attend a Catholic school where I am required by the administration to participate in one theology course each semester. At the end of my Christian Spirituality class last semester, I was asked to choose a symbol of my spirituality and write a paper explaining this decision. The following is an adaptation of my response.
Symbol: Ø (null/empty set)
Over the summer, I was discussing religion with a few friends at work. One of my friends, a devout evangelical Christian, seemed surprised by my lack of religion. Confused, she asked, “Why do you get up in the morning? How do you stay happy? Why are you even here?” I wasn’t sure how to answer. It wasn’t because I have no motivation for life, of course. It was because I couldn’t understand how someone would need religion or God simply to get through the day, to find fulfillment.
When asked about my personal spirituality at the beginning of this class, I asserted that I was not spiritual because I was neither religious nor theistic. While I knew that spirituality and religion are somewhat distinct, I maintained that spirituality generally draws its strength from some form of theism or supernatural belief.
This class has not changed my opinion. At its core, spirituality is just religion, which stems from the impulse for transcendence and comfort, stripped of the dogmatic principles that accompany most organized religions. It appeals to higher forces for comfort and friendship. Spirituality is in many ways a personalized form of religion – an individual’s own method to appealing to their preferred superior being for worldly prosperity and other-worldly salvation. Perhaps spirituality lacks the threat of dogmatism posed by organized religion, but it still promotes a basically irrational view of the world.
However, while my personal views of spirituality have not changed significantly over this semester, I have gained insight into the source of my friend’s questions. Through the study of various religious and spiritual experiences my understanding of spirituality has grown. I better understand the ways that a personal spirituality can fulfill the basic fears and insecurities of humanity. I may not be spiritual, but I can see how spirituality gives some people purpose and drive.
Yet despite all I have learned, my fundamental beliefs (or lack thereof) remain the same. I simply do not believe in a god or a “higher power.” I cannot feel intellectually honest believing in Christianity or any other modern faith I have encountered. Behind the fancy theology and rigid dogma, religion is simply a means to avoid suffering and death contrived by humanity throughout the ages. Some people seek refuge from the world in religion and spirituality; I don’t feel like I need to. Yes, the world around us is imperfect. There is pain, suffering, and injustice. But there is also beauty. There are things that make me happy. There is sunshine, chocolate cake, rock ‘n roll, laughter, and stupid british sitcoms. Instead of taking Pascal’s wager, I would rather spend my life enjoying the things that make me happy and working to stop the pain, suffering, and injustice that keeps others from being happy. Life has too much potential to be thrown away in pursuit of an alleged afterlife.
Because I am neither religious nor theistic, I thus conclude that I am not spiritual. Despite some theologians’ attempts to equate motivation and spirituality, everything we have discussed in this class about spirituality has been of theistic, mostly Christian derivation. Spirituality has a clear theistic component, so I have no spirituality. For this reason, I have again chosen the empty set symbol to represent my spirituality, showing that the “set” of my spiritual feelings is empty. Not, as my friend might think, because I have no drive to live my life, but simply because my life and happiness isn’t contingent on the existence of an unseen deity.