Spirituality Elbowed Out of Relevance by Religion

Friday, September 18, 2015 Of Minds And Mixtapes 3 Comments

“The power of human thought grows exponentially with the number of minds that share that thought.”
-- Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol
I am the eldest kid in a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too Catholic family who did Christmases, Lent, Easters, Sunday Mass and insincere confessions (I think that was just me). But being born and raised in this situation meant that I would inevitably be told the following:
--  A fat guy with white beard, big bag and reindeer comes by our house once a year and leaves gifts for me while I'm asleep. The same fat guy gifted me my baby sister (and he doesn't exchange the gift if you don't like it, even if the gift is the violent kind).
--  A bunny leaves decorated eggs once a year for no apparent reason.
--  When my tooth falls out, I should put it under my pillow so a flying woman can come into my room while I’m sleeping and buy the tooth from me for an amount of her choosing.
--  If I make that face again, God will freeze my face that way.

These bits of information were given to me as part of the same orientation that taught me English, told me what colors and shapes were, and explained that it’s bad to poke fun at midgets and laugh when someone falls.

But then, in a disturbing twist I got to learn that there are a few cracks in the world view presented to me. Not just that, I learn that all the fun things are fake and all the boring things are real. Fairies and wizards aren't real but princesses and kings are real. Sesame Street is not real; Disneyland is real. Dinosaurs are real but dragons and witches are fake altogether.

I was intentionally being deceived and it was a crushing impression. By fifteen I was sure the world was corrupt from end to end. So my new rule for classifying information I was given was 'If it seems too fun to be true, it is'. One topic however was difficult to judge -- the existence of a God or a Supreme Being. This became more puzzling as I got older. Most Christians I knew believed in God; so did most Muslims. People older, smarter and wiser than me believed. Even people who were not entirely convinced seemed nervous talking about it. Very few people said they didn't believe in a God. This I learned along with the bit that being an atheist was unacceptable and disrespectful, something to keep your mouth shut about.

With time came my rejection of divinity. I didn't like how organized religions behaved. I viewed science as being humble, collaborative, updated, and progressive, while I saw religion as being vain and arrogant, dividing, anti-change, and obsessed with the past. I know the Catholic Church supported and funded some of the biggest names in science like Louis Pasteur, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Gregor Mendel; and of course the father of the big bang Georges Lemaitre was a Catholic priest. But as an institution it wasn't being progressive enough. By the time I graduated college I was a staunch atheist with the kind of arrogance only a twenty year old has the naiveté to feel.

But there was something I had missed -- declaring myself an atheist didn't imply something I was, it meant something I wasn't. For example, if someone asked me where I'm from, I answer "Not Mongolia". This wasn't helpful; the foundation of my spiritual identity was on what I wasn't. This makes my spiritual sphere hollow. Of course at the time I saw no problem with this hollow sphere. It didn't strike me as disregarding or ignoring a critical part of the growth experience of humankind.

A review of that stand, however, made 'spiritual' a more accurate goal and identity for me. It was a secular concept. Moreover, it had room for science. They were like two halves of the same pursuit. I like Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan's explanation on this best:
“Spirit” comes from the Latin word “to breathe.” What we breathe is air, which is certainly matter, however thin. Despite usage to the contrary, there is no necessary implication in the word “spiritual” that we are talking of anything other than matter (including the matter of which the brain is made), or anything outside the realm of science… Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual… The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.
On a day-to-day level, you know that foggy state of mind you are in when settle you for mediocrity out of fear, or when you side track your morality, or when you make big life decisions for petty reasons; that something that keeps you in the wrong relationship, job, city, apartment, friendship, etc. for years, even decades, only for you to finally make a change and say “I can’t believe I didn’t do this earlier!”. Science can't help with that; spiritual growth, however, can. What we need is some simple, accessible, non-annoying, long-lasting ways to approach spirituality as individuals; a framework that one can build their spiritual guide on.

I know most people depend on religion for spiritual growth, but religions are not exactly focused on spiritual growth. Organized religion, I believe, unfairly overshadows spirituality. May be it's because organized religion has been around for so long; you know that big old oak tree where nothing grows well in its shade.

Religions focus on the divine rather than actual human condition; the end goal is salvation or redemption rather than self-improvement. The stuff that actually focuses on the human condition is art, literature, psychology, philosophy etc but these aren't looked at as anything other than a hobby. Thus we live in a world wherein self-improvement or internal growth is treated as an extra-curricular activity.

It's no wonder then that embarrassingly short-sighted and illogical policies are made even with a seemingly secular set up of State systems. How else does one explain the utterly inexplicable decisions by government bodies to impose ban on selling meat during certain religious festivals, or banning online pornography, or banning movies and books doing nothing more than holding up a mirror to our shame (if any), while the country is evidently struggling with far serious troubles like acid attacks, child labour, homophobia and more.

It's time to evolve. Our change-averse religions are failing our institutions. As American satirist Bill Hicks said, "We're supposed to keep evolving. Evolution did not end with us growing opposable thumbs."


  1. THe blog design looks mucho better now.. nice work! ... This topic - spiritual/religious/science is interesting, but I think humans have an inclination toward believing in the divine, an evolutionary inclination. And communities with this inclination tend to be more altruistic and cooperative, because they believe they’re being "watched", so they fare better as compared to aethist communities. Read- http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129528196&ft=1&f=1016

    1. Hi, thanks... Yes, religion pretty much played an important role in making functional communities and civilizations for many years. But with a neo-liberal global community that's now emerging across religions, across borders, across genders, wanting freedom, transparency and democracy in place of dogma and totalitarianism, the self-propagating anosognosia of religion is no longer ignored. Religion, as is, did good at some point in time; for some time. It just needs a review now. Religion's arrogance is getting in the way of the cooperative, altruistic communities it made.

  2. Getting in the way? Basic tenets of most religions promote cooperation and altruism. The best countries are what they are --free,democratic etc because of religion. Europe, the US for e.g... where most scientific and economic advancements are made are and were staunchly religious-- Christian. They designed their current systems based on the roman law.. their missionaries were solely responsible for the spread of literacy, scientific and tech development.. and most countries today reap benefits of this. Christianity has supported a lot of scientific developments and many inventors were religious themselves.