I am a devotee of Reason, and an Atheist. I don’t have any use or time for the supernatural. I am convinced that the only road to truths about our universe is through the application of Reason. (You may be well served by clicking here to read more about that, before going further.)
And yet, I know there’s more to the pursuit of living our lives than simply knowing factual truth.
Spirituality is one of those vague words that means everything to everyone. However, it is not my intent to hide behind vagueness to pretend we all agree on the same stuff. I would rather dig into it, and get at the heart of the matter. And I think that heart lies in what I will call the Inner World.
To be clear, these Worlds I will be describing are metaphors. I am not saying that there really are two worlds. I am really saying that there are two approaches, two paradigms – each one appropriate in the proper time and place.
The Outer World is the obvious one. It is the world we all share, the world of facts and of factual truth, the world of science, math, and history. The world not of perceived reality, but actual reality. Differences of opinion, values, intentions – none of those matter here, the only thing that is relevant is the answer to the questions of “What exists (or has existed, or will exist?)” and “How do things happen?” – not why, mind you, but how.
The Inner World however, while being immanent, is less blatant as it lies casually and quietly draped over the Outer World. The Inner World is everything we feel, everything we think, everything we believe, and more. It contains both value and context, interpretation and intent.
In the Outer World, what’s true for one is true for all. In the Inner World, on the other hand, that is often not the case. I’ll try to give some examples:
One person grew up excelling in academics. To them a No. 2 pencil is a reminder of their skill. Another person had a father that worked at a pencil manufacturing company, who was laid off as digital content drove the demand for pencils to historic lows.
Seated at a desk, both see the same pencil in the cup with regard to its Outer World existence – they both see the pencil as yellow, solid, sharpened, the eraser fresh and unused. However, with regard to the Inner World, one sees the pencil as a badge of achievement while the other finds it a depressing reminder of what was lost. And both people have real and visceral reactions to its presence.
A less whimsical example is this: one person believes that freedom is the highest, most noble goal – that a person’s freedom is sacred. Another person believes that while freedom is important, we all have a mandatory obligation to help our fellow human, like it or not – that one person’s freedom of choice ends where another person’s true need begins. And so the first believes that people are only entitled to that which they can get on their own, while the second maintains that a person of means owes some portion of what they have to those who are living in abject poverty.
To be clear, the discussion about the effects that occur to the economy or government when certain actions are taken or not taken, while many people may have differing opinions on the matter, is not a matter of opinion, but fact. It is an Outer World problem of “If we do X, what will follow?” That’s a question of factual truth.
But the question of whether we ought to do X (or Y) – of which values we shall live by, or what outcomes we deem worthy – that is an Inner World question.
And it’s not just about philosophy and conditioning. Think of the finest piece of music you have ever heard, the one that moved you more than any other before or since. The music that took ahold of your very self, down to your toes. Or think of that scene in that movie, or TV show, or book, that gave you a moment in time that took your breath away. Maybe it brought you to tears, or filled you with joy, or brought you up off of the couch, vibrant with success.
These emotional experiences aren’t fake. They aren’t meaningless. Quite the opposite. The more they make you feel, the more compelling they are, the more a kernel of your spirit is coming alive. This is also part of the Inner World.
Let’s shift our terminology a little. The phrases Inner World and Outer World are evocative, but it’s simpler just to use the terms “spiritual” and “secular”.
The domain of secular truth is the domain of Reason, of facts, of the so-called Outer World that’s the same for everybody.
The domain of spiritual truth is the domain of feeling, sentiment, experience, value, and personal “reality” – what we’ve been calling the Inner World. Reason still holds sway here – but only to guard us from error, not to guide us to our base choices – because those base choices come from the deepest parts of us.
One way perhaps to get right the division of what is secular and what is spiritual is to get at the base dichotomy by looking at our very mind and spirit. What are they?
The mind is, in short, the collection of neurochemical impulses and fields resident within the brain. Brain and mind sciences have shown that this is the factual, dry, objective truth of what we are. To put another way, with regard to the fact-based secular truth, the essential truth of what we are is our minds, and that which influences our minds.
The spirit, on the other hand, is also us. It’s our values, our sense of right and wrong, our appreciation for art and music, our love for those dear to us, and our capacity for personal evolution and depth. It is the spiritual truth of who we are.
So if the mind is the secular truth of what we are, and the spirit is the spiritual truth of who we are – what does that mean?
It means that the mind and the spirit are the same thing, and that each interpretation is correct within the proper context.
Mind and spirit are two side of the same coin. Researchers can hook us up to machines that can tell us exactly what happens in our brains when we experience love, for example. They can even isolate what causes those feelings and perhaps even trigger it at will.
Still, that is not the meaning of love, it is merely the process. If you want to understand the neurochemical basis for the experience of love in our brains, you turn to Reason and science – for that’s a secular question.
But if you want to experience love more fully, to be more worthy of love, to “walk” in love and embrace the aspect being loving in your life – that’s a matter of the spirit. That’s a spiritual issue.
Everything divides into one or the other, into a question of fact – where we have no leeway or flexibility, or a question of personal truth – where it’s really up to us, to what appeals to us, to what moves us.
I have spent most of my life until now, in my mid 40s, focusing only on matters of Reason, on secular questions – yet almost all of the really important questions are spiritual matters.
So now I realize that I must begin a new journey. Without questioning the undeniable right of Reason to reign supreme for all secular matters, I need to go beyond (though not in the face of) Reason to discover my spiritual path.
I need to discover/create my own spirituality.
While Reason is never to be abandoned, not even in spiritual matters, Reason alone is not sufficient to find your way in this place. After all, all Reason can do is tell you what to avoid (contradictions and that which leads to them) – which is all you need for the secular stuff, but not enough to get you anywhere specific for the spiritual.
Which brings us to the purpose of this site.