My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Religions share a common spirituality?

Does spirituality have its roots in religion? Or is religion a subsection of a vaster overarching spirituality? Some claim the human phenomenon of spirituality to be more basic, to have preceded religion. But religion itself is very old. How are they linked? It seems like a chicken and egg situation. But it does seem probable that religion developed to meet man’s earliest spiritual need. This makes sense if we think of religion as being there first and foremost to nourish spiritual growth. (And I use the male term deliberately; since it was relatively recently in humanity’s history that woman was generally deemed to be capable of spiritual experience. Indeed even now her religious and spiritual needs and expressions are marginalized in some cultures). Thus spirituality may be seen as the more general term, including religion, and being a core aspect of religion. Although this does not deny that there are 'spiritual but not religious' individuals or that extrinsically religious people may not be especially 'spiritual.'
So we see that the relationship between religion and spirituality is far from cut and dried and to some extent it is controversial. Spirituality is a rapidly developing subject for academic study in many universities and there is a vast growth in literature, and conferences to explore the issues and to encourage dialogue about spirituality with different faiths. (One useful resource here is the international Journal for the Study of Spirituality, first published in 2011.)
I have thought a great deal about this and am persuaded that true spirituality and religion are so closely associated that they cannot be truly separated. Whatever we think we mean by both phenomena, it is probably unhelpful to separate them too sharply, at least at this stage in our level of understanding. Perhaps they are two sides of the same coin, in some kind of symbiosis? Someone has said that spirituality is 'the way we hold the what of our faith' and that spiritual care is best coming from within religious tradition and cannot be generic. Indeed, generic spirituality has been dubbed a kind of 'spiritual Esperanto' in an essay called Dumbing Down the Spirit, by the pastoral theologian Stephen Pattison. Pattison warns that the ability of the religious traditions to contribute to the current search for spirituality is being weakened by this more generalized spiritual quest. This is good enough reason for the religions to change, and fast!
How do we address our spiritual crisis and recover our souls? Ursula King writes that the solution is to be found in our rich heritage of the world’s spiritualities. If we link spirituality in any way with religion, (and how can we not?) then this quest also has to be extended to our rich heritage of the world’s religions. They can help, they must help, and they are helping in this journey of rediscovery!! Therefore don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, the religion with the dogma! We need religions! This is unlikely to please those who proudly proclaim that they are spiritual but not religious. I believe there is an urgent need for religions to redefine their role, to embrace the spiritual more obviously and more openly: for religion to return more fully to its spiritual roots.
I also believe there is great potential for finding common ground between all spiritualities, all religions, all people, in the quest for something beyond definition, perhaps what we mean by the Holy Spirit, or the Transcendent, a true spiritual oneness of humanity, a global spiritual interdependence available to everyone, whether or not we believe in God the Creator of all things visible and invisible.
Will this help us address our religious intolerances and divides? I think it could do. If we can truly promote a global spiritual awakening this gives us greater hope for human flourishing. How do we do this?

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