What is Spiritual the Sequel, or Rambling Is Back in Style, Kids
Hi, everyone. I’m back.
There are two basic kinds of posts on this blog. There’s the kind to (hopefully) get you talking and the kind where, wow, apparently I have a lot on my mind. OK, yes, it’s admittedly apparent that I have a lot on my mind even when I’m trying to get you talking, but the point is: Posts “before” a GT meeting introduce and lay out a discussion topic. Posts “after” a GT meeting are where I get to ramble on about how I’ve been musing about and wrestling with my own question. Usually, in the spirit of this post and the mission of this website, these “after” posts are more rhetorical attempts to stick an idea or question in our respective heads, rather than generate more discussion. Sometimes it probably works and sometimes it probably doesn’t. Cool. Then another “before” post comes along to try to generate more discussion. Anyway, if you’re looking for a discussion topic, feel free to discuss what follows if you want; I’d love it. But the next month’s topic is coming soon. (Feel free to suggest future topics too, btw. I have plenty of ideas in the queue, but am always interested in knowing what people besides me actually want to talk about). You also have my permission to avoid the “after” posts in favor of the “before” ones. You know, cuz I’m such a generous guy. And I’m really just writing these for myself.
By the way, meetup rocks. This group is developing into something awesome. The last meeting brought a number of new folks to the table, and with a bunch of different personalities and spins on life, we nevertheless had a great time getting to know each other and talking about last month’s topic. I’m looking forward to the new faces we’re bound to meet this month.
Last month’s topic generated a little bit of interesting online discussion too. I think there is growing consensus in the comments–and at Gray’s–that my categories of “what is spiritual” just didn’t do the trick–either the categories themselves, or how I explained them. 🙂 I don’t feel too bad about it, because how do you categorize the spiritual? And conversation has been good in both places. Anyway, Jenn is right, I didn’t exactly nail the Christian perspective in any one of those. I probably didn’t nail anyone else’s perspective, either. 🙂
I really enjoyed Agnosticus’ comments where he wondered if “what humans experience as spiritual” is something related to matter and energy, in the same way our consciousness is naturalistic and yet something other than matter itself. That is intriguing indeed.
It reminds me of how the biblical writers talk about the “soul” of a person. In modern days, when we hear someone talking about a soul we think of something deep, but maybe distinct from the body, this sort of spiritual disembodied thing, distinct from the life, work, cravings, strengths and weaknesses of the human body. Maybe not always, but sometimes we use the word that way. Definitely when we use the word “spirit”, it’s something separate from our bodies. I think we get that mindset more from the western philosophical heritage (#3 in my earlier post was supposed to be about the material world vs. the world of ideas, but I didn’t explain it well) more than we get it from the Judeo-Christian heritage, even though Christian theologians often think about human souls in the more dualistic, platonic way (and have for a long time). Anyway, the Hebrew and New Testament words that get translated “soul” or “heart” or “spirit” as they apply to people are a lot harder to pin down than the concepts behind our words that we use to describe a person. Today we like to divide ourselves into nice sharply divided categories–mind, emotions, will, body, or something along those lines. There are categories and words for these aspects of personhood in the Bible, but the lines seem fuzzier. The biblical writers seem to know that when a person gets distressed, it’s the whole person; when a person is corrupt, it affects the whole person; when a person is joyful, it’s the whole person; when a person needs saving, it’s the whole person that needs saving. Judaism and Christianity aren’t the only worldviews with this insight, but I do appreciate the insight all the same.
One thing that is different in a lot of the Bible than agnosticus’ perspective, perhaps, is the place of God in all this (feel free to disagree, though!). As the Judeo-Christian tradition developed through the writing of the Bible, God is transcendent. The big distinction between kinds of beings, according to the biblical writers, is Creator and created things, not “spiritual’ things and “physical” things. Simultaneously both shocking and internally consistent, is the idea that the Creator is mysteriously and intimately involved in what has been/is being created—sometimes accomplishing things through means we would call “supernatural”, sometimes using the very naturalistic processes and human personalities that were created to accomplish what is needed. We get pictures of God absent, present, in control, allowing freedom, and interacting. Mysterious indeed. The picture the Bible gives us makes it difficult to gather up evidence for if you want to win an argument about whether this sort of God exists. But the picture indicates God is very much there.
Something for atheists/agnostics to chew on: Given the biblical perspective that God’s involvement in the universe often happens via the very naturalistic processes and people that (the Bible claims) God created, perhaps the evidence you claim we lack for God’s existence is due to looking in only some of the right places. Perhaps those desperate prayers we sometimes find ourselves praying that take the form of “God, if you’re there, HELP!” might yield a conclusive result (not necessarily the result you asked for…some religious traditions see God/the gods as easily manipulated, but not all of them). Or spending some time viewing the world through the narrative of a religious tradition might yield surprising insights into the world you live in.
Something for theists like me to chew on: Religious subcultures and individuals like to validate their agendas, views, wishes, experiences, and actions with some kind of claim that God is behind said agendas, views, wishes, experiences, and actions—the Bible says so, or the Spirit called me, or whatever. You’ve probably seen examples of these words justifying all sorts of horrible things, and you’ve probably seen these words used to describe things that you think God probably is behind. Perhaps you’ve not just seen examples; perhaps you’ve done examples. Perhaps I have too. What’s the difference? Given the hiddenness of God, how do you know whether God actually is behind something, or whether you’re just justifying what you want or think?
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