Religion is an organization of myth – either written or oral – that is applied to communal life, usually reinforced through a sacred calendar, festivals, and ceremonies. This, mixed with symbols and rituals, enable the community to share meaning and participate with the life of nature around them. (Joseph Campbell – The Inner Reaches of Outer Space)
Human beings’s capacity for wonder, reason, and understanding prompt us to ask primal existential questions – who are we, what are we, where did we come from, where are we going, and how should we live?
Religion is an attempt at a unified understanding of reality and its meaning. Yet rather than proceeding from a scientific approach, religion engages the ancient mythic-poetic manner of understanding that is misunderstood by many today.
Our ancient ancestors, lacking the scientific method, derived wisdom through the use of poetic method and artistic expression, offering answers to life’s profound questions by weaving together myth, metaphor, allegory, and symbols into narratives and paradigms that helped make deeper sense of their lives.
These religious paradigms were then reinforced and actualized through various forms of ritual and celebration, further poetic creations intended for transformation. Often a moral code with emphasis on particular values intended to foster wholeness, happiness, and increasing empathy would also become part of the overall religious effort.
Spiritual Humanism remains open to the value of religion as a poetic, innately human enterprise that helps people find meaning in life. Many Spiritual Humanists today look to ancient religious practices for inspiration – finding wisdom in claims of interconnectedness, ritual styles, and select teachings – but leaving behind any literalism, fundamentalism, or other outdated modes of thinking and analysis. IRON AGE
Religion, Reason & Truth
Reason, or rationality, is the capacity for consciously making sense of things, applying logic, establishing and verifying facts, and changing or justifying practices, institutions, and convictions based on new or existing information.
It is closely associated with such human activities as philosophy, science, language, and mathematics, and is normally considered to be a definitive characteristic of human nature.
Our spiritual-religious project is one rooted in reason seeking the truth about our lives and our world and it’s meaning.
Truth is the adequate correspondence of human judgments to reality itself. Human knowledge is fallible, but generally reliable, and is verified in relation to reality. Reasoned human discourse functions along these lines – when people make claims, they ought to be able to provide some justification for those claims – justification involves offering evidence based in reality – this is how human communities gain wisdom and make progress.
Awakening to the world as it really is and living accordingly is the heart of spiritual realism. Spiritual realism operates from an epistemological conservatism – humbly seeking to understand reality and trying to offer some explanation for events and circumstances.
The opposite of spiritual realism is ideological spirituality that lacks humility, makes unwarranted claims, and arrogantly demands that reality conform to its narrow views. Ideological spirituality is grounded only partially in reality and is closed to the fullness of the truth and of our world.
As such, its fundamental attitude is pride – believing that it has the monopoly on the truth itself. Its basis of unity tends to be moral and ritual purism and rigid intellectual conformity. As such, ideological spirituality disdains and fears difference and the “other” adopting a fundamental attitude of distrust.
Asserting reason as a requirement for spirituality and religion does not negate the power of myth, poetry, ritual, symbol, and other aspects of religion. Yet claiming that religion relies on poetic expression and method does not cancel out the fact that genuine spirituality must be centered on the truth – not elaborate, ungrounded theology or grand speculation without foundation.
The work of healthy spiritual reasoning is to give defense and support to our convictions – of if they be found to be without adequate grounding, to help us reform them in accordance with the truth.
Theology, Science, and Poetic Method
We live in an age that is somewhat tone deaf to myth, somewhat unmoved by ritual, and generally unappreciative of the poetic. We tend to approach theology and spirituality from the perspective of science, which in turn often leads to various forms of literalism emerging in theology.
The purpose of theology isn’t to intervene in science over questions that science is much better prepared to address, but to relate the material universe studied by science to questions of ultimate concern — of value, meaning and purpose — which science can’t address and are instead the proper sphere of religion and philosophy.
Much of spiritual reasoning wrestles with claims that cannot be deduced or induced or justified through scientific method. Rather, much of the religious enterprise relies on illative reasoning which operates by drawing together variant strands of arguments and evidence, none of which is conclusive on its own, but together offers a reasonable argument.
For example, there are several seemingly credible (or at least plausible) explanations for the existence of the universe that offer fascinating insights into spontaneous creation and order – a universe that either always existed or unfolded by natural means from an ever existent singularity.
Yet even in such elegant explanations there remains both a sense of inexplicable awe as well as something missing. Within the complex matrix of sufficient reason, causation, emergence, teleological thinking, and the nature of time – we begin to glimpse some sense of the multiple layers of contingency of the universe – the contingency of some emergent cause that prompts the original expansion of singularity, the contingency of inherent principles that guide the ordered emergence of matter and energy, and the contingency of the regularity, continued existence, and direction of the unfolding.
Contemplating issues of seeming contingency is not an immediate assertion of a theological answer to a scientific problem. Nor does pondering meta-principles of inherent order and direction lead directly to asserting a personal God of love, or miracles, or Yahweh at the burning bush.
But it does begin to create a space for possible metaphysical considerations of mind, of eternal order, and even the first wonderings concerning purpose and meaning. Such thinking is not simplistic spiritual assertions into “gaps.”
We are not speaking here of problems in need of answers – science will continue to provide answers to practical questions– rather, we are speaking of mysteries that call for reflection and meditation. Mystery does not cry out for solutions or answers – it finds its resolution in awe and wonder and a willingness to engage the question “why?”
We must recognize that metaphysical realities are often passed by, unnoticed by the tools of science as the sea is not caught in totality by the fisherman’s net. In such cases, one should not accept an absence of evidence as evidence of absence nor the absence of answers as proof of other claims – God is found in the light of mystery and awe, not in the dark gaps of human intellectual problems.
We may dismiss the above as poetry and assume that the universe, broadly speaking, is a meaningless affair. Still there is no logical or philosophical necessity that adopting a position of cosmic nihilism requires that all attributions of human purpose be treated as unjustified.
We need not reduce human life in the particular to nihilism. Such assertions simply mean that human purposes may have no detectable scientific significance. However, human ends do not have to serve scientific ends in order to be genuine. Nor do they have to be eternal in nature. Nor is science capable, strictly speaking, of fully engaging such questions of meaning.
Pondering “why” is pivotal in undoing the flattening effects of secularization – the tendencies toward nihilism and dehumanization – and provides an Archimedean point from which culture can be judged and renewed. Cultivating this sense of awe and reverence is the purpose of spirituality.