Thursday, February 14, 2008
Spirituality and What Bizarre Magic
Discussion of religion and atheism is hot these days, what with the slew of books coming out recently promoting atheism (e.g. Dawkins, 2008; Harris, 2008; Hitchins, 2007).
I also find I think about it more because of social networking sites. What's interesting about them is that many ask you what your religion is, and many only give you a fixed number of choices.
Facebook, for example, allows you to put whatever you want. I put "atheist" but I know other atheists who put "none" or "FSM"*. I've also seen people put "under construction," which I think is humble and funny.
Dating sites, in trying to match people up according to similar religions, are more likely to give you a fixed number of choices. Usually the choices an atheist has for the religion slot are "none," or the safer-with-women "spiritual but not religious."
Which gets me wondering what spirituality actually is. I've had people hear I'm an atheist and look at me, deadly serious, and ask "But you're spiritual, right?" as though there's some universally accepted meaning to the term. When I'm asked, I say "yes" sometimes and "no" others. I say no if I want them to know I don't believe in spirits and ghosts and stuff, and I say yes if I want to emphasize my deep appreciation with my world. As the wikipedia entry on spirituality says, it's involved with reverence and awe.
I was just talking to someone the other night who actually thought that the world was getting worse because people were getting less religious. After I recovered from fainting and got up off the floor, had a glass of water, and did some reality testing I asked her to elaborate.** She said that people without religion had lives that were less rich. I got kind of offended by this, and told her about my life and how you don't need religion to have a deep appreciation of the world, and a rich life. I cry at art, get chills watching theatre***, and have a deep love for the people close to me. Religion gives you a sense of awe, for sure, but there's a better way. You can have happiness and a meaningful, rich life with out the ontological baggage of religion.
I find that visualization is a powerful tool for many purposes. Visualizing doing physical activities is actually helpful for doing those activities better (e.g. choreography, martial arts, sports). I find it's also beneficial for (my version of) spirituality.
I have written one novel, called What Bizarre Magic (still in its first draft and unpublished). It's a fantasy novel, so there's a strong magical component to it. I was inspired by something I read about the Shinto religion.
What I read said that in Shinto very large or very old things were believed to have spirits. I found this a very compelling idea. Anyway, in my novel all living things had this spirit, and so did anything that people really appreciated over time. This spirit presence was visible to some of the characters, and they could manipulate things that had spirits with their own. Eventually they learned to focus their own appreciation to give things spirit so that they could manipulate them. For example, a new fork is something nobody cares about. One of my characters could focus appreciation and love on this fork and imbue it, temporarily, with enough spirit so that they could pick it up with their own spiritual form.
Now of course this is not a theory of reality. I know it's not true; I made it up for my book. However, the idea of this is quite compelling to me, and sometimes I imagine it's true, and focus my appreciation on the things around me. My teacup, a tree as I walk by, someone I care about, etc. It leaves me feeling happy and energized. Pictured is a crane. I love cranes; they fill me with a sense of awe.
So am I spiritual?
* FSM stands for the "Flying Spaghetti Monster." See the wikipedia page for this humorous idea.
** This story has been embellished for comic effect.
*** Only about 1/8 shows I see are good, but still.
REFERENCES (none which I have read yet)
Dawkins, R. (2008) The God Delusion. Mariner Books.
Harris, S. (2008) Letter To A Christian Nation. Vintage Books.
Hitchins, C. (2007) God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Twelve Books, Hachette Book Group.