12 June 2010

Do You Consider Yourself Spiritual?

When I told one friend about my agnosticism, he asked, "So...if you decide you don't think the church is true, or decide on atheism, would you still consider yourself a spiritual person?" I think I probably looked back at him rather blankly for a moment. I was a bit puzzled by the question after having explained my doubts. I replied, "I don't think so. I don't know what 'spiritual' looks like outside of a religious or theistic belief of duality of being." He seemed troubled. I asked what he meant by "spiritual". He said, "You know, believing in doing good and peace, love, that sort of thing." I was a bit surprised that he seemed to ascribe those things inextricably to "spirituality".

I explained that that's not 'spirituality' to me. To me, 'spirituality' is a very specific sort of belief that we exist as dual physical/spiritual beings or that we have eternal lives in another form that isn't physical. While I'm no longer convinced of that general idea about the way things are, I believe each of us must cope and live the best we know how with what we know now, in our short lifetimes, so I can hardly fault people or myself for wanting to fill in the gaps of our understanding with peace-offering, fear-quieting beliefs about eternal spirits which go on living after our physical bodies are laid to rest, and I acknowledge that may be the truth whether or not I believe it. The idea that we are immaterial or refined-matter 'spirits' living in inferior, physical vessels or that our consciousness continues to exist after our brain cells have stopped functioning...that, to me, is what 'spirituality' is, and it has little or nothing to do with right and wrong or with ethics. My overall outlook on what constitutes a good life and what it means to be a "good person" is mostly like it was when I was an active and faithful member of the church. And yes, I know where "good people" without covenants go, according to current LDS doctrinal understanding: call me terrestrial-bound.

I said, "Of course I believe in doing good, treating other people how you would hope to be treated, trying to leave people and the world better than you found them, striving for understanding, peace, and harmony. If that's your definition of 'spiritual', then I'm spiritual, but I think of 'spiritual' as something apart." Of course it stills matters, to me, how you treat others and how you express love and respect. Even if I can't deflect personal responsibility to or reference deity as the authoritative source of some list of rights and wrongs, there are actions which are productive or constructive and those which are destructive, and I feel more responsible than ever for my own actions, and I have values which I may or may not be able to defend by pointing to some holy writ but which I am nonetheless unwilling to compromise: values like honesty, kindness, integrity, respect, etc. I don't need to believe I'm a dual being, a spirit fighting the fallen nature of a carnal vessel, to believe in the value of striving for a better life for myself and generations to come. I don't need the promise of eternal rewards for my spirit self to want to do good now in the flesh. This all leads into my issues with the "eat, drink, and be merry" scripture, but that's another post.


Kurt said...

I have heard this question before and have never heard spiritual defined in such a way. Run with a better crowd sir. For example UW grads. ;)

Original Mohomie said...

Actually, the friend who said this is a very intelligent fellow. And I think a lot of people think of "spiritual" that way, using the term casually as so many terms are used. It seems trendy for people who leave religion to call themselves "spiritual", as if it somehow makes being non-religious more "OK" or palatable, but I don't feel the need to justify myself with such a term. That's all. :-)

Lee said...

I appreciate and respect your resolve to continue being the good person you are and always have been. However, I believe that most good people are the way they are, not out of fear of God's judgement should they behave badly, but because they are, like you, simply good people. I also know skanky people who consider themselves "religious" and who self-righteously use their religion to justify their skankiness. It's not the fault of religion . . . it's the character of the person.

I've never seen religion as a crutch or a way to explain the unexplainable, nor have I needed it to make sure I remain a decent person. During my agnostic years (about ages 14 to 31) I was still honest, caring, respectful, kind, etc. etc. Then I had a spiritual experience that hit me over the head really hard and, although I was pissed off that it wreaked havoc with my agnosticism with which I was very satisfied, I couldn't deny it. So maybe someday you'll have a similar experience that slaps you across the face so hard you'll never doubt again. Keep an open mind.

The Impossible K said...

Seems like being "spiritual, but not religious" is very common in CA, where I grew up. It always puzzled me when people said this. After reading this post, I think they made that same association. Still, why not just call yourself a "moral" person - which seems closer to the true definition? You don't have to be spiritual to believe in doing good.
Thanks for the clarification :)

Original Mohomie said...

ImpossibleK, I do know a few people who believe in a higher power with which they commune regularly for guidance, harmony, to center themselves, or whatever. They believe we exist in a "spiritual" or "metaphysical" form beyond the "physical" with which we think we're familiar, and they believe we all will exist as some form of intelligence after this life. But they don't subscribe to any particular religion, though they often do believe in certain systems of thought around energy or new age spirituality. Some, though, simply go their own way, believing what their own experience and perceptions seem to testify. Many religious look at these people and thank their God they have clear, simple, defined truth. I happen to believe most of them are in for a shock when they either find out how simple it's not or they fade out of consciousness when their cells cease to function. :-)