Monday 11 July 2016

Charlton's Third Law - there is no single 'key', you are held back by two things - lack of religion *and* spirituality

People who are seriously trapped in a bad situation are always held by at least two errors. If it was just one error, that would not be much of a problem - sooner or later you would stumble on the key you needed to escape.

Of course, according to my first law, things must get worse before they get better. Otherwise things already would be better. It is usually obvious what needs to be done to make things better, but it is not done because doing the right thing nearly always makes things worse at first.

But even allowing for this, if you are in a bad situation there will be two things (minimum) holding you back. If you merely fix one of these two things, then you will not experience any significant improvement - both have to be fixed to make a difference.

Indeed, if two things need fixing but you fix only one of them, then it may be a bad thing overall; this is the kind of situation which leads to people (and institutions) doubling-down on their errors - trying harder and harder to implement a strategy which has not worked, shows no sign of working and never can work.

So, for the typical modern lost soul, religion and spirituality are both needed - and if you are religious but not spiritual, or spiritual but not religious then - overall and in the long-run - these don't work and have no prospect of working.

Of course, there is the matter of what 'working' is - and it is possible to define this in a circular fashion. But for someone that is stuck, it is unconvincing to be told that if you do this one thing then you will realise that this one thing is the only thing that matters. Someone who is stuck needs to feel that they can escape to a better place, a better life, a better way of being - if they are to do something which will, in the short term, make things worse.

But in general, people need a new religion - that is a new set of assumptions, a new framework, new practises and the rest. And they also need a new spirituality - a new way of thinking, a new mode of consciousness, a new way of experiencing the same things.

People who are religious without spirituality find that they just have a different set of theories ('beliefs') but inside they are still the same old miserable person they always were; people that are spirituality without being religious find that they are just doing psychotherapy - they may feel better, but this is just a matter of temporary and meaningless feelings.

So people need to become religious and spiritual at the same time for things to work - yet that is not easy - people are linear in thought and behaviour - they can only think about or do one thing at a time.

They need to move both feet, but have to move one foot or the other first - and whichever foot they move it will not take them to where they want to be.

Furthermore, it seems that human institutions are the same. Some institutions are religions and some are spiritual - they put one above the other in practice, and in practice whatever is put first tends to take over, and become the only thing.

When there is a conflict, solution is usually via setting priorities; and most religions have religious priorities - that it is more important how you behave rather than how you think - and pretty soon that becomes the whole thing. Then there is the legalism, Phariseeism, which Jesus warned against and into which so many religions have degenerated so quickly.

And the people who are spiritual find they want to behave differently than the religion - they want to do something the religion forbids, or not do something the religion insists upon - so they 'solve' the conflict by dumping the religion - and trying to think and feel spiritually without a religious frame. And they find that then the feelings are merely feelings - purpose and meaning have disappeared with the religion.

There have only very seldom been situations, or even individuals, who are both religious and spiritual - but that is our destiny, the only thing that is really worth striving for - because either alone is at best inadequate and more often a situation which is subverted to evil.

So there is no single key - what is needed to launch your life is more like those two separate and different keys, on opposite sides of the room, which must be turned simultaneously, that I have seen in movies as necessary for launching some kind of ultimate weapon.

Religion and spirituality are the two keys, each is distinct; and we need to turn them both at the same time - even though the locks are separated by a significant distance.

Either we need to stretch our arm span wider then ever before, or get help from someone else.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Could you expound on what you understand by the religion/spirituality distinction? People use those two words in a wide variety of ways. Based on what you've written here, I take it that:

1. Regarding beliefs, religion focuses on the importance of assenting to a list of "correct" or orthodox propositions, while spirituality focuses on the importance of how one comes to have one's beliefs -- through personal and emotional engagement with God. The religious would tend to be more tolerant of someone who has no deep religious feelings but can regurgitate his catechism. The spiritual would tend to be more tolerant of a passionate but rather unorthodox mystic.

2. Regarding actions, religion focuses on obedience to revealed law. Spirituality focuses on the intentions and attitude rather than on actions per se. The religious err on the side of tithing mint, anise, and cumin; the spiritual err on the side of condoning any and all behaviors that claim to motivated by "love."

Have I understood you correctly?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - Research seems to suggest that most people understand religion, spirituality and the distinction in an operational fashion - since when people are asked to classify themselves as spiritual and religious, spiritual but not religious, religious but not spiritual or neither religious nor spiritual - you get predictive clusterings which make sense.

Broadly, spiritual referrers to subjective aspects - religious to institutional affiliations (regulative of lifestyle). S but not R is how New Age people self-classify, S & R is how most religious people self-classify, but some (Orthodox Jews, some Christians ultra hostile to magic, personal revelation etc) self-classify as R but not S.

That is the starting point - I am using spirituality to mean a specific focus on ways of thinking or modes of consciousness - and in practice many religious people (who might call themselves more or less spiritual) privilege R above S to such an extent that S becomes little more than a hazardous optional extra.