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What Does It Mean to Be Spiritual? (11)


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Phil continues....

On August 17, 2021, the Taliban in Afghanistan, hoping to project an image of moderation, pledged to honor the rights of women, vowing to form an “inclusive Islamic government.” On May 8, 2022, a scant eight months later, the Taliban passed a law requiring women to be covered from head to toe when outside the home. On that same day, the NPR program, Weekend Edition Sunday, quoted a young Afghan woman saying that “enforcing the veil basically disappears women.”

Roman Catholic Supreme Court justices Amy Coney Barret and Brent Kavanaugh vowed to honor settled law during their Senate confirmation hearings, then at the first opportunity began dismantling Roe vs. Wade, joined by their fellow Roman Catholics Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. It appears Neil Gorsuch, born and educated as a Catholic, will join their efforts. Each of those five justices were confirmed by senators representing a minority of American voters.

In Russia, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church, has called Vladimir Putin’s leadership a “great miracle of God,” and in a recent speech said the people in Ukraine were “evil forces”, stating “we must not allow dark and hostile external forces to laugh at us.”

The danger of state-affiliated religion was expressed by Robert Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic, who said of America’s founders, “They knew that to put God in the constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping, or in the keeping of her God, the sacred rights of man. They intended that all should have the right to worship or not to worship, that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed. They intended to found and frame a government for mankind and for mankind alone. They wished to preserve the individuality of all to prevent the few from governing the many and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.”

When I began this sermon series, contrasting the differences between religion and spirituality, I intended to limit the series to ten messages. I would have happily stopped there if religion had behaved itself, but these recent examples remind us of the unholy alliance of government and religion. So I continue the series with this observation: Religions too often serve one segment of a nation, while spirituality serves humanity. Sometimes that favored segment is a political party, other times an economic class, still others a specific race, gender, or tribe. But far too often religions allow themselves to be used by the ruthless few to rule the compliant many. Spirituality, on the other hand, is for the whole world and not just one corner of it. Spiritually is committed to the expansion of love, not the narrowing of it.

In our nation, we are witnessing the co-opting of the Christian faith to support a social agenda that is anything but Christian. The language and structures of Christianity are being employed to further a political movement comfortable with fascism, white supremacy, male authority, and economic disparity. It offers no help to the poor and beleaguered, not one comforting word to the grieving, not the smallest measure of freedom to the immigrant, few options to women except obedience and compliance, no refuge to the victims of gun violence, and no word of hope to the gay and transgendered. Its intention is to increase its own power, while diminishing the power of those not like them. It endeavors to control every facet of our lives—our marriages, our right to bear children or not, our education, our right to learn what we need to learn, our right to vote without encumbrance, and to have our votes count. Many Christians in America have lent their enthusiastic support to this effort, caring primarily for their privilege and power. But make no mistake, it is a false Christianity, as far removed from the spirit of Jesus as east is to west.

Spirituality opposes cruelty, especially cruelty done in the name of God. It offers its whole and hearty Amen to the Jesus who said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are oppressed.”

This past week I was on a Zoom call about one of my books with a church in Oklahoma. During the Q&A, one of the women said she didn’t think the Church should talk about politics. I knew exactly what she meant. She was weary of the turmoil our nation is experiencing. I understand that because I’m weary too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t view one another as enemies to be fought, but as friends to be helped? Unfortunately, that’s not the case today, is it? But let’s be honest, that has never been the case. Our nation was born in a climate of division and oppression. It is in the air we breathe. It is exhausting, and I understand why that woman wanted the Church to stay out of politics, so I didn’t say anything. But the discussion leader didn’t let me off the hook, so asked my thoughts about Christianity and politics. I said I sympathized with the woman’s frustrations, that I am frustrated and tired too, but that we can’t clock out early. We can’t leave before our work is done.

Politics, I told the group, isn’t about whether we are Republican or Democrat. Politics is our collective effort to live together in such a way that makes possible the equal opportunity for happiness. This collective effort we call governance or politics was so important to our spiritual ancestors that the first five books of the Bible dealt primarily with this subject. How will we live together? How will we treat one another? What will we value? Those are political questions. The only people who can avoid those questions and issues are the people for whom the prevailing order is working just fine, which is to say, us, well-off white people.

Politics is so much more than which political party we affiliate with. It is our shared effort to fulfill our founder’s hope for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, we don’t always agree on the best ways to accomplish that, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying. And just because we grow weary, that doesn’t mean we get to clock out early and leave before the work is done.

I acknowledged to the group that it sometimes feels bruising to talk about such things, especially when we came to church hoping for or needing to hear a word of consolation and not a word of challenge. But Friends, we don’t have that luxury right now. Our sense of Quaker spirituality demands our engagement, requires our commitment to love the whole world and not just one corner of it, requires the expansion of love, not the narrowing of it.

As has happened before in human history, religious people have formed an unholy partnership with powers and principalities. It is incumbent upon us to address and resist this corruption, to stand always for decency, to rededicate ourselves to that most golden of rules, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. And to, by God, do the right thing when others won’t.

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17 hours ago, PaulS said:

Spiritually is committed to the expansion of love

This is the closest Gulley as come to defining spirituality. At least for me.

Well, to where does he expand it; does he love 'it' when some pharisee tells his grand daughter is full of sin?

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11 hours ago, romansh said:

This is the closest Gulley as come to defining spirituality. At least for me.

Well, to where does he expand it; does he love 'it' when some pharisee tells his grand daughter is full of sin?

Well I doubt he would love 'the act' of that judgement, but I'm guessing he means showing love to the Pharisee who is saying that about his grand daughter.  Expanding spirituality by practicing love?

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13 hours ago, PaulS said:

Well I doubt he would love 'the act' of that judgement, but I'm guessing he means showing love to the Pharisee who is saying that about his grand daughter.  Expanding spirituality by practicing love?

Love is such a multi-faceted word. It is used to describe our feelings towards food, sexual acts, deep commitment, and so on. All these feelings are mediated by chemistry.

While I gather the New Testament has passages extolling the virtues of love, it also has Luke 14:26. I am sure Christian apologists manage to explain away this verse. And progressive Christians concentrate more on the love side of things.

Just the general tone of Gulley's posts is more he is railing against fixation of the Church on doctrine rather than people evaluating for themselves what makes sense and being kind in general. Is being kind: spiritual? Is thinking about these things?

13 hours ago, PaulS said:

Do you think that being at one with the world, whether we recognize it or not, means we all experience the same degree of spirituality?  Maybe a higher degree of spirituality results from a higher degree of recognition of being one with the world?

I don't know what we mean by spirituality. I would guess, some people might feel at one with the universe (I don't) and they might consider themselves spiritual. People take drugs, meditate, drone mantras, even read books to find this so-called spirituality. For me, it is moments of awe if the moments come they come. 

I think Joseph's acceptance is close. Chasing after spirituality, even acceptance or having them thrust upon us is not going to work.

Or so my chemistry tells me.

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1 hour ago, romansh said:

Love is such a multi-faceted word. It is used to describe our feelings towards food, sexual acts, deep commitment, and so on. All these feelings are mediated by chemistry.

Yes, but I guess that at least makes it real then?

1 hour ago, romansh said:

While I gather the New Testament has passages extolling the virtues of love, it also has Luke 14:26. I am sure Christian apologists manage to explain away this verse. And progressive Christians concentrate more on the love side of things.

No doubt.  The literalist I can't help, but as for progressives or others, I guess may they take inspiration to lead a fulfilling life from wherever it suits them.

1 hour ago, romansh said:

Just the general tone of Gulley's posts is more he is railing against fixation of the Church on doctrine rather than people evaluating for themselves what makes sense and being kind in general. Is being kind: spiritual? Is thinking about these things?

Good question. :)  From what I can gather, Phil is defining spirituality as being in touch with one another, regarding ourselves as interconnected parts of the whole, and as such the goal should be to do 'good'.  How that really 'helps' - I'm not sure.

1 hour ago, romansh said:

I don't know what we mean by spirituality. I would guess, some people might feel at one with the universe (I don't) and they might consider themselves spiritual. People take drugs, meditate, drone mantras, even read books to find this so-called spirituality. For me, it is moments of awe if the moments come they come. 

I think Joseph's acceptance is close. Chasing after spirituality, even acceptance or having them thrust upon us is not going to work.

Or so my chemistry tells me.

You have to really wonder what the pint is of even discussing spiritualty.  I mean if as Phil proposes we are all part of the one anyway, then whatever we do/however we live, is part of that one anyway.

I guess he's just joining that human tendency to help others, with what he sees as help (i.e. being spiritual, not religious).  Maybe there is something to this if indeed it does help people live a more fulfilling life, but then again, life is life so why should it matter?

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On 7/3/2022 at 2:09 PM, PaulS said:

Yes, but I guess that at least makes it real then?

Yes, but no less illusory?

On 7/3/2022 at 2:09 PM, PaulS said:

defining spirituality as being in touch with one another, regarding ourselves as interconnected parts of the whole, and as such the goal should be to do 'good'.

One of my favourite quotes from Joseph Campbell is: You yourself are participating in evil, or you are not alive. Whatever you do is evil to someone. This is one of the ironies of creation.

On 7/3/2022 at 2:09 PM, PaulS said:

he's just joining that human tendency to help others, with what he sees as help (i.e. being spiritual, not religious). 

That's fine ... call it that helping others, being nice etc. But I can't help thinking spirituality is something different (not more ;) ) It is spoken of as a 'buzz' that we might get being in community or helping others. Our mirror neurons on fire.

By all means we can help others in need, ultimately it makes sense in the long run. Why dress it up as spirituality?

Incidentally, Jerry Coyne in his WEIT blog rails against a lady for being spiritual, in the piece before the blog about abortion.

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51 minutes ago, romansh said:

Yes, but no less illusory?

Is the chemical reaction an illusion?

51 minutes ago, romansh said:

One of my favourite quotes from Joseph Campbell is: You yourself are participating in evil, or you are not alive. Whatever you do is evil to someone. This is one of the ironies of creation.

That's fine ... call it that helping others, being nice etc. But I can't help thinking spirituality is something different (not more ;) ) It is spoken of as a 'buzz' that we might get being in community or helping others. Our mirror neurons on fire.

By all means we can help others in need, ultimately it makes sense in the long run. Why dress it up as spirituality?

Perhaps.  Maybe a little less convinced as you, I'm not as certain there is nothing 'more' to al this, even if I suspect there isn't.  I guess people dressing it up as spirituality could come from two positions - 1. Still clinging to older notions of God, or 2. Genuine experience or feeling that there is something 'more' to all this.  Of course people could be wrong about that.  I don't know.

51 minutes ago, romansh said:

Incidentally, Jerry Coyne in his WEIT blog rails against a lady for being spiritual, in the piece before the blog about abortion.

I'll check it out.

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I was reading an article in the New Scientist last night about using psilocybin (a psychedelic) for treatment of several mental conditions and came across this quote:

It wasn't uncommon for them to say: "That is the most meaningful experience of my life, on par with the birth of my firstborn child."  Indeed a third of the participants in the study say that it was the most significant spiritual experience of their life.

The article mentions secular spirituality does not go into any detail how it might be different to the non-secular version. But it is definitely a state of mind.

Behind a pay wall I'm afraid

Psychedelic therapy: Can you take out the trip and still treat depression? | New Scientist

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I wonder if some would argue though that the psychedelic is 'opening' a gateway to the spiritual, as opposed to only causing a chemical reaction that creates a certain state of mind?

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On 7/5/2022 at 8:17 PM, PaulS said:

I wonder if some would argue though that the psychedelic is 'opening' a gateway to the spiritual, as opposed to only causing a chemical reaction that creates a certain state of mind?

I could argue that chemical reactions are the gateway to consciousness in general. And that a spiritual moment is just a particular set of chemical reactions in the brain. My Chemical Spirituality

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On 7/8/2022 at 4:44 AM, romansh said:

I could argue that chemical reactions are the gateway to consciousness in general. And that a spiritual moment is just a particular set of chemical reactions in the brain. My Chemical Spirituality

That would make sense too.

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