Long time no read ...

At the moment I’m busy with the thought that the value of spirituality lies in the practice or exercise of traditions, rather than in the content of that practice. Content can vary according to cultural background, but the common denominator is the practice. This isn’t new of course, Thomas Merton wrote something similar a very long time ago after his dialogue with Buddhist monks. He died before he could expand on the subject, unfortunately.

However, the more that the west is (re-)discovering alternative healing methods, the value of a spiritual practice or of various meditative exercises shows itself. Again, this is independent of content. What is appealing to me though is that the Lutheran/Protestant attempt to reduce everything to words in a book, and do away with incense and ritual, is contra-productive. We need these aspects for a healthy spiritual life as much as prayer, meditation, contemplation, and chanting.

I think that this is where the divide in western culture is appearing. Rather than between cultures, it is within cultures that people are discovering that diversity is the nature of life and spirituality. A cultural heritage has its own value, but it shouldn’t dominate everything.

Your views?

Provocative post Bob … in a positive sense.

Seems to me that rituals … traditions … stem from two motivations:

  1. To codify … reify … adherence to desired human behaviour. So obvious in Confucianism. St Augustine “Woe you torrent of human custom! Who can stand against you”.

  2. To perpetuate a desirable experience. The “religious” rituals … at least some of them … likely started with an individual who experienced something of value (to the individual) and he/she believed others could have the same experience by following a rigid prescription of actions.

I have a tendency to take a more social view of the matter, though I do agree somewhat with previous points.

As pertains to the exercise of Religion, I believe its primary (pragmatic) function was to serve as a means of social gathering with like-minded people. If we assume that to be at least partially true, then the indoctrination of an individual into a particular overall Religion, or perhaps, a specific denomination of a greater general Religion could be as much a component of peer pressure and the desire to fit in at least as much as anything else. We have seen this occur all throughout history by means of social ostracizing of those who were not keen on subscribing to the prevailing Religious views of that era and/or area, and we see that still in some areas today.

Furthermore, there was simply not as much information out there when Religion was at its peak largely owing to the lack of electronic means of communication. The obvious result of that is, even if an individual would have otherwise had beliefs contravening the prevailing beliefs of a given area, that individual either did not know how to express those beliefs, could not find like-minded individuals with whom to share said beliefs or could not find any additional information of or relating to those beliefs. In effect, there may have been people who would have otherwise subscribed to a different form of Religion or Spirituality, but were not aware (or did not have access to) any organized means of practice in line with that belief system.

Additionally, the person may just have not known about some other belief systems, in general terms, to begin with.

The reason that we see fewer people identify as Christians (or other proponents of the God of Abraham) is not so much owing to any great failure of Christianity (or other related sects), but rather to the increasingly efficient means of communication and education that we enjoy today. Basically, to the extent that a Religious/Spiritual system is as much about one’s basic moral codes and views on life as anything else, an individual can deliberately seek out alternative Religions and/or Spiritual systems to determine if same are right for them.

Also, we’ve learned that Religious beliefs and a moral set are not mutually exclusive.

Now, you could argue that the information would have been available in physical libraries prior to the development of electronic means of communication, (i.e. The Internet) but those modes of learning, even if one believed them, still left a void when it came to people to discuss and share those views with. The Internet, to a large degree, has solved that problem as individuals can now seek out and readily communicate with others who subscribe to their belief systems, whether they be Religious/Spiritual in nature or not. This is also true when it comes to political views, whereas at one time in the United States there was something even more closely representing a political dichotomy than what we have today. In other words, to the extent that, ‘Third-parties,’ existed, there was no efficient means by which they could advance their ideas for the consideration of others.

Ultimately, we went from being sheltered to not being sheltered. However, that does nothing to change the fact that Religion/Spirituality often fulfills the purpose of increased social interaction for many people.


For me … your thoughtful post reads like a travelogue … you describe humanity’s journey to “somewhere”.

Naming the “somewhere” … the destination … has been the source of untold controversy and human grief.

Culture is on the move everywhere … and the pace of culture travel has quickened exponentially in large part a result of … as you mentioned … the rapid advances in technology.

Religion … ritual and tradition … is like an appetizer … it may or may not be tasty yet one thing is certain … an appetizer does not fill your stomach. OTH … the individual experience(s) fills one’s ‘stomach’.

The destination is irrelevant, we don’t even know that there is any great destination, but that shouldn’t matter.

It all goes back to how Religion/Spirituality, at one point, was deemed as a necessity to achieve self-actualization.

For example, I’m first going to posit that a non-zero number of people, dare I say most people, have a desire to be fundamentally good. If not a desire to actually be good, then at a minimum, a desire to be perceived by others as being good. When religious indoctrination was all the rage, people were taught that if you didn’t subscribe to the teachings of a Religion, worse still if you didn’t believe in it at all, you could not be a good person.

Religion and morality, the most familiar example for people that read this being most God of Abraham based denominations, were perceived as being completely hand in hand with one another. In order to be, “Good,” one had to believe in God. In order to be moral, not only did one have to believe in God, but one also had to subscribe to a fundamental moral code as described in the Bible. Without God, there was no good. You could theoretically be redeemed, but that failing, it was essentially drilled into you that it would be impossible to be a moral person. Primarily because to be moral necessitated a faith that the person did not possess.

Atheism, Agnosticism, other Religions, all stigmatic.

What we have learned since by more readily being able to confer with individuals outside of whatever Religion we may (or in some cases not) have been exposed to is that we perceive some people as fundamentally good, fundamentally moral, despite their absence of Religious conviction. Again, this is owing to a more efficient means of education and communication. Also, you no longer have to worry about the social stigma that would have once gone hand in hand with conferring with someone seen as a heretic. That’s especially true of the electronic medium, because nobody actually sees you talking to them.

As far as the, “Filling of one’s stomach,” I think that can come as a result of determining that morality and the living of a good life are not mutually exclusive with being of a particular Religion, or any at all. When people have weighed the options freely, without social pressure and have arrived at a decision on their own (right or wrong) Religion then serves as a benefit in the journey towards self-actualization. For some people, Religion and that journey go hand-in-hand. For others, now that the social stigma is gone, many determine that they can live a, “Good life,” and behave in a way that they consider morally acceptable even completely without Religion/Spirituality. For them, Religion has nothing to do with the journey towards self-actualization, neither as a benefit or detriment, just an irrelevancy.



IMHO all journeys lead “somewhere” … both planned and unplanned journeys.



Your words echo the thoughts of 17th century European intellects after discovering the sophistication of Chinese culture … paraphrasing … how could they develop such a sophisticated culture/civilization without religion?

Individual death? The collective death of the sun giving out if we don’t find an alternative planet and the capacity to get there? Asteroid?

Those are the only probably absolute, ‘Somewheres,’ that this journey can lead to. All trains end at that station, whether or not the station opens up for departing fares the next day, we don’t know. I’m guessing not, but it will either happen or not happen.

That’s what I mean by the destination being irrelevant. Whatever it may be, you can’t change it. The best you can ever do is ascribe meaning to the journey.

I guess I would have to guess superior means of communication, somehow, if you pressed me. One with differing views could more likely find like-minded people. Consider that they had an estimated anywhere from 100-300 million people at any point in the 1700’s, so they couldn’t have been ridiculously far away from the low end estimation of 100 million during the 1600’s.

Anyway, estimates vary wildly is the point. Nevertheless, you’re looking at a place with land area comparable to the United States, almost identical land area, (compared to us now) then you figure we had less than 23.5 million in 1850, so that had us in spades in pop. density and (obviously) still do to this day. Only difference then is that would have been a benefit for the spreading of Philosophy and other ideas. Doesn’t really matter now with the electronic mediums of communication we have access to.

Hi P-S-Tom,

I’m sure that you’re right that the codification of desired behaviour and the perpetuation of desirable experience is what the traditions and their practices are aiming at, although my experience has been that we have become somewhat one-sided. The holistic approach to life has been pushed out by people suggesting that human kind is just the sum of its parts (especially medicine) and religion has taken on this approach in their attempts to define what they are. Rather than accepting that we are in the first order human-beings from this planet, with common needs, and only in the second order cultural beings, who have also cultural needs, we have put the second first and suffer accordingly.

I was especially impressed by the “Plain Tree” Project that tries to make hospitals and clinics healing places in a holistic sense. They built the hospitals and clinics with big staunch doors like the old churches had, had water running through beneath peoples feet, and had trees and plants everywhere with birds and butterflies seeming to fly on the walls. They soon noticed what the effect of all this was, and patients told them that it was an uplift just to enter the building. Integrated into this is a spirituality which allows people of all traditions to find a SPOT (Special Place Of Tranquility) with their own symbols and pictures. It turns out that the needs of each tradition were effectively the same. Everyone needs their own heritage, but it all amounts to the holistic approach to life.

Like Pav says, it does have a social aspect because we are social beings. Even an introvert like me needs people around him with whom he has agreement on basic issues. The people who have been ostracised in such communities have often been perceived to be a threat to the order or the well-being of the community, but sometimes they have been put out for pointing out that the community itself was threatening its own well-being. Religion became very defensive of their dogmas and even violent towards dissidents when it became part of a state order. This seems to have narrowed the perspectives of religious people that they lost sight of the integral healing aspect of their faith.

I don’t think that the lack of information has been the problem. It has rather been the loss of integral parts of tradition, like the healing aspect of Christianity. Christ and the Apostles are said to have healed, but soon they were combatting charlatanism within their midst, which was in effect an attempt to have the results without the necessary lifestyle. This seems to be the problem throughout history. The problems that Christianity has been encountering have mostly been self-made. The Hokuspokus that took over from a holistic lifestyle generated from an intact community based on love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) was ridiculed by those people who suffered under the church. From thereon the church tried to enforce its dogma on people having, of course, a totally adverse effect.

Today Christianity is hardly critical of the fact that our society has no holistic and people are consequently sick because of it. The Church offers nothing else than what society offers because it has taken on the values of society, rather than being a healing place - which I believe was what it was supposed to have been. This is why other traditions are occupying the vacuum that the church has caused in peoples lives and why it generally strikes out critically or encompasses integral aspects of other traditions. It also means that people who attempt to live a holistic life find themselves marginalised unless they can find acceptance with Projects that integrate this approach because they are no longer mainstream. This result is what I believe Pav has been pointing at.

Nice post Bob … has an upbeat feel to it … and a generous attitude towards comments from Pav and myself … a rare treat here at ILP.

As you mentioned … spirituality has had an association with healing in many many cultures for a long long time.

Seems logical that spirituality also has a place at the front end … a preventative resource versus remedial.

Hi Bob,

Great to see you!

It seems that we both agree on a general starting point and essentially agree (in a roundabout way) on where the whole process of belief has ended up now. I think that we’re probably both right, but I submit that you’re more right.

We seem to diverge somewhere in the middle where my natural tendency is to look for social-cultural phenomena whereas you take a more humanist/individualist slant and focus on what the process of faith means for the faithful. You seem to point out that the church can no longer fill a hole in people’s lives. I tend to agree with that, though my slight disagreement comes not from the Church taking on the values of society, but that the Church (particularly the hierarchy) used itself as a means to power rather than as a means of spiritual fulfillment. They didn’t submit themselves to the will of society, they wanted the will of the cloth to become the will of society and it ultimately backfired.

If they could have found a balance, and some denominations do (it’s a matter of messaging) then they might have had longer-lasting majority success.

I say that you’re more right than I am because any sort of societal or cultural phenomena is going to, ultimately, come by way of a change in individual tendencies barring some major event. Of course, had there been a singular event that caused the current state of affairs, we could point to it pretty easily.



Largely true …

The same argument can be made for all grandiose human institutions … politics, economics, finance and so on.

Success is understandable in the “dark ages” … the age of illiteracy and lack of communication enablers.

Continued success is a paradox … people are not that dumb.

Points to the battlefield extending beyond the earth’s plane … a galactic battlefield.

In China they have put buddhist monks in isolation prisons, where any normal person would go insane after a week, but these monks has been able to be in isolation for years, keeping their minds intact, the west can learn much from such spiritualism.

Hi Pav,

Nice of you to assume that I’m right but it is as you say, the differing approach is what makes the difference. If you use the MBTI I’m the INFJ (introverted intuitive feeling judgmental type) and I have a different slant than most people. I feel that spirituality is a matter of intuition and feeling, based on a larger picture, and so it is a natural domain for my type. I agree with you that the Church has perverted the intention of spirituality, using it to dominate and produce conformity rather than promote diversity.

In fact, taken as a whole, the west has maneuvered itself into a situation which can only go wrong – and its spirituality reveals as much. I think that the more “primitive” ways have proven themselves to be more stable, and that high flying concepts have often got too close to the sun and fallen to destruction. Of course we’re all wound up in it and we can’t change things too easily, but the simple spirituality is the way ahead.

We have somehow got the impression that we have “come into” the world rather than coming out of it. We are 100% connected to the planet and can’t live without it without losing much of what makes us human. So Star Trek is just an illusion, although it has for some time shown where the dreams of the west are aimed at, and the diversity of human experience is a treasure chest for generations following us. We are story tellers, and each of us has his or her story; each of us has their journey and that could be fascinating enough to fill more nights than we have ahead of us.

The value of spirituality lies in the practice or exercise of traditions, in the stories they have to tell, the experience and the mastery of various aspects of life. Isn’t that enough for a lifetime?

I agree wholeheartedly!

Although I believe that we are limited to our planet … Star Trek is an illusion on which we shouldn’t waste our time.

Surprised to see a couple of old friends on my quarterly check in. Hi Bob. Hi Pav. (I’m not ignoring all others who have posted thoughtfully to this thread.)

I agree with Pav that what we call “religion” is really just a form of social gathering and communication - but that is no more than joining the neighborhood book club. Any connection between religion and our spiritual nature is pure happenstance that can only happen on an individual basis. Bob, like-minded groupings sounds nice, but in any church gathering… You know. You’ve been there.

It is almost amusing that we are stuck with words to describe that which is life instead of silently just going about living. Granting agency and power to words is the defeat of spirituality. ah crap, I just… and that is the problem, isn’t it?

Hi Tentative, nice to hear from you.

Yes, it all amounts to the “just do it” of some sports advertisement and yet we are social animals.

I can take a walk in the woods alongside someone who totally disagrees with my spiritual/religious content and still harmonise in the enjoyment of the woods. I can meditate next to the same person and have the same effect until that person starts worrying about what I’m chanting, praying or not saying, thinking or to whom I might be directing thoughts.

It is the moment we try to get into the mind of others and start assuming we know something that others should know that things get difficult. With acceptance that we all have our own interpretation of what we experience and that we just need a basic agreement that we’re okay with that, we can practice our spirituality next to people who think otherwise. If we have a pacifistic approach to others, we can start talking about our experiences and enjoy the fact that they are different.

Wouldn’t that be a change!



Only me … no biggy :slight_smile:

Just finished reading The Book of Joy, a week long dialogue between the Dalai Lama and archbishop Desmond Tutu. This is a remarkable work of insights from Christian and Buddhist having to do with human happiness. The two spiritual leaders agree that their recipes for joy are for theist and atheist alike, that their proof of effectiveness can be found in their practice.
I am humbled by the caliber of posters here. I can hardly type anymore and find some ideas hard to say. Just happy to be among such company.

You forgot a relative newcomer, Lump, who I hope is kind enough to share more insight into Chinese spirituality. And now, I would be remiss if I should ignore Ierrellus, another “old” friend.

I suppose I should apologize again, but I prefer brevity these days. Sometimes, good intentions… :wink:

OK. To hell with brevity. It would seem that all of us agree that the connection between “religion” and spirituality is tenuous at best. Soooo…Perhaps it would be best to leave spirituality alone and concentrate on the endless philosophical question: How should we live? It almost looks as if we are trying to create a non-religion religion? I’d buy into that. I don’t think it is possible to ignore tradition, ritual, enculturation and all the other endless considerations that are part of the how shall we live? questions. But you gotta start somewhere.

In my experiences, it appears that humans have three things that are universally present. Empathy, compassion, (good) and evil (bad) is in every human being. How these three things work in the individual is as varied as the number of humans alive at any given time. Given this complexity, what would be the social contract beneficial to all of humanity? Is such a thing possible? If so, how do we get to that “destination”?

Bob has offered a solution with the giant caveat of IF. So what mechanism removes the if part?

I await everone’s august answers…

To Lump: Are you a student of Chinese culture?

To Ier: Howdy! Don’t be bashful. Type it down if it takes all day.