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Against Spirituality

So Much for the Moral High Ground is a pleasing rant against all the spiritual bullshit we’re being deluged with these days. I like this person’s take: just blast away, and forget about trying to meet the “enemy” in the middle. There’s no chance of ‘working it out’ with the Christian right. Maybe there are some lefty liberation theologists or Unitarians out there that we can find alliances with on specific political efforts, but my basic feeling is we have to drive all talk of spirituality out of political life.

I know a lot of people feel like what’s wrong with politics is that it is so devoid of soul, so disconnected from the deeper issues of our lives.


Of course that’s true, but it’s not true because there’s no religion or vague spirituality in the political realm. It’s because people don’t speak directly to the condition of our lives, we’ve largely abdicated an engagement with the public sphere as members of the public, and the real issues that dominate our lives (esp. those that are categorized as “economic” or work-related) are systematically kept out of political discussions. It’s hard to connect to the passion for life when we have so few useful conceptual tools for addressing the real condition of our lives. No wonder so many people, even people who I respect and whose company I enjoy, invoke ‘spirituality’. In a society that has avoided serious talk of philosophy or politics for decades, in which public education has made people more and more ignorant of history, philosophy, critical thinking, etc., for many there is nowhere else to turn… or so it seems. There is hardly a clear alternative in terms of articulate, secular, humanist, enlightened thinking and expression.

The ongoing rejection of rationality and reason even by radicals and anarchists only contributes to the general slide into religious war and lifestyle politics. That’s a much larger discussion, and it’s a hornet’s nest to be sure. From self-proclaimed radical talk denouncing “civilization” to the hand-wringing of liberals who want to reclaim a moral agenda from the right, we’re hosed!

I’m always frustrated with the impossible framing of discussion that we receive. But I just want to emphasize, as I conclude this short and pretty shallow rant, that our lives can be MUCH BETTER than they are. That is a simple point, it has nothing to do with spirituality or destruction. We do need to develop critical understandings of the incredibly complicated ways we REPRODUCE this world every day, mostly unconsciously. But we really ought to be promoting a discussion and political movement that is focused on how much better life could be, rather than continually responding to the medieval framing of issues surrounding us from spirituality-pushers of the right and left.

barely 2 cents…

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3 Responses to “Against Spirituality”

  1. 1
    Hugh D'Andrade:

    Well, this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve been feeling for a long time that we need to start seriously critiquing (if not attacking) religious and spiritual tendencies. What I’ve found is that there is a serious social taboo against doing so. Bring it up, and people will get really defensive, whether they themselves are “spiritual” or not.

    What I think is interesting is how few people have any knowledge of the long history of the radical and rationalist critiques of spirituality. One person responded to my complaints about spiritual thought by saying: “So you think the world is simple? That science has just figured everything out, and it’s all neat and rational?”

    I was so perplexed by the comment that I didn’t respond as I should have, which would be to say that there is nothing in science or rationality that claims the world is not endlessly complex, overwhelmingly beautiful and mysterious, or that everything is explained or explainable. But it does insist that we can increase our understanding and improve our lots by careful and honest study of the facts.

    In fact, it is spiritual traditions of all sorts that claim “everything is explained”. There is one truth, it’s either in the Bible or the Koran or Buddhist texts or what have you. All you have to do to get into heaven/achieve enlightenment etc is follow steps A thru Z. Religions have already worked everything out for you. AND they have no mechanism to correct for faulty interpretations or imperfect logic the way that science does.

    It’s obvious that the right has successfully exploited the spiritual impulse to gain power. They find the hazy, vaguely inspiring (to some!) language of spirituality a good place to hide their vicious policies. They use the organizational infrastructure to mobilize a population that cannot think politically because it is busy worrying about spiritual issues. And they know that no one will attack them when they wrap themselves in the spiritual cloth. To do so would violate an important social taboo!

    If you want to undermine the power of the right, one of the main roots of their power is religion. That’s the door — that’s how they’re getting in! Dig up those roots, shut that door, and we can get down to the truly important business of discussing what sort of society we want to build right here in the world.

    PS: People ALWAYS object to this critique by saying that “spirituality” — some neo-New Age mishmash of asian and Native American traditions — is different from the western christan traditions. How to address this? Seems like it’s two arguments.

    Happy Stupid Religious Holidays!

    H.

  2. 2
    Hugh D'Andrade:

    Well, this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve been feeling for a long time that we need to start seriously critiquing (if not attacking) religious and spiritual tendencies. What I’ve found is that there is a serious social taboo against doing so. Bring it up, and people will get really defensive, whether they themselves are “spiritual” or not.

    What I think is interesting is how few people have any knowledge of the long history of the radical and rationalist critiques of spirituality. One person responded to my complaints about spiritual thought by saying: “So you think the world is simple? That science has just figured everything out, and it’s all neat and rational?”

    I was so perplexed by the comment that I didn’t respond as I should have, which would be to say that there is nothing in science or rationality that claims the world is not endlessly complex, overwhelmingly beautiful and mysterious, or that everything is explained or explainable. But it does insist that we can increase our understanding and improve our lots by careful and honest study of the facts.

    In fact, it is spiritual traditions of all sorts that claim “everything is explained”. There is one truth, it’s either in the Bible or the Koran or Buddhist texts or what have you. All you have to do to get into heaven/achieve enlightenment etc is follow steps A thru Z. Religions have already worked everything out for you. AND they have no mechanism to correct for faulty interpretations or imperfect logic the way that science does.

    It’s obvious that the right has successfully exploited the spiritual impulse to gain power. They find the hazy, vaguely inspiring (to some!) language of spirituality a good place to hide their vicious policies. They use the organizational infrastructure to mobilize a population that cannot think politically because it is busy worrying about spiritual issues. And they know that no one will attack them when they wrap themselves in the spiritual cloth. To do so would violate an important social taboo!

    If you want to undermine the power of the right, one of the main roots of their power is religion. That’s the door — that’s how they’re getting in! Dig up those roots, shut that door, and we can get down to the truly important business of discussing what sort of society we want to build right here in the world.

    PS: People ALWAYS object to this critique by saying that “spirituality” — some neo-New Age mishmash of asian and Native American traditions — is different from the western christan traditions. How to address this? Seems like it’s two arguments.

    Happy Stupid Religious Holidays!

    H.

  3. 3
    yer host:

    On your mish-mash PS: I don’t think we ought to treat your hilariously described neo-New Age Mishmash-ism any differently than we do neo-Christianity… it simply does not belong in the political realm, in the arena where we argue together as human beings how life ought to be arranged and carried out… alas, if only we did argue together about that! It’s vaguely ironic to find ourselves arguing for a type of extreme tolerance (of any crackpot or serious religious impulse you may have) but to systematically exclude what’s tolerated from political life… more spitting in the wind for now, but it’ll keep coming up. Thanks for writing!

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