Last week we completed the segment of the blog that established the “Secular Side of God’, looking at western concepts of God, Jesus and the Trinity from our secular viewpoint. Starting this week we will begin to apply this same secular approach to the many beliefs and practices which make up the complex tapestry of Western religion as found in Christianity, beginning with the concept of ‘spirituality’.
What is Spirituality?
Along with many of the premises of religion, spirituality is difficult to grasp with the empirical tools of science. At the same time the reality of spirituality can be seen to underlie human life in a universal way.
One of the many artificial dualities found in traditional religion divides reality into ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’. From this perspective, spirituality exists at the level of the ‘supernatural’, above nature and while this layer of reality can impinge upon the ‘natural’ world in which we live, it is nonetheless separate and unobtainable ‘in this life’ (another duality).
In following Teilhard in our secular approach, all of reality is understood as a single, unified thing. While there are layers, such as Teilhard’s ‘spheres’ of complexity which unfold over time, at its basis the universe is united in basic principles, such as articulated in the Standard Model of physics. These principles apply everywhere in the universe, in all phases of its evolution. With Teilhard’s addition of the principle of increasing complexity over time (assumed by science but yet to be quantified), these principles account for everything that we can see.
Instead of these principles being understood as ‘super natural’ (above nature), in Teilhard’s perspective they become ‘supremely natural’ (at the basis of nature).
If we define ‘spirituality’ as simply ‘non-material’, we can begin to see spirituality in this light as a mileu which surrounds us. We live our lives enmeshed in intangible but very real fields of spirituality which are reflected in our laws, the principles of behavior that shape our cultures, and the everyday facets of relationships that inform our lives. As we discussed last week, the many historical attempts to ‘articulate the noosphere’ are nothing more than attempts to articulate these principles so that we can understand and cooperate with them to make the most of our lives.
A secular example of spirituality can be found in a fundamental axiom of our government. It is at the basis of the idea of a ‘representative government’, and often described as the ‘will of the people’ so essential to democratic governments. While not finding articulation per se in the new American constitution and bill of rights, Thomas Jefferson was very clear in his concept of the validity of this ‘consensus in government’:
“I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be other that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master. I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves.”
Jefferson expresses a very revolutionary concept of the human person and his society with these views. At the time, the precedent for government was clearly to trust only in the provenance of royalty in the belief that if government were left to ‘the masses’, so the prevailing opinion said, chaos would result. The belief that a consensus resulting from ‘the masses’ could result in setting the course of the ship of state in a positive direction was very revolutionary, indeed .
This ‘will of the people’ is essential to our democratic form of government, but intangible and difficult to quantify. Believing it to the extent that it is established as the basis for government has nonetheless resulted in a form of government that can be clearly seen to be more successful than previous forms.
The Evolution of Spirituality
Seeing how spirituality can be understood as underpinning our very concept of government, we can apply this perspective backward to see the evolution of an idea without material substance:
– the intuition that “we were made in the image of God” expressed around campfires over three thousand years ago
– which evolved into ‘prophets’ with their intuition of ‘rights’ and ‘justice’ against the wrongdoing of the establishment
– to one that recognized love as the energy of unity and the uniqueness of the person
– to the adoption of this principle as a way of insuring the cohesiveness of a highly diverse empire
– rising through the many ‘charters’ (contracts between rulers and ruled) of western medieval and renaissance society
– to an expression that “all men are created with inalienable rights”, ones not granted by birth, wealth, IQ, or good fortune, and established as a cornerstone of the constitution of the most powerful nation on earth.
The Next Post
This week we took a first look at the concept of spirituality from our secular perspective, and saw how spirituality can be seen to play a part in the evolution of human ideals.
Next week we will take a look at the part that spirituality plays in evolution itself.