While I was looking up ‘worship’ in the dictionary (see previous Blog posting on that subject), I thought I would look up another word that has puzzled me for a long time – ‘spirituality’. People seem to think it is very important to have this. Apparently, it is what gives life meaning and atheists like me are missing out big time. The obvious meaning of the word is ‘relating to religious belief’, but it has the more general meaning of ‘relating to the human spirit as opposed to physical things’. Now, I don’t have a religion, so if I am to partake of this panacea, I guess I need to understand what ‘spirit’ means, ‘human’ or otherwise. The OED says that spirit is ‘the part of a person that consists of their character and feelings rather than their body’. Straightforward enough. I get that, and I agree with it. I have never cared much for ‘physical things’ or ‘the body’. I get no exercise, I hate sport, and I wouldn’t recognise an ‘adrenalin rush’ if it came up and bit me. I also get the importance of ‘feelings’. I have those, and they are often bound up with thoughts and ideas. I value those things deeply. I think that the life of the mind is the most satisfying life. Artists, research scientists, and anyone who can carry on their mental regimes into decrepit old age seem to me to be luckier than Olympic athletes who must inexorably see their skill decay and are left with the problem of what to do with the rest of their lives. So, is that what they mean by spirituality then? Have I got it?
I suspect not. Because, those who press the claims of spirituality see it as something different from or more than, all the things I have been alluding to. My problem is that I don’t understand what that ‘more’ is, unless at the end of the day, we are back to the first definition, and what they mean is religion. The people who go on about spirituality most are those who feel the need for religious belief, but reject the traditional, organised religions. The Romantics have a lot to answer for. From their simple ‘nature–worship’ has sprung over the last two centuries the whole gamut of ‘alternative’ religions, faiths and spiritual movements – from Victorian spiritualism to Derek Acorah; from modern druids to wiccan witches; from pyramids and crystals, to faith healing and fortune telling. Is that what people think I am missing? Damn right I am. I absolutely understand why people are deserting traditional Christianity in droves. But why flee to these equally absurd alternatives? It is all just religion without the initial capital 'R'. There is no great white spirit in the sky, no dead loved ones tweaking Acorah's aerial, and no mysterious forces undetectable by science. I can enjoy a walk down a country lane without the need to invoke a deity within, without or above nature. The word ‘spirituality’ is meaningless. I think, I feel, I will, and I act. That’s it. There is nothing else. Just because you invent a word for something doesn’t mean that that something exists.