I have worked on this piece on and off for a couple months, trying to find the ideas and language that best suited my current position on the matter and the inspirations that led me to write on it. This is an opinion piece that is by no means perfectly written and it should not be taken as more than my personal advice at this time in my own philosophical journey. If you find sound ideas and benefit in it, that is wonderful, and I salute you. If not, or even if you want to challenge me on it, I accept that as well.
Those with a focus on scientific evidence or a bent for skepticism will likely deny the existence of a “soul” or “spirit.” I am one such person; however, I also think we are often too quick to shut down arguments referencing or derived from spiritual concepts.
Many thinkers in psychology have posited a “spiritual world” to human existence. By this, they often do not mean “a spirit” exists within us but that there are abstract and fluid perceptions and interpretations to life that do not fall into other areas of existence (barring the increasing potential to identify concepts neurologically).
Art, for instance, is crafted in the physical world and can be shared in the social world, but the impetus and origin of the artistic impulse speaks to the individual on a “deeper” level not easily described in other means. It is not about how we quantify the art. We can measure neurological impulses, and we perform studies on people’s responses to works of art. This has practical value, but it does not necessarily allow us to articulate the relationship of the art to the artist in a common parlance. Instead, we explore what it “means,” or how it “feels,” or how it was “inspired.” These words have definitions and purpose to represent the abstract; they have a practical value that other representations currently lack.
Now take religion. We have all heard something to the effect of “I know it’s true,” “it feels true,” and/or “I want it to be true.” Is there error or fault to be found in that? Is the religion in question objectively and verifiably true? Maybe, maybe not. (Probably not, if you ask me.) I pose instead: Does it matter if it is true? Some people want to only believe what they can verify; other people care less about veracity and are willing to take a leap of faith. If it helps them find what most would agree is needed for life – i.e., safety, stability, connection, purpose, esteem, morality, goals, etc. – and does not cause harm, perhaps we let it be.
Many will disagree with me on this point about harm, saying all or nearly all religions/spiritualities do. They would be happy to give me a thousand citations of personal or societal harm directly caused by practices of faith. I do not disagree on any front that this has occurred. However, has it occurred universally or due exclusively to the spirituality itself? No. People must take the action to follow or rebel against doctrine. Others will disagree with me because they find it objectively better for wellbeing (or some similar construct) to be without religion. As far as I am aware, we cannot yet objectively verify it is best for every single individual to be without religion. Many of the faithful credit the best parts of their lives to it; others have found it to be a curse. Both can be correct.
As it may seem by now, yes, I do advocate for pick-and-choose spirituality – a personal spirituality. Everyone has a worldview with varying degrees of “spirituality.” We must ask ourselves what does it do to and for them? If the benefits outweigh the cost so far as the person can demonstrate, wonderful for them. If the costs outweigh, then an issue is present.
Take an example of a Christian who does not believe in the resurrection of Christ. Well, they are not really a Christian, right? That is a core tenet of their claimed faith. Perhaps that is what has worked best for them; it is their solution to the questions of life. True, and we can debate that individual on their use of the label; but if you ask them their religion, them saying “Christian except for the resurrection part” is a confusing label few would readily accept as an answer. If they do provide such a response, it is a great opportunity to ask questions and try to understand their position. If they simply say “Christian,” then maybe it is worth asking if they believe everything implied by that label. I presume most will, but asking at least creates the opportunity to discuss any personal components.
I encourage anyone reading this is not forget the value of asking yourself and others “why do you believe what you believe.” Then go a step further and ask, “why do I believe what I believe about what you believe,” and vice versa.
I return to my point about leaps of faith. A person’s rationale may not be sufficient for you while it is sufficient for them. If you feel it is insufficient, that is on you. I do not mean it is your burden to round out their view but that you have more questions to be asking. Any information the other person presented already makes sense to them. Explain why you are not satisfied and perhaps encourage them to delve into things more. None of that means the conversation must end.
Too often I have seen and heard discussions and debates shut down because one person’s spirituality does not meet the burden of proof another person deems appropriate. As an audience member, I get the sense of “I just can’t with this person” or “they just don’t get how wrong they are.” To anyone who has thought this during such a dialogue, perhaps it is you who is mistaken. That is skepticism, right?
Moreover, as I said before, does it matter? It may matter to you that you disagree. Set that aside and simply learn. Recognize you may never be able to come to the belief that what the other person is saying is true. Change your goal. Get to know their personal spirituality and any rationale they do have, and then be willing to share your own. Just because you cannot “win” or discover a fundamental truth of reality does not mean the conversation is not worth having nor that any spiritualities therein are not worth believing.