Forty Reasons to be Spiritual but not Necessarily Religious
I’m not actually going to give forty reasons, but this seems an appropriate title given that this is a response to an article by Joe Omundsen entitled 40 Reasons I’m Not Religious. I won’t address each of his points, but I’ll respond to his general themes.
Most of his complaints, as he says, are specific to Christianity, although he does say that he is against supernatural beliefs in general, and finds every version of religious belief unappealing. Surveying his list, however, my overwhelming impression is that Christianity and its theology are his real targets. (There is much talk of sin, hell, a loving God, the problem of evil, the Holy Spirit, problems with the Bible.) In which case, why not just say so? Many people who have been brought up in a Christian tradition, in adulthood find it unsatisfactory and reject it for all the reasons he states. (He is not the first on Medium to make that case; there have been many others.) However, Christianity is not a synonym for religion. Most of his objections would not apply to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and so on. He says that “if religion vanished today and people had to start over, the Bible and other holy books would never re-materialize”. I beg to differ. It is highly likely that the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, and Buddhist scriptures would re-materialize, since they contain truths at least as eternal as the science in which he has such great faith. In fact, modern ‘science’ could learn much from them.
I actually agree with many of his objections, but on the whole they are not complaints about religion, rather about human behaviour, human beliefs, human psychology. Specifically they are complaints more about Christians than Christianity. (For example, the idea that the Bible is not infallible is not exactly a revelation, rather a complaint about the foolish Fundamentalists who claim that it is.) These are the very problems that a truly spiritual religion seeks to address.
Here’s another example. “It’s nice to imagine that the creator of the universe is directly guiding you, but it’s probably just your own intuition and a creative voice inside your own head”. Indeed, that’s probably what it is. So is the problem religion, or is it a false human belief? A spiritual person might correctly say that such a voice is that of one’s own Higher Self.
His other complaints are hardly original. Number 1 on his list is “the Biblical creation story is impossible”. Again, this is not really an objection to Christianity, rather a complaint against literalist Christians, who misinterpret the Bible’s meaning. A strange comment is that “it appears that Jesus and Paul believed it literally”. I’ve read all the gospels, and some but not all of Paul, but I’m not aware of any quote that would suggest this. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.
One especially silly objection is that “the universe is way bigger than we ever realized”. Religion may well have emerged at a time when some humans thought that the Earth was at the centre of a small universe. The fact that we now know that the universe is almost unimaginably vast, and contains over 100 billion galaxies like our own, should lead us to ponder what could possibly be responsible for such a magnificent spectacle, not claim that this is a valid objection against religion. We could just as easily argue that this is evidence for an extraordinary creative intelligence.
Like many anti-religious people, Omundson has too much faith in what he perceives to be science, but what I would call the highly dubious claims by some scientists. Arguing that “there’s no reason to think souls are eternal”, he says that “conscious awareness correlates closely with brain activity, and when the brain is destroyed, our awareness probably is too”. This is highly debatable, since neuroscientists have found it impossible to explain the existence of consciousness on the basis of brain activity, although they continue to try; this has for good reason been called the Hard Problem, and may be irresolvable. Also, how is the phenomenon of an out-of-body experience explained if what he says is true? At the very least, this suggests that consciousness is not directly related to the brain, and hints at the possibility that there is an afterlife, and that souls might be eternal.
He is also not impressed by mythology. That is his loss. It’s hard to know where to begin, but a few hours reading the work of Joseph Campbell would be highly recommended.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, Christianity, psychology, science, politics, and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).