Spiritual quest for the secular soul
Excerpted from The Cross & the Telescope, a nonfiction work in progress.
SPIRIT QUEST for The Secular Soul
Spirit, soul, or psyche is the name of, or metaphor for, some interior place where we seem to reside. If we don’t reside there in that internal space, that inner sanctum, we may visit it, or at least we may imagine we are there from time to time. If we don’t linger there, it may be because that place isn’t furnished to our liking or doesn’t please us. Maybe we’ve stored there a lot of discarded things, perhaps, things we don’t like very much. Regret, self-disappointment. Baggage.
We may ignore the place, then. But some homage will be demanded of us for what might have been. Even if the place is only a creation of our minds, we should know that our minds will create some such space. Whether we direct the creation of it or not, it may be a place of darkness or light. Is it a place to hide from everyone, perhaps, ourselves the most of all?
It is a cause for sadness if we deceive ourselves in that place, for if we cannot be honest there, we won’t be honest anywhere, to anyone, including ourselves. This place must be the source of our humanity. Our authenticity, our sense of spirit resides there, or is abandoned there as the case may be.
The Universal Spiritual Quest
It seems for whatever reason that man has spiritual needs. Greater needs for some, less for others. Religions sprang up, rooted in myth and superstition because they met some of these spiritual needs and for a time, as well, some needs for community, law and a comprehensible world view. Jean-Paul Sartre, I think in exasperation with this long inexplicable need, said that society has a God-shaped hole in it. I think he could have extended that hole to being in humankind’s head and heart as well.
Rituals, tradition, codified beliefs and social and behavioral norms—along with ostracism as a punishment for failing to conform—all served to institutionalize religion in society. Religion has often held a position of strength some times equal to, sometimes superior to, the governance of the group, tribe, or community. Religion has done, and still does, a lot for, as well as to, mankind, but this thesis would be a tangent not germane to the present discussion.
Giving credit where it is due, religion has enabled its believers to achieve surprising accomplishments arising supposedly from inspiration attributable to something in the realm of the adherents’ spiritual beliefs. Even if the believer is factually wrong in every respect, they often seem buoyed up in spirit based upon their beliefs in the face of hardship or sorrow or even the daily world.
The challenge for the secular human spirit is to find and enjoy the spiritual effectiveness and fulfillment of the religious and their religion without any of the negative corollaries. (Being closed to new or different thinking, having to reject reason and accept beliefs on faith, etc.)
What would be the objective for such secular spiritual seekers?
To create an environment or a milieu in which one is “bathed” in his or her chosen icons or evokers of feeling, mood, thought, vision… all that one can incorporate or bring together that he or she sees as supportive or important to their spiritual identity. Such items might be photos, posters, audio/video recordings, writings, or other objects that might help a person get “in state” for pursuing their spiritual identity—growth—fulfillment. (I remember some of the things that did it for me. The long limestone staircase in the woods at Glen Helen and how the sun looked and felt filtering through the verdant forest. But there was also Desiderata, the poem by Max Ehrmann.)
Freedom from dogma and preconceived notions is the beneficial offset when we are not locked into a particular religion. (The response to the question of religion: “I’m spiritual, but not religious.) The opportunity for personal spiritual self-discovery is somewhat stifled in mainstream Christianity. It’s as if the “word from our sponsor” (religion) is of overwhelming importance while the “TV program” (the content of our lives) is treated as if it’s insignificant. (Granted that progressive Christianity has made great strides in this area.)
Still, you’re just not allowed to “color outside the lines” in most traditional religions. They might ask of us, “What would you hope to discover?” Ourselves. In explanation of the religions’ points of view, religions take a long time to grow, they have very deep roots. In many cases, the strength of tradition allows the religions to retain their skeletal structure. The question is, are the changes skin deep or just so much cosmetic makeup.
Possibly, man, without something like religion, is man confused. Effective living may require that we have something, maybe anything, in the ‘little black box’ in the corner of our being where religion can often be found. Religion may or may not be hard-wired into us, but it may have proved to be a valuable software program to us and our culture and community.
This doesn’t mean that some non-religious belief system can’t be substituted to hold that place, it can: Our wishes for ennobling the human spirit, love of humanity, the multiplicity of meanings we give to life. We can bring those to our spiritual locus, that private place of self within.
In this context, spiritual, for us, means whatever shines within us—that essence within us which responds to the greater human spirit and to the ennoblement of both. And so, this is a secular spirit. I call it “spiritual,” in spite of that baggage because it is that same “spot” in most of humanity where human evolution has chosen to “bless” us with a predisposition toward belief, religion, and spirituality [as sense, a feeling, a human goal]. So, I’m suggesting we mesh the same interlocking components that the religions do, a spiritually supportive milieu (people, thoughts, icons) and the quest of spiritual self-discovery (self-definition, hopes, dreams, inspiration). The two aspects can interlock and feed each other. What else is needed? You may wish to seek those with whom to share. Aren’t you already doing that?
It is part and parcel of the world’s religions that they are survivors. They have evolved along with man, his culture, and civilization. The religions are strong, they have the supportive strength of their adherents. They would not easily be dislodged or supplanted. I strongly suggest than no such goal be adopted.
I would suggest, rather, that a future spire be cultivated to bud from common ground. Short of proselytizing, we, too, should reach over the belief divide to our most similar counterparts and offer common cause in our hopes and dreams and good works projects, all the while remaining in touch with our own spiritual center so that we may not be knocked off-center by believers of something else.