On Being Spiritual
CHRIS: Hi Terry would you like to join our argument?
TERRY: That rather depends on whether or not Rich would like me to become involved.
RICH: No problem, as an atheist I don’t mind taking on two God believers.
CHRIS: Rich is arguing that as science advances its knowledge, more and more processes that we attributed to ‘Acts of God’ are getting alternative rational scientific explanations and it is only a matter of time before we will all believe that the universe operates on nothing more than scientific laws and blind chance.
RICH: I am surprised by how well you summarise my argument, perhaps you are starting to be convinced. However, I would like to add that we don’t have to wait to see the God hypothesis disproved the argument is already generally accepted, especially amongst scientists.
TERRY: There is truth in what you say, about 80%, or less, of the general population professes some form of belief in some form of god, while only 20%, or more, of the top scientists believe in some form of god.
CHRIS: That just shows that scientists are deceived by the conceit of their studies. These scientists are described in the Bible as being natural people: 2 Corinthians 2:14 “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned.”
RICH: There you go again, quoting from an out of date and thoroughly discredited old book.
TERRY: If we use modern scientific/scholarly analysis it becomes easy to misunderstand the purpose, and pick holes in the truth of, any text that dates back over two thousand years. What Paul, who wrote that passage, is pointing to is the persistent claim by the bible, and most other religions, that the real nature of the universe is dualistic; that is there are two parallel types of existence: one is that of matter and scientific thinking, the other is spiritual. Chris has picked a good reference to illustrate this point.
RICH: Spiritual means nothing to me; it just doesn’t fit into scientific method at all. Whenever spiritual phenomena have been carefully investigated by sceptics the results have always been negative.
TERRY: Usually in discussions like this I am criticised for defending a minority religious scientific position and have even been accused of having a split personality because I believe, quite passionately in scientific method and results but at the same time I remain stubbornly religious. This means that I can satisfy neither believers nor unbelievers.
CHRIS: There’s nothing wrong when churches keep an evolutionist from teaching, especially teaching young people.
RICH: I don’t mind the science you teach, I know you do it honestly and openly, even though I could never understand why you stayed religious.
TERRY: Let me explain then, as a young boy trying to come to terms with fundamentalist teaching, I naturally wondered if God and the bible were true. I asked myself if all sinners were going to Hell and God really loved them; then why didn’t this all powerful God try harder to prevent their eternal damnation? It then occurred to me that if the God of the bible could be proved to exist then everyone would be convinced the bible was true and they would all become saved from eternal damnation. But this proof never appeared, so I concluded that it must be impossible to prove the existence of God otherwise a loving (or demanding) God would soon provide the proof of its/His/Her existence. Thus I concluded all the supposed proofs were likely to be ultimately false.
CHRIS: We believe by faith.
RICH: Believe what?
TERRY: Like the passage said “we spiritually discern” religious truths. All the moral issues are spiritual ones; they lie beyond logic and well chosen words. Consider what we know about the teachings of Jesus, they are all typical of religious teachers of his time; hardly original, except for one thing, he seemed to know about God, he had a personal regard for God that bothered the religious authorities. His kingdom was a spiritual kingdom and it is in this kingdom we meet God as our father. Science will never discover or measure this kingdom.
CHRIS: Apart from saying that Jesus’ teachings were not unique and merely typical of His time, I agree with you.
RICH: I don’t at all. You are spouting nonsense about spiritual things again.
TERRY: Strangely I can agree that I seem to be speaking nonsense. Spiritual things lie beyond material discoveries and proofs and therefore they make no sense.
CHRIS: That’s right, the “natural man” cannot understand spiritual things.
RICH: This means that your beliefs are nonsense and quite useless.
TERRY: Nonsense to your way of thinking but not useless.
RICH: Then what is the use of religious belief?
TERRY: To try and answer that question I will have to get a little personal.
RICH: Who about, you or me?
RICH: OK go ahead then.
TERRY: When I look back over my life I realise that I was always free to make the choices I faced. Perhaps I was simply stubborn and independent, but I made my own way through life and only followed the advice of people that I could admire and trust. Because of this I can, and should, accept the responsibility for all the outcomes that I experienced. This includes the decision to be a Christian and form my own religious understanding of the gospel. Now comes my point; as a religious person I made all my decisions with a good spirit, seeking to conform to the pattern that I thought would please the God that I found in the bible. Consequently if I had to live my life again the only things that I would not repeat is where I have needlessly offended or hurt other people. This approach to life, consciously trying to serve God is what I call seeking spiritual guidance and I find the results very useful. Even at my present age, in my early sixties, I can say that I will die happy.
CHRIS: Hang on; there is more to being a Christian than just trying to please God.
TERRY: That might be true but I wasn’t explaining why I thought I was a Christian, I was trying to show how I included a spiritual dimension in my life.
CHRIS: But even a Muslim or a Hindus could live a spiritual life as you have described it.
TERRY: That could well be the case; I don’t see any reason why there can’t be spiritual Muslims and Hindus. I think you are confusing Christian salvation with Christian spirituality.
RICH: I think you are right in distinguishing common Christianity as distinct from being spiritual. Nevertheless I still think your explanation is less than convincing. All you are doing is saying you lived your life in a particular way and are happy with the way things turned out. Couldn’t an atheist make a similar claim without claiming that they were spiritual?
TERRY: I can actually think of some examples of such atheists. Yes an atheist can live a happy and contented life and die happy. However if I had lived my life without my spiritual faith I don’t for one minute doubt that I would be much less contented with the way things have turned out. My life wasn’t full of good luck and pleasant experiences and yet it was my faith in spiritual guidance that helped me overcome these difficulties. I always said that my example would be personal. Even Christians have also challenged my spirituality with a similar argument to yours Rich. They have said, “It is alright for you to be happy Terry, but you were just born that way, you’ve had a lucky life.”
CHRIS: Well that seems fair to me, you were born into fortunate circumstances, got a good education and was able to do well in life. What if you had been born into poverty somewhere in, say, India? You would have been a Hindu and probably never read the bible. Would you still be spiritual?
TERRY: I said that this was a personal example, it is supposed to illustrate how I found spirituality in my life; my definition was never intended to cover the myriad cases where I might have been someone else. I can’t explain how other people should, or may, be spiritual; this is an important aspect of spirituality you must discover and live it yourself. You really cannot expect other people’s experiences to become your experiences. You can follow the good examples set by other people, such as Jesus or Ghandi, but you can’t expect the same outcomes.
RICH: Let us get back to the happy atheist, or at least the one that dies happy and contented, would you say that person was spiritual?
TERRY: According to my provisional definition we might expect that person to be spiritual. However my definition was provisional in that it only applied to me so it need not follow logically that this atheist was spiritual; they may have had a naturally happy and contented disposition but not have been at all interested in pursuing spiritual matters.
CHRIS: What if a really evil person, one of those wicked dictators who reign with constant persecution, terror and abuse, still died happy and contented; would this person be considered spiritual?
TERRY: Again according to my provisional definition that may be the case. Your example suggests that not all spiritual guidance is necessarily good guidance. The bible suggests that there are good spirits and evil spirits.
RICH: If this is the case is there any merit in being spiritual?
TERRY: The word merit implies that being spiritual is in some way excellent and should stand as an example for all to follow. We can be excellently evil, but I think it would be commonly agreed that this is not a good example to follow. The merit in being spiritual depends on the wisdom and acceptability of the path that a person choses to follow. In my case that was the Christian path as I understood it from the Christian Testament of the bible in particular.
RICH: Well that worked for you, but would it work for me? Why shouldn’t I follow the Muslim or a Buddhist path?
TERRY: We really are getting off the point in this discussion. I have tried to explain why I think there is a spiritual dimension to our universal reality. I most definitely have not tried to tell you how to discover/or observe spiritual things and, following the advice of some of the better teachers, I am deliberately not suggesting how you go about being spiritual or good or anything else.
CHRIS: But Jesus told us how to find true spirituality, He said he was the “way the truth and the life”, surely this is the way our creator God intends us to be spiritual.
TERRY: I am never sure how other Christians interpret that saying, they usual assume that Jesus is the only way and there are no other paths.
CHRIS: That is right in John 14:6 He said to Thomas “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” There is no other path only the Christian one.
TERRY: My interpretation of his statement is roughly “My path is a true path and you will only become aware of your creator if you follow a path close to mine.” Thus there can be other paths but they will be similar to that followed by Jesus and lead to similar results: a Godly life and a death that fills one with anticipation.
RICH: Are you suggesting that I could follow the path of the Buddha, or the path He taught?
TERRY: My Buddhist friends are convinced that Jesus was enlightened just like Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha; My Muslim friends think Christians are disrespectful the way they describe Jesus; they all agree that he followed the correct spiritual path. However, to be honest, Jesus left very few instructions about how to follow a particular spiritual path, He left almost no specific instructions except to believe in and love God, love your neighbours and even your enemies and take up your cross and bear suffering every day. In return He promised that we would be rewarded, I assume he meant rewarded spiritually.
CHRIS: Yes with eternal life in heaven.
TERRY: Where ever and when ever.
RICH: While I like your attempts at defending spirituality, you haven’t provided an imperative or any logic that convinces me I should become religious.
TERRY: What ever, that is how spiritual things are. You can accept them or leave them the only axiom I laid down is that there is no compulsion to be spiritual.
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