Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spirituality is to Religion as Astronomy is to Astrology

Let's go back to my delving into the spiritual quest (see ABN, March 20). The title of today's post comes from that last-day-of-winter post.

"Spirituality is to religion as astronomy is to astrology." This is probably that post's highlight, and it gets at the heart of the matter -- and the rationale behind my distinctions between secular spiritual quests and religious spiritual quests.

Aphorisms sell in America, because the audience's collective attention span is just about long enough to fit in a few sentences. Paragraphs eat up air time, and who no one gets to give two minute answers on television (except maybe on Charlie Rose).

So here's the sentence: "Spirituality is to religion as astronomy is to astrology."

If you google the phrase "spiritual quest," you'll find that many, perhaps most entries that come up are not strictly religious. Spirituality and the "spiritual quest" have become more commonly used by a less devout crowd. Hellfire is out. Hope and happiness are in. The crux of the quest is spirit, having spirit, sort of like "being yourself" while being a really "good" person at the same time. Damnation is SO last millennium. It's now so much more about the here and now and delving into things like yoga and singing and volunteering and giving and paying attention and mentoring and studying psychology and philosophy, learning to more deftly articulate the gray areas between "strict science" and literal doctrine. It's not all or nothing anymore. There's more give and take, which is a much more realistic sort of quest for humans to be on, considering how varied and imperfect and learning and yearning we are.

The gurus of spiritual matters now realize we already suffer enough, no need to pile on fire and brimstone. All that old stuff left most of the flock in the dark anyway or in a hall of mirrors. Yes, goofy jargon still creeps into a lot of self-help fluff, and you're right to be skeptical of New Agey claims to clairvoyance and all manner of assumptions based on (so far) unobservable occurrences. In some of its more inspired and yet imaginative guises, various spiritual quests ignore and even deny some pretty obvious and varifiable facts. Some even deny the need for facts. The most extreme say that there really IS such a thing as facts or even A FACT, but that is, alas, fundamentalism of another sort.

At its best, the spiritual quest is, more than ever, based on finding out more about our own emotions and mythologies, more about how we think and why we think and feel the ways we do, more about what life for other cultures and species is like, and in a word, more about reality.

Big word, REALITY, and this discussion will take more time. More to come, and in the meantime, of course, I'd be happy to hear from you.


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