09 January 2012

Is it time to reclaim the word "Spirituality"?

The shorties: probably not.

Here's why I think in such a churlish way. "Spirituality" is one of those nicey sounding words that carries a huge amount of baggage. It seems so benign, so uplifting, so positive. How can anyone not love it?

Well, groups like the Templeton Foundation (more on those punters later) love to point at the "Spirituality" of scientists, and in the simple sense, many (if not most) scientists experience a sense of awe and wonder at the vastness of the universe or the complexity of molecular pathways or the differentiation of cells. And many people feel perfectly happy to call this experience a "sense of spirituality". So far, so labelly.

However, then we run into the problem of disingenuous religious apologists identifying this sense with some sort of recognition of the divine - an appreciation of some sort of transcendence that necessarily (in their wee heads, bless 'em) means that there has to be a god to make this all hang together. The ever-entertaining Christian apologist - sorry - analytic philosopher - Alvin Plantinga likes to link this to a "sensus divinitatis" - an innate "sense of the divine". This is a weird concept dreamt up by the lunatic theocrat of Geneva, Mr John Calvin - a nasty piece of work if ever there was one, but more on that Johnny anon. Alvin thinks that with Atheists, their "sensus divinitatis" is defective, and this is a "spiritual" flaw. Maybe he's right, but I would regard it as a sublime virtue. He might want to sort out his moralisations.

Anyway, using this and other methods, some people take the word "spirituality" from a context where it is meant to denote that entirely human feeling of awe and wonder, and subtly shift the meaning, so that we get the gods in by the back door. That is pretty greasy, and indeed dishonest.

So my suggestion is that we just let this word go. Lose "spirituality" altogether from our science-life-lexicon. Just stick with awe and wonder, and don't let it become a Trojan Horse for those whose agendas are far from noble.

1 comment:

  1. I agree... I don't like "spirituality" because it implies that we are spirits-- i.e. "souls". And immortal souls (that can suffer forever) are a problem that religions invent-- so they can proffer themselves as the solution. I don't want to be any part of this delusion, nor do I want to enable it or ennoble it in any way. Without immortal souls, gods and faith become irrelevant as does all the obfuscatory language games used to keep it alive.

    Religion obfuscates understanding; science clarifies.