This is a possible introduction to my next book, which has the tentative working title Explorations on the Spiritual Side… I’m going to experiment with posting sections as I’m inspired to write them and see what it does….
I am a modern man person trying to cope with life. There is a vast maw of materialistic greed and indulgence to sink into if I had the money or power, on the one hand. But I also have a deep feeling that if I try to live with no values other than those of a pig, maximizing my material gratifications, that I will not only be at a major disadvantage in seeking happiness, I will have missed the main point of being alive.
So what about all those “spiritual” values and goals I’ve heard about?
The problem is that it’s not like it was for almost all people for all time, there’s one religion available in my village, I never travel more than a few miles from home, so if I can make some connection with that True Religion – and the priests tell me it is The True Religion – all will be well. My struggles will be narrow, how to balance my animal desires with what The Divine Rules of my village religion are.
The problem is much more complicated today, though. On the one hand, I have traveled many miles from home, I’ve been exposed to the religions and spiritual practices of the world. Each almost always claims it is the best or the only really right one, and I’ll be damned if I don’t choose and follow it. How do I make a choice? Should I make a choice?
Worse yet, the most powerful knowledge system on the planet, modern science, apparently says all this religious and spiritual stuff is total nonsense, I should reject it all….
I have bright friends and colleagues who have made various of these choices and can justify them brilliantly. And who can also brilliantly and convincingly explain why the others have made a mistake…
It’s a sign of my intelligence that I feel confused!
I’m not too bothered by science’s apparent denial of any spiritual reality now. After more than half a century of professional scientific and personal exploration, I have recognized that the so-called scientific denial of all spirituality is actually a scientistic denial, just one more powerful, fundamentalist belief system attacking its rivals. I’ve written about that in detail in my recent The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together book, where I’ve shown how it is reasonable to be both scientific and spiritually inclined. Yes, there is lots of nonsense under the labels “religious” and “spiritual,” as there is under all areas of human life, but there’s too much solid evidence that we possess qualities we would expect genuine spiritual beings to have to throw out, wholesale, any possibilities of spiritual realities. Indeed it’s pathological, it’s psychologically costly, to totally deny our spiritual side.
So if there’s some reality to the spiritual, how can we start to discriminate the useful from the useless, the deeply true from the superstitions of the centuries, the psychologically healthy from the psychopathological? How can I and you, we, add genuine spiritual aspects to our life, making it more harmonious and improving our relations with each other, with all life, with the planet? We’ve clearly got to have something like this, for if all we have is pig-in-the-trough we’ll just use up our resources, ruin the planet, and continue to be at each others’ throats over material resources., thinking they are all we have of value…
As a scientist I can call for more research, and that is a vital part of the answer. But meanwhile, how do we live? How do we make intelligent and productive choices in the spiritual bazaar? We’ve got decisions and choices to make today, tomorrow, we can’t wait for extensive and careful research programs to give us better answers in fifty years. Not to mention that it’s not at all clear that we will be intelligent enough to actually research spiritual issues…
This book is some explorations, some ideas and experiences, I’ve had about this in a varied career and life.
I would like to say that there is deep spiritual wisdom in what I write, that my prayers and practices over the years have led me to deep knowledge and wisdom. Ah, what a dream! I can say I’m reasonably intelligent and I try very hard to be honest with myself and others. That means acknowledging that no matter how highly I’d like to think of myself, I have to recognize the biases, hopes, fears, ignorances, and weirdnesses lying behind some of my ideas. When I actually recognize any of these, I try to compensate for them: I am interested in getting at a better understanding of truth, not just being comfortable in a bloated self-image. And I have to accept that I probably know little or nothing about many of them, so I can only warn you, dear reader: take what I say as stimulation, but evaluate all of it carefully in terms of your own knowledge. I know a lot compared to some people, I know almost nothing compared to others, and I am not some Spiritual Authority! If we both work on being honest on what we know and don’t know, on what we hope and fear, with mutual respect, we can learn a lot from each other.