Tag Archives: spirituality

From the Ground Up

I was recently reading a Buddhist book about mindfulness when I began pondering why people flock to religion. Of course, there are several reasons. It comforts people to believe that someone (God) is looking out for them. It gives people structure; those who flourish when guided by rules and regulations enjoy following laws regarding morality. Simply, it makes people feel good; the spiritual aspect of religion is what, in my opinion, keeps it thriving in the modern world. 

The book, titled Mindfulness, by Joseph Goldstein, is filled with tidbits on how to live a life full of peace and happiness for not only oneself but also for other people. Just reading it put me at ease. Although Goldstein does reference the Buddha and other Buddhist adepts and their teachings, dogma is almost completely absent. The threats of eternal damnation are not there. The commands to worship are not there. The demand to believe in something beyond one’s five senses is not there. It is merely a guide to how to live a fulfilling life, and an insightful one at that. 

Everyone can use such advice. We all seek better ways to live. But usually, the advice we follow has strings attached; namely, faith. In Christianity, you must believe that Jesus is literally the Son of God in order to make it to Heaven. You could live a life filled with good deeds and still spend eternity in Hell simply because you did not believe the alleged words of a man who supposedly lived 2 millennia ago. 

But what purpose does faith serve? Why can’t one live a spiritually enriching life while helping others to do the same without a belief in the divinity of an ancient rabbi? 

It seems that adding a godly figure to the equation tends to qualify one’s moral code or spiritual life as legitimate. People think they need one in order to have the other. Some go to extreme lengths to justify or prove the existence of God. I have spent most of my time on this blog trying to argue that there is no good reason to believe in God. But in the past few months, I have become rather disenchanted with trying to do so. And it has finally occurred to me why: because there’s no reason to.

We have many reasons to try and live a rich and fulfilling life and we have many ways in which we can do so. We have one reason to have faith in an unprovable god: fear. More specifically, fear of death. We have created God in order to explain that which cannot be known because we naturally fear what we can’t understand. But I am arguing that we do not need to search for a god who is impossible to prove. We can – and in my opinion, should – share ideas about how to live a good life openly and without the restrictive boundaries of a dogma or religion. Religion presents a picture of justice and morality that is immutable. Wouldn’t we be better off having open, healthy discussions about morality and spirituality rather than fighting over the legitimacy of a holy book that claims absolute superiority? Ask yourself: what is the point of this?

 Consider a math problem. Are you going to settle your uncertainty about the problem by establishing an answer before you’ve worked through the process of solving it? Or are you going to approach the problem openly using the tools that you have at your disposal? If you establish an answer that you cannot possibly know, without trying to solve the problem rationally to the best of your ability, you will not experience any of the rewards of the natural learning process. Similarly, if we assume the existence of a god who we simply cannot prove, we are going to miss out on the important lessons that come with honest moral and spiritual growth, and in the end, we’re simply being dishonest with ourselves.

This is precisely where I disagree with people who say that religion and science do not overlap. According to Christianity, God is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question. There is no reason to wonder why or how any of this happened because we already know that the answer is God. Science can highlight God’s brilliance, but there is no questioning who is responsible. To science, nothing is set in stone. Nothing is certain. The whys and hows are constantly being sought after and we are constantly being rewarded with new truths and discoveries. The ultimate answer remains open-ended. We continue to discover, to learn, and to experience, but with the mystifying realization that the answer to existence will probably never be solved. And trust me, there is something deeply awe-inspiring about accepting one’s ignorance and understanding that our knowledge and wisdom can grow beyond the ceiling that religion has built. 

One might argue that healthy discussion is good, but there is no reason religion should not be part of the discussion. I agree that any wisdom or truth that can be gleaned from religion is wonderful. But consider the real motive of religion. Consider why we think we need God in order to lead a good life. Consider what purpose it actually serves. And then ask yourself if you could make the lives of yourself and others better if you abandoned dogma, religion and God and used good sense and open conversation in order to live happily and peacefully. I’ll finish with a humble word of advice: live not from the top down; that is, by placing your faith in something beyond the current life and living by pre-determined rules and regulations established from on high. Rather, live from the ground up; by looking for the truth and meaning around you and allowing yourself to grow naturally and learn freely based on your own personal experiences. I contend that you will find much more truth and fulfillment that way. 


Spirituality and Religion: Do they have to co-exist?

Through my personal observations, I have come to the conclusion that most religious moderates rely on spirituality as the backbone or implicit justification for their beliefs. In our modern world, it would be difficult to accept any scripture as divine truth unless supported by the believer’s emotional connection with what he/she believes to be a god. Through meditative activities such as prayer, people are able to form a relationship with this invisible spirit that bolsters their faith and boosts their confidence in scripture. It is my belief that the comfort of this supportive spiritual friend (God) is what sustains people’s faiths and encourages them to keep believing.

Many people believe that the atheist view on spirituality is that it simply does not exist – there is no spirit realm so how can we participate in activities such as meditation and prayer? The intention of this post is to identify and debunk the link between religion and spirituality.

Scientific studies have showed us that prayer and meditation initiate heightened or reduced activity in specific areas of the brain. One particularly interesting discovery is in the brain region that contributes to our sense of self, or our identity. This part is largely inactive in tests performed on spiritual gurus, indicating a rather obvious but important point: during prayer, the believer tends to lose his/her sense of self, surrendering it to a greater sense of unity with the universe. This euphoric sensation is, among monotheists, associated with God. Surrendering oneself to God, allowing him to take charge of one’s life, entrusting him with the events of one’s life, allowing him to “take the wheel” (to steal from a Carrie Underwood song), – all of these attitudes and dispositions of a person in prayer contribute to one’s sense of reduced self-awareness and oneness with a higher power.

In response to this observation, a religious person might be inclined to argue that just because we can now trace alterations of brain activity in moments of deep meditation does not disprove God or that these people in prayer are actually connecting with a higher power. And, of course, this is true. As many intellectuals have noted over the years, it is impossible to disprove that which cannot be proven in the first place. However, I think the scientific background on spirituality is still incredibly important. Why? Let’s look at this rationally. What is a more intellectually honest interoperation of people’s spiritual experiences? Taking them to be actual modes of communication with the supernatural? Or our brain’s way of achieving a heightened level of happiness that we instinctively link with God and religion? I’ll take the latter.

It is my sincere belief that one does not need the attachment of religious dogma to lead a life that involves productive meditation and a greater sense of happiness. I think it is time that we detach the two and interpret spirituality for what it really is and how it can improve the human experience. The legitimacy of spiritual experience is not in doubt. But our scientific capabilities have made it possible to explore new modes by which to reach such forms of emotional comfort and psychological peace, and have brought to light the notion that the source of such experiences does not have to be God. Rather, it is the predisposition that God is the intended target of prayer that leads one to express a connection or relationship with God.

I believe spirituality to be the backbone of religion. Without it, it would not survive. Of course, I could be wrong. But I believe it is this emotional relationship with God that keeps religious moderates faithful. And once we abandon the notion that God is the necessary vehicle for reaching spirituality, we can begin to make an honest, intellectual attack on the violence that religion ignites around the world and a true assessment of religion’s value and place in society.


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