I’ve recently started following the RSA blog and in particular some excellent thinking and writing on the subject of spirituality by Jonathan Rowson.
In Taking Spirituality Seriously he builds on an earlier reflection on Post-Religious Britain: The Faith of the Faithless, a study by the think tank Theos, that identified the vast majority of British people (70%) to be be neither strictly religious nor strictly non-religious. The survey showed that “the proportion of people who are consistently non-religious, i.e. who don’t believe in God, never attend a place of worship, call themselves non-religious, and don’t believe life after death, the soul, angels, etc – is very low at 9%.”
In rethinking spirituality he is therefore seeking to bring greater clarity to our understanding of what spirituality means for this significant proportion of the British population who are, “neither strictly religious nor strictly non-religious, but rather moving in and out of the undesignated spaces in between.”
Jonathan moves into the space between the common reference points of atheism and religion to explore what spirituality might look like for a society that is facing challenges that are economic, social, environmental and related to education and healthcare.
There is much in Jonathan’s post to absorb and consider, but for me one standout contribution was his framing of an understanding of spirituality. He writes:
“I am beginning to think of it as a mixture of three inter-related fundamental aspects of how we relate to each other and the world: perspectives (world views, life stances, values), practices (meditation, rituals, customs) and experiences (belonging, aliveness, transcendence).”
What I like about this is that it concurs with the lived and experienced reality of most people – it observes spirituality in so much of what flows from our human-ness. And it stands firmly in the land between atheism and religion where most people seem to feel at home.
Of course, from a firmly Christian (or Abrahamic faith) viewpoint this definition is lacking important clarity about the origin of the spiritual nature of humans:
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Gen 2:7
Here it is the activity of God in breathing spiritual life into all of humanity, as represented by Adam, that gifts to us our inherent spirituality, even if this is later corrupted or dulled by events, culture or beliefs.
I see in this definition the activity of a spirit breathing God, even if another doesn’t. But within it I believe we both recognise a non material essence at work that transcends descriptions of spirituality that rest largely on neurology, psychology and emotion.
Spirituality is both hard to define and also something that doesn’t seem to want to go away, chiefly because it speaks, as through a glass darkly, of something most people seem to ‘know’ instinctively. In which case it matters because, acknowledged or not, spirituality plays a part in many of our interactions with others, with the world around us and with our inner selves and shapes our responses and behaviours in often profound ways.
Perhaps we should take it a little more seriously.