Yesterday I posted a blog about spirituality versus religion.
It got a response from Julian Lord, who frequents this blog from time to time and is a highly educated, highly erudite Christian.
He disagreed with the thrust of what I was saying, and I began drafting a reply to put in Comments, but then thought that our “argument” deserved a wider dissemination, and so I’ve decided to make it a separate post.
I will first post Julian’s comment to my post yesterday, reacting to my stating that I believe spiritualism is personal, religion is institutional…
I very much disagree — perhaps a better parallel for you to work with, in relation to your work here, would be : Spirituality is intuitive, religion is intellective.
Religion is meaningless if it isn’t also spiritual though ; so that the complementary point, that spirituality is meaningless if it isn’t also religious, is worthy of some very serious consideration.
And my response:
Hi Julian, nice to see you here again.
Of COURSE you would disagree! You are a devout and highly intelligent Christian, and we have disagreed on many things in the past. I value your opinions, as you know, and respect your take on matters spiritual and religious, but don’t personally hold all your beliefs.
Firstly, your point – Spirituality is intuitive, religion is intellective.
I had to look up the definition of “intellective,” and what I got was – of or relating to the intellect. Intelligent, cognitive, having power to understand. From the same dictionary, the definition of intuitive is: perceiving directly without rational thought.
By the way, as an aside, that is not my definition of intuition. But I’ll save that for my film…
Getting back to your point – tell me if I’m wrong here but what you’re implying is that spiritualism doesn’t employ an intellectual rigour, whereas religion does. That spirituality is diaphanous and lacking in rational thinking, whereas religion is substantiated by scholarship and learning.
To use your term, I very much disagree.
A spiritual person can draw from the writings and teachings of some of the great minds from the past five millennia. A spiritual person isn’t limited in his/her search for knowledge – and isn’t tied to one particular school of thought.
A spiritual person can draw from various religions – and most do – but they’re not necessarily limited to one doctrine. They usually search wider, and include in that search the wisdom of many other disciplines, often pre-dating Christianity by thousands of years.
Most often, these ancient wisdom texts can be highly intellective, to use your term, or they can be reductive, as with Zen Buddhism, yet in being reductive they are no less rigorous intellectually. Study some Zen koans, then study the Rig Vedas, read the Bhagavad Gita, or the Buddha’s discourses in the various Pali Canons – these are works of high intellective value.
Equally, a spiritual person can delve into the complexities of quantum physics, Unified Field theory, and the nature of the universe from a cosmological and astrophysics perspective. Some of our greatest scientists working in this area are spiritualists, because in studying the fundamental nature of matter and the cosmos they’ve come to the conclusion that there must be a God.
Then there’s the mystical element of spiritualism, which involves the study of the processes of cognition, and the nature of the mind, and thought itself. These shift into the areas of clinical and medical scientific research, but also psychology and psychiatry. They also involve the study of philosophy, and those seeking a true spiritual understanding will often delve into these disciplines.
Then we come to the soul. Those who seek an understanding of the nature of the soul can turn to various sources, some of which of course are speculative, but some are again highly intellectual discourses which date back four or five thousand years, and have become the basis of the world’s largest religions.
So to say that spiritualism is intuitive I believe doesn’t give full credit to the depth of highly scholastic and intellectual work that is available to those that wish to follow a spiritual path.
To your point – Religion is meaningless if it isn’t also spiritual though ; so that the complementary point, that spirituality is meaningless if it isn’t also religious, is worthy of some very serious consideration.
Agreed – religion is meaningless without spirituality, however I don’t believe that spirituality is meaningless without religion.
As I said earlier, most seeking spirituality in their lives invariably turn to religious texts – although most often they’re not Christian. Again though, it comes down to definitions. I define religion as an organisational structure for those that adhere to a particular set of beliefs about the cause, nature, and purpose of their existence.
Certainly religion can be, and must be, personal. There is possibly nothing more personal than one’s religious beliefs. But I’m not talking about that aspect of “personal,” I’m talking about the structure of a system of beliefs, and of communion with God.
Religion, in my view, is an “agency,” that helps guide an individual, a community, a society, a civilisation to God. It acts as an intermediary between those people and God, and seeks exclusivity. It professes to “know” God, and seeks to pass on that knowledge. Sometimes it seeks to impose that knowledge.
Most religions believe that because they know God so intimately, their God is the right God, the only God, and there can be no other God but their God. Some believe this vehemently. And so there is war.
Spiritualists, on the other hand, usually believe that there is only one God, irrespective and independent of religious belief. This is regarded as heretical by most religions.
The religion agency has certain rules as part of its Terms of Trade. Each religion has different Terms of Trade, different rules. But usually anyone wishing to use the services of that agency to find God has to adhere to those Terms of Trade.
There are some who don’t want that agency, or don’t like its Terms of Trade. And so they look elsewhere for a more direct and unfettered communion with God. This is why the church so often vigorously opposes spiritualism, because its exclusive arrangement as the sole agent is threatened.
I’m reading Salman Rushdie’s new book at the moment. Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty Eight Nights. I recommend you read the book Julian. It’s a highly imaginative, and beautifully written metaphor, but at its heart it’s a discourse on the battle between science and religion.
But one of the characters, at one point states: In a thousand years, we will discover that we don’t need religion.
Well that post is just totally spinning my head around!! Quite a load of thoughts to digest!! love it!!! The point that I somewhat agree with Julian on, is that Religion is more Intellective. That, in my experience, is exactly the reason that “religions” and Science do not always have the answers to some spiritual/intuitive questions. There is too much that is lined up next to “a book” or Doctrine to give an explanation and the intuitive, knowingness and spirituality falls to the side. When sometimes it is only through faith and intuition that we will “know”.
Religions are the institutions that humans have created to try to explain / interpret the unexplainable, the spirituality, that is our source of Love, Light and Divinity. They can be a source of communal spiritual sharing and learning, But I am also feeling that in our human quest to explain we also limit this God source that is greater than any human explanation we can put on it. And that is where faith comes in. In the end our spirituality is our own connection to GOD/Source and is completely personal and unique to each of us.
Hi Kathryn – I’m pleased you’ve enjoyed these posts. It’s a fascinating area. And there is no one right or wrong way to approach these things – as you say at the end of your comment here. What’s most important, above all else, is that in the pursuit of the divine, whether it’s through spirituality of religion, if it helps make you a better person, and if it helps encourage you to give back to the world around you in a positive and generous way, then surely that’s got to be a good thing… Bill
tell me if I’m wrong here but what you’re implying is that spiritualism doesn’t employ an intellectual rigour, whereas religion does. That spirituality is diaphanous and lacking in rational thinking, whereas religion is substantiated by scholarship and learning.
No, that’s not at all what I wanted to suggest.
(and BTW I wouldn’t agree with that dictionary definition either)
Cognition has multiple aspects, and I’d think that rigour and rationality belong to methodology not intellect, scholarship and learning to education not intellect.
The distinction I was thinking of is more one of focus, rather than capability. We’re also getting back into that area that my long post of some weeks back was addressing, the one you never saw that got destroyed by WordPress.
If the intuitive is anything, it’s a focus on perception, including both external and internal perception, and as a guidance system, the intellect would be a recipient of the intuition, and so of course should never absent from the intuitive “process”. The intellective focus and its use of intuition is perhaps best described in Descartes’ Discours de la méthode, whereby the intuition is more narrowly focused into a tool of the intellect.
And I think the relationship between spirituality and religion is similar. One can focus on the spiritual to the detriment of the religious, just as one can focus on the religious to the detriment of the spiritual. But I think that each belongs to the other, just as intuition and intellect do, and one could also focus on the intuitive to the detriment of the intellect, or on the intellect to the detriment of one’s intuition.
But I think that wherever one’s own focus might be, it would be a mistake to neglect the other — and it’s that kind of neglect that leads to that sort of bad dictionary definition, or to religion without spirituality.
Again though, it comes down to definitions. I define religion as an organisational structure for those that adhere to a particular set of beliefs about the cause, nature, and purpose of their existence.
I very much disagree. 😉
That definition is more appropriate to a sect of Philosophy, or a political organisation, and I don’t see that there’s anything uniquely religious about its contents.
Atheists often view religion as being nothing more than that, but as we’ve agreed, religion is meaningless without spirituality, and there’s nothing pertaining to spirituality in that definition, which is therefore wrong, or at the very least incomplete.
I’d argue that a religion is an organisational structure for those that adhere to, and practice, a particular form of spirituality.
Not every religion is going to be strongly productive of doctrines and moral imperatives, but even so, these too are either centred on spirituality or they’re meaningless.
But unless you’re some sort of hermit, or otherwise isolated, by choice or otherwise, you’ll tend towards life in community, and a community of those sharing their spirituality is fundamentally religious, even if it might not be “a religion”. Just as the spirituality of the Camino belongs to all pilgrims, and the Camino is a community on pilgrimage.
Religion is intellective, in my view, because it is the organisation of the spiritual into a persistent, community form — to continue the parallel with the Camino, pilgrims tend to all follow along the same path, instead of dispersing each person along his own individual route.
If spirituality is intuitive, then, it is in the individuality of experience and action, whether in or out of community — but we are not alone, and the spiritual community of religion is precious, and not opposed to it.
There’s another long post probably in the spam filter, but I have a backup copy anyway.
Hi Julian – thanks for your considered reply. What I’ll do is take your comments, combine them (because yes, one did end up in the spam folder!) and put them into a separate post tomorrow. I know there are people on Facebook and Twitter who access this blog, but don’t get the comments, and I’m sure they would be very interested in your reply. I’ll do that tomorrow morning though my time. Again my thanks, Bill
Thanks for doing that, Bill — and you couldn’t have found a better photo to use as illustration.
That’s in the chapel at Santuario della Verna – where St. Francis experienced his stigmata.