I’ve written a couple recent posts about god and religion and my thoughts about that. You can find them here (How a Graph Changed My Life) and here (When the Supernatural is Natural). Today I’m writing the third in this series. For those looking ahead, there’s one more planned taking as its starting point a wonderful idea from Douglas Adams that while god may not exist, perhaps we act as if he does because that makes our lives work better.
Anyway, back to today’s blog. Today I want to write about feelings. Put on hold for the moment the question of whether god exists or not. I want acknowledge some strong feelings that I have. Similar feelings probably motivate other people to follow the path of religion. Those feelings I call “spirituality”. These are the uplifting feelings I get when I stand in awe at the majesty and glorious beauty of nature. It’s funny, having written that, I’m sitting here wondering what else there is to say.
Except for a short story about going to church/synagogue. I was talking this morning to my wife, Madam Musing, who’s Jewish. These are the high holy days and she’s going to temple quite a bit just now. I said, “Let’s go to my church next.” She asked me where that was. I told her that I get a spiritual feeling most strongly when I’m walking in an old growth redwood forest. The towering trees and the hushed quiet always bring me a sense of peace. It feels to me exactly like being in a great cathedral.
I think that’s the way that I understand why people join religions. They have what I think is an innate spiritual sense and they come together to celebrate that.
There’s another thing about being human that I can understand in the religious. There can be a special feeling of joy in gathering together with a community of like minded people. Joining with others to celebrate common spiritual feelings, at least for some people, magnifies them greatly. This is a feeling that I don’t share. My spirituality is very much a solo affair. But I can see the power of this group feeling in other humans as they come together to worship. I actually envy them because it looks to be such a wonderful, fulfilling part of their lives.
As a kid, my family was Catholic and we’d attend Sunday mass every week. But there was another event that really made me appreciate the community we shared back then. That was the monthly pot-luck in the church community center. These weren’t the little 7 or 8 person deals I’ve had among my friends. We’re talking hundreds of people and tables overflowing with food, kids playing in the aisles, friends greeting each other warmly and sharing the latest news.
As I say, I don’t share this feeling any more. I no longer share the core belief that brings these people together. And I don’t want to have that belief back. But I miss the company. I have many good friends in my life. But I don’t have the joy of community that religion seems to bring to many people.
Today I’ve written about the positive aspects of spiritual feelings. Perhaps I’ll have to add a future blog to talk about religion and why I hold that to be so different from spirituality. Religions are social, political organizations that can do good, but also have done and continue to do unbelievably terrible things in the world. The bad side of this wonderful community spirit is that sometimes religions kill people who aren’t in the community. I think that’s a tragic result to come from a feeling that seems so uplifting and, dare I say it, holy.