature of humans or the universe can compete with quantum mechanics, the rings of Saturn, evolution, or the emergence of consciousness out of a 3-pound jelly-like clump of cells.
At the same time, that 3-pound jelly-like clump of cells, even in this age of science and reason, so often holds on to concepts like change at a distance, alternate planes of reality, and the existence of non-corporeal beings of every kind. I think there is a good reason for this, and that that reason is not only related to spiritual bypassing. I will be exploring this along with my own continued interest in things like ritual and allegoricalism in an upcoming post. For now, I think I will attend church by going for a walk.