Some folks, how ’bout most folks, just don’t like the idea of materialism. “There must be something more”, many feel, and it is non-material, made of the spirit, in the spiritual realm, something beyond, more essential, of greater worth and potency and mystery and wonder, than “mere” matter. This yearning, this unsatisfied perspective seems to creep into the discourse on damn near anything: evolution, consciousness, morality, creativity…
In addition to the more strict definition of spiritualism as a belief in the souls of the dead existing in some spiritual realm somewhere and the communication with same, the Oxford online Dictionary also adds:
“The doctrine that the spirit exists as distinct from matter, or that spirit is the only reality.”
Its not only separate from matter, but better somehow, or more fundamental, maybe the only true reality. Matter, material existence is just this temporary, base, crass, worldly condition which is somehow diminished and inferior to that ultimately true, resplendent, transcendent spiritual reality…which is somewhere “out there”… or all around us, or infused in everything, depending on your spiritual bent.
Leaving the fawning superlatives of Eastern mysticism and the New-Ager folk aside about how the “really” real is the true and better real, it strikes me as more than interesting that people find it so easy to believe there must be something more, some transcendent spiritual reality that is not material, and we cant discover it thru materialistic, (read scientific) means. Whether this spiritual essence contains souls or universal consciousness or not, or has entities of some kind as described by so many religions, there is a strong belief that a spiritual non-material something certainly exists. It is taken for granted by many, even those who have rejected traditional religion, or a belief in god altogether.
Here’s the US numbers: 61% of Nones (the non-religious) believe in a some sort of god or universal spirit. The other 33% of the non-religious identify as atheists, saying there isn’t a god, with just 4% remaining agnostic on the subject. A little over a third of the Nones then, have rejected the idea of god, or say we cant know if there is one or not: along with religion they reject such spiritual claims as deities or angels and devils or heaven and hell. One wonders if some of these folks still might accept the idea of a soul.
Be that as it may, of that 61% that have rejected religion but still hold spiritual leanings; the “Spiritual Nones” let’s call them, roughly 27% are still sure there is god and the other 36% at least believe in something spiritual, just not a traditional person-like god. So close to 2/3 of those who have rejected traditional religion in this country still hold onto traditional spiritual ideas of god or something else “out there”.
Spiritualism lingers on in some form even among the majority of these secular folks who have dumped religion outright and maybe even the idea of god with it. There’s still something “out there” that isn’t material. Nones make up about 36% of the US population now, and so this set of “Spiritual Nones” comprises about 21% of all Americans.
For the majority of Americans who are still religious believers; a god, and spiritual realms (like heaven and hell) are a given. 64% of Americans are yet religious, and adding in the “Spiritual Nones”, that’s a whopping 85% of US citizens that have some sort of belief in spiritual ideas: gods, heaven, hell, souls, a universal consciousness, a nebulous spiritual essence; a non-material existence of some kind or another. Spiritual existence is a big deal. Such leanings (yearnings?) are alive and well in the 21st Century, a given for most Americans, even for most of the non-religious, skeptical folks. Hmmm. There are lot of ideas of what this spiritual world is composed of, and how it works, and such ideas are not limited to the descriptions offered by traditional religions. There’s a lot of different claims about what this spiritual realm is supposed to be all about.
So, how would we know if the Deepak Chopra’s of this world or the Dalia Lama for example, had the right idea about the spiritual realm: that there is a universal consciousness that is the ultimate non-material essence, or for the Lama, that there are enlightened bodhisattvas who have reached nirvana and who successfully jettisoned their corporeal form and are off floating as disembodied free souls in some celestial realm?. Could it be instead that the Pope and his minions have got the spiritual scene down right, which includes the Old Testament god in his Trinity along with JC and the Holy Ghost, along with all the saints up there in heaven with St. Peter guarding its Pearly Gates? Is this Xian description of the spiritual realm and its denizens the correct one? Maybe the stern-faced mullahs of Islam have got it right and it is Allah and his paradise (and his Hell) that are the real thing and the New Age Chopra followers, the traditional Buddhists, and the Xians and Jews and the Hindus and everybody else who isn’t Muslim are just deluded about what’s really out there. For Muslims, Allah is it, period.
Or maybe the philosophers and pan-psychics have it correct that even if the spiritual ideas of the traditional religions are but mere myths, consciousness itself is the true spiritual entity that just cannot be material and is a separate thing altogether, possibly an attribute of all existence-in everything and everywhere as part and parcel the universe itself? How would we know who among spiritual leaders got it right or which religious or philosophical description of spiritual existence is correct, or even if there is such a thing? What evidence would we use to come to believing one explanation of the ultimate over another?
It ALL sounds like mystical bullshit to me.
I guess I needed to get that out up front.
The wiki on the subject says:
“Spiritualism is a metaphysical belief that the world is made up of at least two fundamental substances, matter and spirit. This very broad metaphysical distinction is further developed into many and various forms by the inclusion of details about what spiritual entities exist such as a soul, the afterlife, spirits of the dead, deities and mediums; as well as details about the nature of the relationship between spirit and matter. It may also refer to the philosophy, doctrine, or religion pertaining to a spiritual aspect of existence”
Maybe “substance” isn’t quite the right word to use but regardless of the various details proposed by the world’s religious or philosophical traditions, that people may or may not believe, it seems the vast majority of humans accept there are 2 fundamental “things”: matter, and wholly separate spirit. There is definitely something other than matter, and religious traditions, mystics, New-Age speakers, philosophers, and the average Jane and Joe in the US all assume it is as real as anything.
” Don’t YOU believe it, I mean, Gosh, doesn’t everybody?”
Spiritualism is pretty solidly infused even in our modern 21st century culture and it doesn’t seem it will disappear any time soon. Part and parcel of the spiritual claim is that it is by nature unknowable to some extent, maybe truly ineffable as the mystics claim, or at least only glimpsed from our position in the material world. And materialistic investigation can’t touch it either.
I hear/read this retort pretty regularly, even from otherwise decidedly non-religious secular friends:
“Science can’t know, can’t discover everything, it is not the only way of knowing, there is a realm beyond that science cant touch, a whole existence beyond mere matter that science wont ever explain. Everybody knows that!”
My reply is:
No-one knows that.
It is just what they think, or have been taught to believe, or seems real to them. They don’t “know” about spiritualism for a very good reason. It is not that any conjecture about the spiritual is unknowable, it is like any other conjecture about how the world works, completely amenable to investigation and a probability estimate as to its reality: Do we have any evidence for proposed spiritual entities or realms, of whatever form they take? That we can answer and thereby estimate the probability of what might actually exist.
It is not the case that there is precious little evidence for any proposed spiritual realm or existence beyond matter: there is none. And that is a pretty good reason for assigning a rather low probability to anything. Sans evidence, it probably doesn’t exist. No gods, no ghosts, no spiritual entities of any kind, ever proposed have ever shown up: no spiritual realms of the hundreds, (thousands?), ever proposed throughout history have ever been discovered somewhere, anywhere.
The Spiritual Assumption, whatever form it takes, whatever entities and realms are supposed to comprise this ultimate existence, is just that: an assumption, a very old assumption, a decent enough explanation left over from primitive times, ensconced in the world’s religions and philosophical traditions, and yet embraced by most in our modern culture due to the still pervasive (though greatly diminished) influence of religious ideas. There is no evidence whatsoever for souls, gods, spirits, heavens or hells, universal consciousness or so some supposed Ultimate Reality beyond our material world and daily existence. Despite the yearnings and pleadings of the religious texts and philosophical ruminations across the millenia, they got nothing. Nothing but conjectures. The Spiritualist Assumption however appealing to some, is just that an assumption: an old primitive and unfounded assumption.
I suggest spiritualism hangs around as an unquestioned given, despite there being absolutely no evidence for ghosts, heavens, hells, gods, angels, devils, non-material consciousness, pan-psychic universal consciousness, or whatever form non-materialism takes: solely because of cultural inertia: left-over ideas from religious mythologies and ancient philosophical traditions which attempted to explain life and existence and emotions and death with primitive child-like suppositions of things like gods and souls and spiritual realms. We’ve been taught to assume that these things exist. Few question heaven and hell, souls must exist and consciousness we are told just as incessantly by the philosophers and New Age gurus just cant be of material essence. Like all the previous claims of the worlds religions, consciousness, mind, soul of course, exist and they are something non-material.
It seems there is a real appeal to the idea of metaphysical transcendence, that one is a part of some ultimate reality or meaning. I wonder how much of that is also left over negative religious perspective: that this world is somehow crass and meaningless and that the afterlife in the spiritual realm is true paradise and ethereal bliss and completeness.
Once again, this idea of metaphysical transcendence sounds more to me like complete bullshit that we have been taught is the ultimate reality. And despite these yearnings and claims, from Deepak Chopra-like New Age tales to the spiritual hierarchies of the world’s religions, there is yet no evidence that any of these ideas actually exist.
Call me overly optimistic, and hedonistic, but this life is pretty awsum and a pleasure for most. Especially nowadays since WWII. And not that no-one ever had fulfilling lives in the early 20th century or the millennia before when wars, poverty, and short life spans dominated human existence, still many had good lives, enjoying the pleasures of food, sex, family, friendship, learning, hard but fruitful work, success and charity. Since the end of WWII and the rise of democracies around the globe, the end of many diseases, 21st century medical care, global travel, reduction of religious restrictions on behavior, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights successes (gay marriage anyone?), 24 hr internet, and yes, legal porn, drugs finally being legalized, the end of capital punishment in most developed countries, more laws and security forces to protect us, most working people no longer confined to hours of drudgery etc., etc…more people than ever before are able to lead fulfilling lives, without plagues and wars, without slavery and persecution.
Maybe an appreciation of the love of a spouse, and children, friends will make us realize that this existence, which may well be the only one that is really real, can be transcendent and inspiring; especially when we exercise our natural human empathy (and downplay and control our negative tendencies) and connect with other humans on the planet. Life can be a heaven, a real heaven. Maybe we will continue to lose this assumption that there “must be something more”.
Couple that appreciation for the wonders of this life, the one we all know for certain we do have, with a modern education showing that all spiritual claims are utterly unfounded and just old ideas that have hung on solely thru the teachings of religions and the authoritative speculations of some philosophers and self-styled New Age gurus, and maybe this spiritual assumption will fade away like other old, primitive explanations of how the world works.
I’ve already written a few times on consciousness here, and the progress we are making on a materialist description of how it is generated by mere matter: neurons configured and wired up in sufficient number and organization in a human brain that produces conceptual cognition. Future essays will tackle more of the debunking of spiritual claims.
end religion (and spiritual scamming) now.