“I’m not really a religious person but I am a spiritual person.”
I always cringe when I hear this phrase because it usually means the conversation is about to turn to miracles, butterflies, fairies, Angels and a whole load of pseudo religious or new-age nonsense.
Lately I have changed my point of view.
According to Wikipedia,
Spiritual is – concerning matters of the spirit.
Spirit is – ‘well, any number of things depending on which definition you choose,” Breath, Soul, Emotion. The definition I like from Wikipedia is “The spirit of a living thing usually refers to or explains its consciousness.”
Consciousness is a great place to start a rational conversation. We can work with this.
With most people you will not get this quality of definition. Their eyes will glaze over and you will get something along the lines of “there may be something out there but I don’t know what it is and I don’t think anybody else does either”.
To me this represents the “light beer” sales approach. You know the phrase, “Great taste less filling.” It allows all the warm fuzzy angel-wing feelings of religion without all the “Lucifer will burn the flesh off your body” or “kill every man woman and child in the city”, feeling.
On the surface it seems that these people have just thrown out belief in the standard dogma, for something new age. But,,, is this a first step towards something more meaningful? I personally believe that this is the first step to a rational outlook. They have compartmentalized their belief (not rare) to the point where they can believe in the wonders of miracles without having to accept the acts of violence, intolerance, and hatred that religion entails.
They have realized that the sales patter can’t possibly be right so the conscious mind rebels at embracing it.
Remember when your Mother told you, “You can catch more flies with Honey than Vinegar?” This is where we need to reassure them that they are on the right path to wisdom. This is where we as friends need to engage them in the wonders that science holds. This is where we need to reassure them that they are not losing anything by following the rational course, but instead are gaining a whole new understanding of the Universe.
Which is more enthralling, the myth of creation where god magically made the earth the sky and all the animals in one week, or ten minutes spent browsing Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series. You can’t observe the open maw of an active volcano, the true size of the expanding universe, or the birth and development of a fellow primate without experiencing a sense of wonder.
Instead of making them uncomfortable with a berating of their confused beliefs, we should seize this as an opportunity to usher them into the 21st Century of science and wonder. After all, didn’t they agree to meet us half way when they gave up the dogma? Shouldn’t we as rational people do our part to help them replace what they have left behind?
As freethinkers our primary goal should be to educate our community for the benefit of all mankind. We may never find rationalism with a fundamentalist minister but when a non religious “spiritual” person is asking our opinion, our goals should be clear.
Perhaps in the future when someone says, “I am not religious, but I am spiritual,” instead of jamming a pencil in my ear and bracing my psyche for the fairies and unicorns, I will use this as an opening to explore what they really mean. And more to the point, how I can help.
I will at least try to plant the seeds of scientific thought in someone who just may be ready to accept it.