theaomai: (Default)
“How you think the world works and how you celebrate it are different topics.”
Spiritual inclination varies among individuals as widely as inclination toward social interaction, or exercise, or food, or travel. This is not something particularly intuitive to people who grow up with the ideas of consciences, or of divine calling, or of religion as a cultural imposition, but I think it's true.
I suppose the issue is that seems to make religion less vital, or less of a cancer. We are all so fond of sweeping statements about the way things are. And you know, that may be true, but as a person with strong spiritual inclination I'm also someone with a low inclination toward food. I gain much less satisfaction from a complex, well-cooked meal as a coinneausseur does, though I casually find things delicious and food that is nutritious and pleasing is a pretty important part of my life. So I don't mind it when people tell me they aren't particularly spiritual; I generally believe them. Conversely I've spent enough time handling and examining my own motivations for spiritual pursuit that I know it just can't be reduced to wish-fulfillment or bad epistemology.
 I think this point is  borne out by the fact that human beings of every kind exhibit spiritual inclination, and I'll try to demonstrate my point by claiming that there is an atheistic spirituality (and remember I'm talking about behavior and psychology, which has nothing to do with the veracity of the content of their beliefs). Atheists admit it often enough in differing terms: the beauty and wonder they find in nature, and at times the nature of their conviction in science; and although I hate the way this point is used by Christians, it's obvious enough from the fact that Marxist regimes exhibited the worst and most characteristic behavior of Abrahamic ones that a hard conviction in atheism is no escape  from  the worst effects of institutionalized religiosity. Much more benignly, Carl Sagan simply talks and acts and performs the role of a guru--very much to his credit, because I have no doubt that many lives would be impoverished without  his way of making human discovery numinous.
 And a lot of atheists are embracing this; there are now labels they can adopt; “naturalistic spirituality” is trying to give them a framework under which ritual and spiritual experience can be meaningful & valid. Atheists are celebrating Wheels of the Year. That's tremendous. 
Read more... )
spiritual psychometrics )
Consider my family: we are a mixture of people with strong spiritual sentiment and people with very little of it, and truth told the nature and specifics of our individual beliefs have little to do with which we are. We have my mom and uncle and grandmother, the passionate Christians. We have me and my brother, who relentlessly pursue an agnostic spirituality. We have our fellow agnostic uncle who finds his spiritual fulfillment in nature. We have my dad and granddad and Mexican family, devout Christians, who appreciate the Bible for its wisdom or its cultural value but have no inclination at all for stuff like theology or ex stasis. We have my other brother, who is now an agnostic-atheist for the most pragmatic evidence-related reasons, but gives it little thought in his everyday life.
So there is spiritual need, and then there's worldview. But it's more complex than that, because I think you can also make a scale out of how harmonious you need them to be. For instance, I could never call myself a spiritual naturalist. Even if my intellectual agnosticism didn't forbid it for various reasons, I find the endless, endless need to justify everything spiritual in terms of a materialist philosophy – which you find in Humanistic Paganism, for instance – circuitous and very confining, impeding to hierophany, which is my goal. I don't have a huge need for my spirituality and belief system to sync; I have enough invested in the two separately to consider them pretty justifiable and I think this is perfectly logical of me to do thank you. But I know that in the case of many naturalistic Pagans, in order to fulfill their spiritual needs at all they must be able to understand their spirituality in terms of naturalism-- or else they just can't convince themselves it's a worthwhile pursuit. And that is both understandable and unaccountable. It's a matter of temperament.
So I feel there should be a way to describe spiritual inclinations in ways that separate them from belief, separate them from their need for organization, and describe the impact of their relationship to belief, but don't necessarily have anything to do with the specifics of their belief. I came up with three categories.
I. Spiritual Need
Straightforward, right? But sort of impossible to define. I think I'm going to trust that you intuit me.
High: Mystic; prone to rapturous experiences, or drawn to cultivating them; tremulous feeling; intense attraction to the sublime; visionary sensibility (which can include strong investment in visions of the potential future of humanity). Secularly, the atheist always posting up pictures of stars, the disciple of Sagan, the transhumanist; or the  ferverent devotee of poetry. In a Christian, this would be the sort of person who speaks in tongues. In other traditions, you would find shamans, spiritworkers, specialists.
Medium: I'd put someone who was prone to spiritual moments, but not a great need to seek them out, in this category. Someone sensitive to peak experiences and the like but who is satisfied with them happening spontaneously.May dabble in prayer and trance states, or may go out into nature with the implicit intention of seeking out a hierophany, may go through phases of spiritual interest, but has no particular need to climb the Sephirot, does not think of humanity traveling to the stars with any enormous longing, etc. 
Low: This sort of person is satisfied with material existence and finds enough fulfillment there. Here you'd find the theist who believes, but mostly because of the way they were raised, or because of their culture; or the atheist who simply doesn't see what all the fuss is about; or anyone in past eras who followed their religion publicly, but gave it very little thought otherwise.
II. Structural Need

At its best, organizations and resources encourage hierophanies, but I think that desire for structure varies tremendously.
High: Someone who thrives under organization and ritual, or has a strong need for guidance and mentorship in a formalized sense, or who needs a coherent, validated system of interpretation. So here is the atheist that attends the TAM; who spreads Dawkins and Harris all over social media. Here is the true Catholic (in the most personal sense of 'true'). Here's the hardcore Western ceremonialist working alone with all of his Qabalistic gear and his endless correspondences.

Medium: Here you'd find someone who likes the resources of structure, but is willing to go it alone, or does not have too much invested in whatever structure they have chosen (depending on their levels of extroversion to introversion, or what is available for their particular belief system). Churches with an informal approach. People who celebrate a calendar of holy days and love ritual, but aren't alwayss particularly formalized about it. Atheists who read voraciously and discuss, but don't join organizations. Etc.

Low: Someone completely willing to operate without formal structure, either of a public or personal sort. The “spiritual but not religious” individual, maybe. A low need for structure and a high spiritual need is probably a bit rare but I can imagine someone who finds all structure very limiting to their spiritual experience would find a place here. There are a lot of quietly spiritual people who would fit the description.

III. Need for Certainty
This category specifically addresses the relationship of intellectual beliefs to spiritual ones.
High: This sort of person must have what they consider to be a viable, working theory for their beliefs. This is widespread in the West, I think, hence the atheism/monotheism dichotomy and frequent insistence in both camps on evangelism, but it's often simply derived from a personal need for stability-- people who, by temperament, have a low tolerance for ambiguity or at least feel they must go with the most viable explanations. I would put people who place tremendous value on faith in this category, since faith is effectively an explanation.

Medium: Tolerant of some uncertainty, but must have an overall framework for that uncertainty. In other words, there's an investment in understanding how it all works: in the higher ends of need for justification, and in the lower ends probably more for curiosity's sake than anything else.

Low: This is a tricky position, because I think that one can have a low need for certainty without it compromising their intellectual beliefs, though there is probably a correspondence. But at least as far as spirituality goes, someone with a low need for certainty has little psychological investment in knowing the literal Truth, as it's popularly conceived; they may even have an aversion to too much certainty for whatever reason; and some, like Robert Anton Wilson, have codified this stance into a paradigm in and of itself, and imbue true agnosticism with a kind of intellectual nobility. (Those with the lowest need for certainty probably have some kind of conviction of the sort, actually, lol.)
That brings me to an important observation: “need” is perhaps not the best way to characterize these categories. It's the one I'm using because of the point I'm making, but I also think that people can decide that one category or another is simply best for them and ignore their personal inclinations – for instance, the scientist person of faith with a high need for certainty may set aside the certainty-need because their corresponding need for spirituality is more important to them, and they feel ambiguity at the attempts proving god's existence; or because of the specifics of their upbringing. Or someone may have been convinced that a high need for certainty is important to avoid superstition... or, someone might feel that their religious beliefs are important enough to them to set aside the question of certainty entirely.
So, for a test case, let's take someone we'll call Theo (yes, ha ha). Say Theo has a high need for spirituality, a medium need for structure, and a medium-high need for certainty. Naturalistic Paganism suits him because although he has a strong need to frame his religiosity in terms of his naturalistic outlook, he finds great meaning in ritual, and his spiritual interests compell him to explore trance states.

Contrariwise if Theo had a very high need for certainty and a high need for structure he may find himself to be a highly evangelistic atheist with a strong interest in futurism and human potential. If Theo had a medium need for spirituality, a low need for structure, and a medium need for certainty, he could be a hippie who channels their spiritual feeling through psychedelics or yoga.
So you can't exactly make a nice personality test out of these categories because there are so many variables at play introduced by the specifics of someone's beliefs-- but I feel they may provide a way to see patterns into people's overall values and behavior. And I feel it is important to address spiritual inclination as a thing that happens, a personality trait, an issue of temperament – something that may need fulfillment in some form or another. 


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October 2012

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