This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Spirituality: It’s only human

Spirituality: It’s only human - Comments

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 1 by Premiseless

"This hijacking of morality by religion has been one of the greatest heists in history, and yet it has passed almost unnoticed."

It's been stolen by religion , broken up and remanufactured for its own ends, whether rational or insane.

True morality is void of religious manufacture.

Those, religious, have been grafted a version of moral code completely fabricated which blinds them to this unnecessary appendage of life they think and feel through, namely religion - an antique human behaviour intent upon its own replication via the veneers of human delusions.

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 21:16:26 UTC | #861912

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 2 by bendigeidfran

Da iawn. Nicely weighted. Just as it seems a bit relentless, there's a haymaker that hits home. Space required between many and of.

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 21:16:42 UTC | #861913

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 3 by Neodarwinian

AA. A spiritual, not a religious program.

That kind of non-distinction, typical and weaselly!

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 21:32:14 UTC | #861916

KenChimp's Avatar Comment 4 by KenChimp

(To be read aloud in a Scottish burr)

Bah! Joe doesn't know what Spiritual is!

Every time I have a glass of Scotch whiskey, I'm having a Spiritual experience! I mean...it doesn't get any more Spiritual than that! I'm effused by Spirits! One might say that I'm bathed in Spirits on the inside!

Now that's Spiritual, Laddie!

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 21:43:28 UTC | #861921

skiles1's Avatar Comment 5 by skiles1

"Spiritual" is a BS word. Unless, of course, you use "spiritual" as if it were the word "internal", and only then as a synonym for "subjective". If you say you had a subjective experience, I don't have a problem with that. But if you start forming beliefs based on subjectivity, then I think the word you should have used is "faithy".

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 22:14:36 UTC | #861928

Robert Howard's Avatar Comment 6 by Robert Howard

Comment 4 by KenChimp

(To be read aloud in a Scottish burr)

Bah! Joe doesn't know what Spiritual is!

Every time I have a glass of Scotch whiskey, I'm having a Spiritual experience! I mean...it doesn't get any more Spiritual than that! I'm effused by Spirits! One might say that I'm bathed in Spirits on the inside!

Now that's Spiritual, Laddie!

You can affect any accent you want, Ken. For all I care, you can pretend to be Wee Jimmy Krankie. But if you spell whisky with an e in Scotland, you're liable to find yourself swinging from a lamppost, son.

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 22:20:06 UTC | #861929

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 7 by AtheistEgbert

So glad to see Paula Kirby deconstructing the usage of the word spirituality. It's one of the reasons why I berate Sam Harris for using it.

Religion is a parasite that feeds on all that is good in humanity as a whole and then proclaims it as its own gift to the world.

Wow, such excellent strident stuff! Just plain honesty and truth, great fearless stuff Paula! It makes me smile.

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 22:43:52 UTC | #861940

faeriepunk's Avatar Comment 8 by faeriepunk

Imho, the term 'spiritual' is aptly applicable to affairs of the 'self' or simply your own conscious awareness. I can understand lamenting it's pejoration, but I think your hyping the stigma surrounding it rather excessively! I feel its more prompt to simply reclaim the word! Obviously 'spirit' is an un-empirical notion, however as you point out it, spirituality is a usefully short word! In today's zeitgeist it tends to apply to one's conduct of one's own life affairs, or experiences that are less than quantifiable. It is also used in common parlance to denote non-dogmatic ideologies and traditions or rituals as opposed to dogmatic, oppressive religious ideologies, so again it has another use there. As an athiest, I use the term 'spiritual' to refer to my own attempts at cultivating my psychological and emotional wellbeing, as well as to depict the ongoing praxis of that work - so to me its a useful word! On the whole a very entertaining article! 'Spirituality: It’s only human' is certainly true. However, in my experience the word refers to an existential praxis of one's own ethics, perspectives, etc. There are also many people that state they are emphatically ''spiritual-not religious.' In this paradigm, perhaps where 'spirituality' differs to 'religion' lies in the notion that a 'spiritual' person is characteristically non-dogmatic and accepting of a healthy postmodern pluralism outside of their own beliefs, where as the 'religious' person seeks to assert the dominion of his or her own beliefs?

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 22:47:03 UTC | #861942

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 9 by ZenDruid

So glad to see Paula Kirby deconstructing the usage of the word spirituality. It's one of the reasons why I berate Sam Harris for using it.

I also have a problem with that. But I can reconcile his use of the word, if it pertains to the so-called 'higher emotions'. Stepping away from fear, guilt and shame would qualify as a spiritual experience, imo.

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 22:54:11 UTC | #861943

jel's Avatar Comment 10 by jel

Oh great, now they're trying to hijack my days off!

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 23:31:01 UTC | #861956

Seas of Bright Juice's Avatar Comment 11 by Seas of Bright Juice

For the most part I heartily second everything Paula says. But I have a soft spot for reserving a special place for "spiritual" experience, albeit not a supernatural place. A quick and dirty distinction between spiritual well-being, in the sense I mean, and ordinary well-being (though there's no HARD boundary between the two), might run something like: spiritual well-being is substantially INDEPENDENT OF CONDITIONS -- conditions like success or failure, approval or censure, gain or loss, sickness or health, coffee or none. Also, spiritual experience (selon moi) is defined at least as much by the radical and more-than-verbal INSIGHT, the shift in perception or way of being, that LIBERATES good feeling, as it is by the good feeling itself.

The well-being provided by a glass of wine among loved ones is of one kind. It's rather a different variety of well-being that quietly suffuses everything when you dwell in nonreactivity to any thoughts and feelings -- perfectly open; letting them come and go vividly, but undetained by further elaboration.

Take another example of a radically different (though not distant) way of perceiving the world. Consider the well-being that makes itself felt when your whole phenomenal experience -- i.e. the whole WORLD of the present moment, as far as you're concerned -- feels equally intimately "me" or "not me": where there's no essential distinction between sensations and thoughts on the one hand -- "my body," "my mind" -- and external perceptions -- "the world," "other people" -- on the other. All are equally composed of one substance of knowingness, presence, awareness; with no inside or outside to it, no beholder and beheld, subject/object. No distance between the knower and the thing known or perceived.

Now mark me that this is an effortless and uncontrived way of perceiving -- merely the RELAXATION of the extra mental constructs that label things "me" and "not me." (With their attendant anxieties and machinations). As such, the commonsense distinctions that keep you out of the path of oncoming traffic can still operate just fine. But they needn't for a minute obscure the felt knowledge that all experience (tautologically, really!) is INSIDE or IS the flesh of your own awareness; nothing's alien.

This can become an easy and isntinctive feeling about the world, more instinctive than one's former ramshackle belief that oneself and the world were fundamentally separate. It can dissolve the hallucination of free will into a sensation of spontaneous action begun nowhere and everywhere. It can tremendously lower one's defenses and heighten one's appreciative response to others -- i.e., one's love. It can permit fluent, musical deep feeling for life, the odd tsunami of delicacy. It can even affectionately accommodate the humdrum, an ornery morning, tax season.

So that's my first attempt to articulate what's different about those perceptions which might be designated "spiritual" by e.g. Dzogchen practitioners, Advaita Vedantins, Rumi, Krishnamurti, Dogen Zenji. So yeah, by all means drive home that there's no necessary connection between subtle experience and belief in the unseen. But I submit that a well-being born of spacious intimacy with WHATEVER arises in awareness is different in kind from the more familiar well-being, born of a reaction to some particular transient object in the stream of awareness -- a glass of wine, a flirtatious smile.

Of course I wish there were a more precise word than "spiritual." But then too, I get a bit of a defiant thrill out of slumming with it. Spiritchool. Spiritchool.

Wed, 17 Aug 2011 23:49:40 UTC | #861965

Red Dog's Avatar Comment 12 by Red Dog

"We non-religious might also resort to the word on occasion, when groping for a term to describe a particularly intense sensation of peace or beauty or harmony; but generally speaking, it is rare to find an example of ‘spirituality’ being used in a context where ‘emotional and psychological well-being’ would not be a more appropriate term."

I disagree. I'm an atheist and I'm still happy to use the word spiritual. I guess I could use peace or beauty... but to me its more than that. When I read a lot of Dawkins' work I feel spiritual. When I read theoretical physics I feel spiritual. When I read the Gnostic gospels, PK Dick, Plato, I feel spiritual. When I walk up a local hill that looks out over the ocean I feel spiritual. When I have amazing sex I feel spiritual. Yes, its about peace and beauty,... but its also about realizing that there are things that transcend our petty day to day concerns. That those things are really amazing and should help us put our day to day crap in perspective.

Of course you can use other words for it. I guess I look at it differently than you do. You see using spiritual as a concession to the theists. I see it as why should I concede the word to the theists, I think that atheists can be as transcendent, as spiritual and more then theists.

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 02:49:44 UTC | #862006

lynda's Avatar Comment 13 by lynda

Brilliant article, Paula! It's so true that religion has claimed the credit for all that is good in humanity. Hadn't thought of it quite like that before. I'm surrounded by people who refer to themselves as 'spiritual' not 'religious'. Gag!

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 03:47:28 UTC | #862016

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 14 by MilitantNonStampCollector

> spir·i·tu·al (spr-ch-l) adj.

  1. Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material. See Synonyms at immaterial.
  2. Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul.
  3. Of, from, or relating to God; deific.
  4. Of or belonging to a church or religion; sacred.
  5. Relating to or having the nature of spirits or a spirit; supernatural

Going by this definition, I can understand Paula's gripe with the word: it is practically synonymous with religious. And it seems Sam Harris' use of the word in acknowledgement of atheistic spirituality is ropy at best. The word is embedded into religion, going hand in hand with it.

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 03:48:24 UTC | #862017

JuJu's Avatar Comment 15 by JuJu

If millions of people use the word spiritual in a religious or mystical way, and that is what they define the word to mean, then why would we want to use that same word in a non-religious or mystical way. I think that using it at all gives ammunition to religion or new age mysticism to claim there views are rational. I've never liked the word and tend to treat it as an irrational explanation when describing personal emotions and psychological feelings. As much as I agree with almost everything Sam Harris says, the spiritual and meditation talk is something I dislike, and I wish he would end it. He never seems to give, at least to me, a satisfactory answer for his reasoning on spirituality. It just doesn't seem to fit with all the other rational and reasonable views he offers.

Just sayin

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 03:50:05 UTC | #862018

JuJu's Avatar Comment 16 by JuJu

Comment 14 by Derek M

spir·i·tu·al (spr-ch-l) adj.

    Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material. See Synonyms at immaterial.
    Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul.
    Of, from, or relating to God; deific.
    Of or belonging to a church or religion; sacred.
    Relating to or having the nature of spirits or a spirit; supernatural

That pretty much says it all, I rest my case.

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 03:56:57 UTC | #862019

Seas of Bright Juice's Avatar Comment 17 by Seas of Bright Juice

The dictionary hasn't caught up to all the ways the word is used, then. In convert/western Buddhist circles, for instance -- where large numbers are quite secular in orientation -- "spiritual" often gestures towards something like, "that arena of concerns which have a transcendent or liberating effect on human life, such as insight into non-self, insight into impermanence, realization of compassion, etc." In this case it doesn't refer to a god or soul (which would be true also of traditionally religious Buddhists) or supernaturalism or the dogmas of an established church.

I'm sure we can't resolve CATEGORICALLY for or against using the word, in any case. If I'm in the company of people who know my views enough not to misunderstand, then "spiritual" is still the readiest word for gesturing quickly and broadly toward certain categories of experience and inquiry. If I'm speaking to people who are likely to misunderstand, I might want to carefully qualify my use of the word, or find other ways..

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 04:49:29 UTC | #862028

ThePoeticAtheist's Avatar Comment 18 by ThePoeticAtheist

That thing about not being fully human...I've faced that accusation in an intimate relationship with a so called "strong christian". It makes no sense. I was told to seek god more eagerly...that just brought me one step closer to atheism on an emotional level. Being both a person of science and an artist, I can testify to what Kirby has written. Spirituality is not about connecting with an invisible celestial father (it's funny, I thought not seeing your father was a sign of a broken household). In fact, religious folk should ask themselves this question: How is disconnecting from your human body and connecting to a non-human being make you more human?

As embarrasing as it might be, I must admit I once commited the fallacy that Kirby talks about. But that's what makes it so embarrasing, I decieved myself. One of the religious's greatest follies is the deception of others...but the greatest folly is the deception of oneself -- I admit that's not my own idea, I just forget where I read a quote along those lines. It is more human to be connected with your body. Deep self-awareness combined with an awareness of what's around you is a reasonably aquirable catalyst to great spiritual experiences -- and I mean that in the scientific sense of the word; not the twisted definition adopted by stubborn apologists.

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 04:58:45 UTC | #862031

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 19 by Premiseless

Inasmuch as moral is a kudos of humanity, so is spiritual one of contemplation of the wonders of all that is good, or overwhelming about being alive.

None of us should sell out our minds to claimants of these qualities of human consciousness, since they belong in the realms free of human dominance and are more about harmony and tranquility with ones own existence.

There is nothing to say a religious person cannot summon these senses, or in fact practise accessing them, rather than the stresses and angst the world so regularly foists upon us, but to lay claim to them in the guise of religious scripture as god-speak is a pollution of all they represent and a misappropriation of the mind and emotions to something bound to inflict lasting confusions. The learned minds of innocents are oft left impotent to a wholly healthy route to accurately understanding these qualities due the impostor that religion is. It is as seductive as a bully, taking control of thought and feeling, clearly motivated by power and competition as a way of heightening its own interests upon mass following to rally an army of support.

Essentially religion most usually is a power struggle to control the largest numbers amongst our species in predictable ways. Its remit is not to elevate individual enlightenment but to prevail as an influence of the masses. Innocents who it deliberately, recklessly or predictably (disguised as unintentional by proxy) sets up to fail, due its dogma, are simply necessary collateral damage to its insistence on a system of power and control for en mass support of humans seeking emotional and ritual assurances, as all humans do. Its subjects are not meant to see this, or if they do, to submit to it as a best of alternative evils.

In many ways religion is a good example of knowledge being misappropriated over generations till it learns its way into controlling, with expert precision, any attempts to usurp its dominance by fair means or foul. It is an evolution for power and control over human minds and emotions. In this sense it holds interest for science, since science itself comes under attack by it, or is laid host to its will about which it will not relent. It has in many ways poisoned some humans with kindness since they genuinely believe themselves holding a truth. Any single human is a disposable part in its mechanism, simply there to nurture its existence - that of power by fiction. Until a person sees this, any believer is simply a pawn to delusion and barren rational insights into the life they are living and all that means to those who are part of it. Spirituality therein, is a cut, of part real part fictional nectar that religion manufactures to keep the masses addicted to suckling its drip feed as payment for working its snake oiled machinery.

It is a great sadness, to my heart, that this is the best that most of humanity can do, nay a tragedy of epic proportions.

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 04:59:59 UTC | #862032

All About Meme's Avatar Comment 20 by All About Meme

"I don't believe in organized religion, but I'm spiritual."

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard this line -- particularly from women on first dates, there would be a mountain of money piled up to my chin, as Annie Lennox might say.

I might create little business-sized cards with this article printed on them, alongside Paula Kirby's pretty smiling face, so that I could then just hand them out when the occasion arises.

I'll call this screening procedure the Paula Kirby sieve. Wish me luck.

;)

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 05:31:57 UTC | #862037

Quine's Avatar Comment 21 by Quine

Nicely stated, as usual, by Paula.

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 05:57:45 UTC | #862042

Universeman's Avatar Comment 22 by Universeman

You know Paula, I now understand why you felt the way you did when you visited Temple Square. I know that I have made quite a scene here as the stalwart Mormon true believer by letting you all have a peek into the mind of a believer who was incapable of balancing fiction with reality. I just want to thank Richard Dawkins and everyone else here for helping me to learn how to be a critical, skeptical thinker. I am still technically a Mormon, but I am very much now an atheist, it has been a tough transition for me mentally but neither am I one to back down from a challenge. I have a long rough road ahead, the LDS church was useful in that it has helped me in many ways, but I now see how much it has shackled me as well, fortunately I have very much out grown the notion of God. Religion, such as it is, is not going away any time soon, it is also in my estimation the most dangerous threat to our species. Not just religion per se, but rather the blindness to reality it creates in the minds of otherwise rational people such as my self. This mythology induced blindness in those who are less in touch with reality is now truly alarming to me because I am surrounded by people who believe that fiction is reality and I am the only one who realizes it.

Religion is a parasite that feeds on all that is good in humanity as a whole and then proclaims it as its own gift to the world.

It’s funny to me now that I have always known that I was not a spiritual person, I just figured that if only I was a better person, then maybe. But I am a very nice and good person, so I felt guilty for what exactly? My feeling now is that I do not want to waste another second of my life thinking about religion, I also know that that is wishful thinking.

I began this quest so that I could be a great apologist and help struggling members resolve their concerns. I had been good at that on my mission and when I taught in the MTC. I thought the church could stand up to any criticism, or at least that the anti's could never disprove the church was true so I would inspire faith in the space created by that ambiguity. The church does not have a banned book list so I felt free to read anti so that I could point out the flaws in their arguments. I never dreamed in a million years that it would be the anti's who were right all along.
The Spirit is unreliable at best

I actually consider my self to be extraordinarily fortunate, I am mentally flexible enough to be able to realize the true nature of our existence, as well as humble enough to consider the possibility that I could be wrong about everything which I thought was true. I have come to the realization that my very existence is a miracle, a miracle of chance and the lawful nature of the universe. I am incredibly fortunate to live in a time where a few of us humans are able to perceive the universe for what it is, what a marvelous thing it is to know what a precious and irreplaceable aspect of the universe the human consciousness actually is.

Thu, 18 Aug 2011 07:08:35 UTC | #862051

justinesaracen's Avatar Comment 23 by justinesaracen

This hijacking of morality by religion has been one of the greatest heists in history, and yet it has passed almost unnoticed.<

Brava, Paula. I'm going to store this article and use the juicy bits in my next argument with a theist.

But as for hyjacking, Religion, like the Borg*, hijacks and absorbs just about everything good. It also hijacks emotion, in the outrageously meaningless phrase "God is Love."

What kind of babbletalk is that? How can an emotion be an entity? An entity that gives commands, no less. What about the permutations of Love? Can god be friendship? Maternal tenderness? Can god be hot monkey lust? When you call out the name of the savior in the middle of the best orgasm you've had in months, is THAT god?

And if the theist deduces that god is Love from the loving passages in the bible, other passages can just as easily reveal god to be Hate. Or Wrath. Or unspeakable savagery.

Na, I'm going to go with God is Hot Monkey Lust.

  • for non-tv watchers, or those who have lived in an informational blackout for the last twenty years, Borg, from Startrek, is the ultimate enemy of humankind. Oddly enough, it is square.
  • Thu, 18 Aug 2011 08:13:27 UTC | #862060

    Sample's Avatar Comment 24 by Sample

    I've spoken to the publisher of our local paper to try to have Paula Kirby's articles picked up, but he refuses on the grounds that she isn't in the circle of syndicated columnists they choose from.

    I need to try harder. This is great stuff.

    Mike

    Thu, 18 Aug 2011 08:39:42 UTC | #862067

    John Desclin's Avatar Comment 25 by John Desclin

    allow me to blaspheme (well, some may think this to be the case...) to me, spirituality is a matter of endorphins and of oxytocin, which I do not find disparaging ;)

    Thu, 18 Aug 2011 09:15:00 UTC | #862084

    aquilacane's Avatar Comment 26 by aquilacane

    That word isn't even in my vocabulary. I am trying to expunge its existence. Although, it does remind me, in part, of a word I use to describe happy, fuzzy time. I say smiley.

    That was a very smiley experience I had. It touched my smile deep down. I am a very smiley person. Are you smiley?

    Thu, 18 Aug 2011 13:31:10 UTC | #862177

    achromat666's Avatar Comment 27 by achromat666

    For me, spiritual is a word like ineffable or divine where it doesn't get used unless it refers silly ideas like "the Lord works in mysterious ways" which is like the other words a clever way of saying I don't know. When trying to describe the nature of their deity or of miracles, they grope at intangible (another one used on occasion) ideas which possess no grounding in reality or place in a discussion about the functioning world.

    As an artist if I'm drawing and really into what I'm doing, some will claim the influence to be divine or to have some spiritual effect. Our creative endeavors very often get wrapped up in these arcane ideas, an idea much older than the works of the devotional paintings and song. All it really means in the end is a way of saying I don't know where that comes from. I can't explain it.

    I'm constantly surprised in the face of what we now understand about the inner workings of the human mind how often people rely on ideologies and superstition to explain the already explained.

    Thu, 18 Aug 2011 13:31:43 UTC | #862178

    aquilacane's Avatar Comment 28 by aquilacane

    Comment 25 by John Desclin

    allow me to blaspheme (well, some may think this to be the case...) to me, spirituality is a matter of endorphins and of oxytocin, which I do not find disparaging ;)

    If you don't find it has anything to do with the existence of a spirit, don't use it. Use smiley or create your own word. I like endorphuality or oxytuality. I am a very endorphual person.

    Thu, 18 Aug 2011 13:34:04 UTC | #862180

    Lonard's Avatar Comment 29 by Lonard

    Spiritual feelings are expressions of ones amazement or sense of wonder that the world exists. That things ARE. Period. Spirituality is universal, though personal, and restricted to the aforementioned emotions. Spirituality has nothing to do with the question WHY things are as they are. Trying to make sense of it all, as religions with their gods have failed miserably to do, is a very down to earth pastime, which is best left to science.

    Thu, 18 Aug 2011 14:14:34 UTC | #862191

    JuJu's Avatar Comment 30 by JuJu

    Comment 22 by Universeman

    I just want to thank Richard Dawkins and everyone else here for helping me to learn how to be a critical, skeptical thinker. I am still technically a Mormon, but I am very much now an atheist, it has been a tough transition for me mentally but neither am I one to back down from a challenge.

    Congratulations, I'm really happy that your critical thinking finally tipped the scales. I know I responded critically to many of your previous comments and I always thought I saw a "spark of reason" peeking through.

    Good luck with all the stuff you're about to deal with. Please keep us updated on matters.

    Thu, 18 Aug 2011 15:03:28 UTC | #862209