What is spirituality? Since my earliest childhood I have heard, read, been indoctrinated in, accepted, rejected, reacted to, pondered, believed, questioned, studied, sought after, searched for, endlessly an answer to this question. It has become my strong opinion that my spiritual quest is not so much to determine my truth about spirituality, but is to define what spirituality is. It seems to me that almost nothing that I have encountered in theology or religious history sheds light on what spirituality is, but rather describes to us impressions of a somehow unspoken underlying assumption, about spirit, without ever finding out if what it is we are defining is common to our fellows, trying to explain to us their perceptions. We are all in this quest in a never ending dog-tail chase that is essentially like the
Then, based upon this exceptional reasoning, we choose up sides and judge each other, form societies, condemn each other’s views, decide on religious governments, which give birth to political governments, and have at finding ways to penalize the non-righteous, i. e., those who do not share a perception of the same portion of the elephant’s anatomy as do we.
I was raised in a devoutly Presbyterian family. We believed in the one and only God and He permeated everything. We knew too, that if there was one thing we were not, it was Catholic. I was very taken with the whole thing. While I was a star at little in the way of formal education, I was an excellent Sunday School pupil, if I had a teacher who challenged me intellectually, which I fortunately encountered some of. I went through a phase of being sure I was called to become a minister. I once gave the Youth Sunday Sermon in high school: an honor reserved for those who were thought of as the finest of young Presbyterians. I spoke about apathy. Eventually the organized hypocrisy of modern religion became my truth. I still believe Catholicism may be the veneration of the antichrist, and fear that Presbyterianism is a democratic attempt at the same endeavor. I see little connection in either to spirituality, or any reason why I would want to leave my Sunday morning reveries with my loves to go to church, much preferring to “worship at St. Mattress” enjoying a connubial communion hopefully followed by blueberry pancakes, Dunkin Donuts coffee, political talking heads, and then sports.
Over decades, on and off, I’ve returned to the study of Christian theology and, to a lesser extent, comparative religion. I found more value in the study of bible history and the bible as literature. There is virtually nothing in modern Christianity that bears a resemblance to historically demonstrable Christian doctrine. Little has since 325 AD, and the Council of Nicea, convened by the Emperor Constantine as a political placation of the warring Christian and pagan forces tearing the Roman Empire apart. He brought both these factions together to hammer out a new state religion. Lyndon Johnson’s ability to create compromise between disparate Congressional forces pales in the face of his achievement. I’ve come to joke that the man who has had the greatest impact on all humanity was the parliamentarian of the Council of Nicea. Out of it came a new quasi-Judeo-Christian, quasi Greco-Roman-Pagan, quasi-mithraic hybrid religion which was true to none of them. Somehow pious descendents of that time have came to fervently believe the product of this process has sacred, reliable, valid, authenticity. Nicea is, to this day, the world’s greatest political compromise. It saved the Empire and transformed the Emperor Constantine into St. Constantine. It created the new parallel leg of western civilized governance, the clergy. It created Christianity. Subsequently there were some few malcontents and intellectuals who refused to adopt the new state-mandated religion. In Latin they were termed Hereticus, or the plural Heretici, the root of the English word heretic. Hereticus, in literal translation, means “choice maker.” Heretici chose to not accept the new hybrid religion proclaimed by imperial decree the new state religion of all Rome. Heretici were persecuted, tortured, and put to death by their Christian brethren. First there were the early Christian martyrs, followed by those martyred for not acquiescing to the Nicene credo-centrist modern Christianity by the Neo-Christian clergy. My relationship to Christianity is stated by the defiant proclamation, “Ego hereticus Sum.” I am a heretic. I choose not to accept as valid the forms of Christianity that exist.
So what then? Did the universe just happen? Is everything just some cosmic joke of mathematical coincidence that eventually came to pass within eternity, as 10,000 monkeys playing on typewriters over a million years might create a dictionary by random chance? Accepting that seems to me like an act of faith that way exceeds the faith required to become a modern evangelical literal translationist Christian.
I don’t think we can know through reason “the elephant” we in our blindness are in touch with; but it can be experienced. I am intrigued, literally “beyond belief,” by the writings of modern scientists who are working on the scientific (as opposed to the philosophical) question: what is consciousness? Today’s classical reality is the product of what has been called the tyranny of the prefrontal cortex. Modern thought is based in Greek dualistic thought that we are like two beings: a duality of mind and body. Body is connected to the material world and our “baser” instincts, and mind is able, through reason, to master our baseness and to transform our understanding to experience the realities of the universe…..spirituality. This reasoning also empowers us to have dominion over all the world. Within our thought to this point we are essentially base physical beings (often conflated somehow with evil and/or intellectual inferiority) but we rise to levels of understanding and even awareness through reason which sublimate our baseness into holiness...a oneness with that greater reality. We, like everything in reality, are atoms….atomized and separate from all other entities in the classical paradigm.
This overly simplified statement of modern thought is the product of immersing ourselves in prefrontal cortextual cognition, its derivative, inferential scientific reasoning, and greco/latinate linguistics. Logical thought is so inculcated in our beings that we are only able to quiet it with immense effort of will. It is the basis of human achievement. It defines the remarkably non-spiritual religions we have achieved. It is reasoning likely to destroy us if we do not evolve. As it enables us to have dominion in the environment it separates us from connection to it as well. We are blinded in its tyranny from direct knowing, a form of relatedness to reality which is about being, not knowing. Direct knowing, this alternate consciousness, which more fully integrates the aspects of our consciousness embodied beyond the prefrontal cortex, is found in transcendental meditation, in Buddhism, in poetry, in Hinduism, in tantra, and shamanism, and paganism, in Sufism, in some Christian practices and in transcendent SM, and on and on.
In my youth I spent a couple years experimenting with LSD. I found out how to be really joyously messed up, but not how to experience direct knowing. My definition of spirituality is finding ways to experience direct knowing…. to get a feeling, if not a thought, of the elephantine reality we all share. Direct knowing is spirituality and can allow us to share in feeling the “whole elephant.” It is experiencing everything’s oneness not understanding it
There is an H. L. Mencken quote that I have paraphrased throughout my life since I first encountered it in an undergraduate literature course. It is something like, for every problem that is complex, convoluted, dynamic and almost beyond reason, there is an answer that is short, simple, direct and WRONG! My on-going quest to find my spirituality is not simple or direct. We need to integrate our reasoning and our conscious connection to what is for human survival. If not, none of this will matter anyway.