Enthusiasm

2006-12-27

In part one of my series on the language of religion, I talked about the secular etymology of most terms we use to describe religious concepts and experience. In sum, those terms cluster around the phenomena of love, admiration, honor, respect, devotion, passion, joy, emotion, elevation, and a capacity to deeply experience and appreciate life. I know that conventionally religious people experience those phenomena in relation to their own conceptions of a higher god, and I respect that in ways I didn't respect when I was a sophomoric know-it-all. But those belief-systems are not mine -- and I think that the phenomena can be experienced in relation to life in the here-and-now, not only in relation to the above or the hereafter (as I put it in my song Pre-Emptive Strike, "your only life, there's none above / it's here that you must show your love").

Indeed, I think that the essence of spirituality is not belief, it is enthusiasm in the original Greek sense of depth of feeling, of inspiration, of being infused with a kind of shining divine presence. But since I don't think there are any specifically divine beings outside or above physical reality, I would account for that personally divine aspect in a more naturalistic manner -- as the interior and exterior manifestation of the cluster of qualities I mention above.

I don't think this is far-fetched (though it is difficult to talk about clearly). After all, we humans differ endlessly. Some are smarter than others, some are more practical, some are more organized, some are more socially adept, some are more athletic, some are more graceful, some are more stable, some are more serene. And some have a greater capacity for love, admiration, honor, respect, devotion, passion, joy, emotion, elevation, and deep experience and appreciation of life. The latter are more inclined to spirituality and to experiencing the divine aspects of human life. That doesn't make them better or higher than other people. It only makes them more spiritual or religious.

To my mind, belief is too easy. Anyone can believe. That's good if you care about being inclusive, since it seems that few people have a great capacity for spirituality. Don't get me wrong, I think that many people have glimmers of appreciation for the spiritual aspects of life, but after experiencing such glimmers they pick themselves up and walk off as if nothing profound had happened.

Naturally, it may not necessarily be healthy to have continual and deep spiritual experiences. After all, we're physical creatures who need to work, eat, procreate, and otherwise exist in the here-and-now. The challenge as with everything else in life is to achieve balance and integration, which can take a lifetime of passion, reflection, enculturation, appreciation for beauty, openness to experience, and active wisdom. A relatively few people devote themselves to that kind of quest, which is why I think true spirituality is hard-won (and exclusive in a way that professed belief is not).

Not that I think I have achieved that kind of true spirituality in my own life, mind you. I've learned enough humility to keep from being that presumptuous. But at least I can aspire...


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