What is spirituality?
What does that mean? Pious and impious use the word to describe a transcendental mental attitude or world view.
Because I was indoctrinated at home from an early age, I didn’t convert to Christianity on my own volition, per se. I do remember moments in my religious walk where I renewed commitments to God and reaffirmed my belief. This caused an awakening within me which inspired my efforts to bridge the gap between ‘God’ and myself.
The process of conversion requires the displacement of ego in exchange for ‘God’s Will’. The very idea of displacing the self is a powerful and transformative experience. In Christianity, you’ll often hear the ‘testimonies’ of people coming to Christ who refer to the exchange of self for ‘God’s will’. I remember growing up hearing that we need to ‘die to self’ in order to lead a ‘God centered’ life.
Why we adopt God:
Despite being armed with the deftest faculties of reason, we are wary of relinquishing the comforting notions of a moral curator and universal architect in fear of braving the cold indifference that existential freedom bestows upon meaning and truth. We hesitate to open unknown doors, seeking the shackles of delusion before the responsibility of liberty. We fear the unknown, not because it is unknown to us, but because we are unknown to ourselves. Liberty and freedom are only known to the will, the mechanism of choice. Freedom propagates only more of what we are, exposing our ability to be, and this terrifies. To be known to ourselves requires the responsibility of choice, and acceptance of who we are. Contrary to our fears, we are infinite.
Inactive freedom casts an ominous shadow, a think blanket of darkness, on potential. It bleeds the rivers of change and chokes the ground of growth. Never mind the stark realities; we are coddled by these chains, pacified by our delusions. We offer our will, our most sacred possession, as a living sacrifice for comfort and security. This is in the name of God- of truth. The irony is searing.
Say we undertake the yoke of freedom. While freedoms brilliancy illuminates ignorance and unveils truth, we are left obligated, forced to exist and bear the responsibility for that existence. We are an end in ourselves. Existence and being are now our affair. We are the intercessors of fate, the arbiters of potential, the beginning of essence. And to whom are we accountable? I, the self, freedom incarnated. But we are unknown to ourselves. For just as we wearily shirk from the unknown, we shirk from the abysmal darkness within us, unknown and unexplored. From whence did we come? From whence will we go? Must I choose?
So the huddled masses congregate, feverishly maintaining the conception of an invisible, powerless God.
What, or who, is God?
There is a spectrum of conceptions that evolve as we accrete understanding of ourselves, our world, and what/who ‘God’ might be. Generally, this evolution of mind correlates with an increased openness towards the world and a transcendent mental attitude- or spirituality- that allows us to see the interrelation of all things.
The first conception, and most primitive, is the anthropomorphized patriarch with a long gray beard seated at his throne in heaven- presumably located somewhere between the sky and space.
As our holistic understanding increases, we accept the irrationality of God existing as a literal being. Instead we adopt a God that can, as far as our current understanding will allow, rationally exist within the confines of reality and constraints of nature. This God is an invisible power that maintains a sentient and forcible will. This God is actively involved with the affairs of men. Actively believing and adhering to religious dogma- prayer, doing good works, following commandments, tithing, attending religious services- are all attempts to gain ‘God’s’ favor and align with his will.
I’ll postpone the discussion of how and why religious adherence and beliefs foster self-fulfilling prophecies for God’s existence due to naturally fundamental and beneficial principles within the doctrine.
The next conception of God revolves around the congruency of belief and outcome. If one hopes to lay claim to knowledge, one must familiarize with reality and the laws of nature. This inevitably exercises the powers of reason, which forces the mind to reconcile the irrefutable nature of statistical probability. Outcomes are determined through circumstance that only the actions of individuals or the mechanics of nature can induce. As a result, one comes to grips with changing outcomes by influencing or predicting God’s will. No amount of prayer will suspend gravity, solve global warming, prevent wars, or achieve any desired outcome without intervention.
At this point, a believer could easily transition into a Deist by maintaining the existence of an impersonal, yet Supreme Being. I’ll skip this for now.
The final conception is that God is a disassociated projection of the internal man. As self knowledge is garnered and ideals coalesce, we are left with the formation of the conscience. The conscience functions as a subliminal consciousness that reconciles actions with desired outcomes and what should be. Perhaps this is the voice of God; the Holy Spirit’s whispering convictions. Because mans thoughts and imaginings are not limited by the laws of nature and confines of reality, they are infinite. When mans ideals about what should be are misconstrued with what is, internal dissonance occurs. As a result, we must disassociate ourselves by objectifying our ideals. By projecting these ideals onto something or a figure outside of us, their value can be realized and sought after, without being tainted by our current limits. This inversion allows for the manifestation of ‘God’ as the sum of all that should be, a mere projection of the best of our, albeit limited, understandings. Here is a complementary quote:
“Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is self-knowledge, by his God thou knowest the man, and by the man his God; the two are identical. Whatever is God to a man, that is his heart and soul; and conversely, God is the manifested inward nature, the expressed self of a man– religion is the solemn unveiling of a man’s hidden treasures, the revelation of his intimate thoughts, and the open confession of his love-secrets.” [Feuerbach]
What are religious conversions?
There are two conversions that occur relating to God. From an atheist to a believer, and a believer to an atheist. Both produce massive reversals of mind that overturn entire frameworks for world view. I mentioned that the conversion to God involves a displacement of self. This is incredibly invigorating and, seemingly, liberating.
The experience of conversion to God is liberating because the displacement of self with God. As we place our faith in a something outside of us, we are not left with the responsibility of changing our circumstances. Changing our circumstances requires the acknowledgment of certain limitations due to circumstance- in knowledge, emotion, or physicality. Instead, the conversion suspends choice and freedom in exchange for the subscription of Gods will—be it the manifestation of God as a projection of self-knowledge, or the interpretation of religious texts, or in between. The benefit for the conversion to God and displacement of self is baited with reward and possibility. Rewards generally concern an ideal afterlife, not tainted with earthly inadequacies. Possibility and empowerment are achieved as we align ourselves to Gods will. Of course these benefits vary precisely from religion to religion.
Many religions assertively warn that ‘idolatry’ and idol worship is ‘evil’. Who would worship inanimate objects? Anyone who seeks to worship anything outside oneself; namely, those who wish to displace self.
What is Spirituality?
The word spiritual is loaded with historical, cultural and personal meanings. To treat this concept as an absolute or universally understood experience would destroy the intimate power it contains for each individual person. However, there is an essence that can be derived.
When people talk about spirituality, they often refer to another worldly existence, somehow separate from reality. Its essence is metaphysical. Spirituality is usually achieved by ridding oneself from material anchors in order to escape into this higher realm of thinking. How does this shedding of worldly preoccupation transcend one into spirituality?
The world is constantly commanding our attention as stimuli bombard our senses and beg for a response. This forces our consciousness to manage observable and readily apparent circumstances. This reality is far different from our mind because the dualistic nature that exists between mind and reality.
The reality exists in the here and now. It is in flux only according to the very precise physical processes allowed by nature. It cannot be changed instantly without external influence. Our external world is bound by the laws of physics. No amount of manipulation and effort can alter these laws. It is only through understanding and familiarizing ourselves with these laws that we can manipulate reality and nature to conform to our mind.
In contrast, our mind is infinite. Our imagination has no bounds or constraining forces. It dreams, fantasizes, creates, and imagines. The external reality that is projected inwardly is manipulated by our reason and distorted by our passions and emotions. Our ability and decision to think has no limits.
So the reality of nature grounds reflection, the imagination, and reinforces itself in our mind, limiting imagination.
Spirituality is when the mind rises above reality, present demands of the here and now, and observes the sum of reality by recognizing the interrelation of all the individual parts. The mind softens its perception of what is, so to speak, so that new connections and relationships can be formed about what could be.
The creation of spirituality and the spiritual:
Conversion to God opens the mind up to this spiritual world by forcing it to be receptive to something outside reality. The idea of God requires a faith in something with no place in reality and nature. The mind, trying to reconcile the conception of God, escapes from reality. This forces the imagination to reconcile the possibility of God by creating justifications from the imagination. These imaginations are otherwise delusions fabricated to accept Gods existence.
This conversion to God transcends the mind into a world of possibility. This is KEY for understanding how and why god is the answer for those wrestling with a lack of responsibility for their existence, the overall stagnation of potential, and avoidance of freedom.
Generating spirituality through religious conversion:
My conversion from a believer in God to a non-skeptical realist (essentially agnostic), was marked by a decision to seek understanding, dispel delusions, and eliminate self-deception. The process was slow and gradual, yet I retained certain spirituality. I find that when many people are asked if religious, they reply that they are spiritual. I responded similarly. But what does this mean?
As far as I was concerned, spirituality was the residue of my faith in God. God represented possibility. Recall the teachings: “In Christ all things are possible” etc. The conversion to God opens one up to possibility by suspending limited beliefs and opening the mind to possibility. Spirituality is faith in possibility. Conversion away from God can leave the faith in possibility intact.
Spirituality exists among a wide spectrum of people, religious and irreligious alike.
Some people join religions because they recognize the value in certain universal principles of good within the doctrine, while others seek the escape from responsibility of self that it brings.
 Religious beliefs cause a variety of psychological effects: Confirmation bias creates biases that influence interpretation of positive feedback to be used as evidence for maintaining and confirming biases and reinforcing pre-existing beliefs, e.g., I prayed that it wouldn’t rain, and its sunny out, therefore God answered my prayer, or I prayed that God would cure my aunt of cancer and she survived, so God is real; Hawthorne effect is the awareness that you are being observed influences your behavior, e.g., knowing people look at/treat you as a Christian example causes you to maintain Christian behaviors; Pygmalion effect is the awareness of higher expectations that lead to increased performance, e.g., God is watching leads to more mindfulness, better behavior; Stereotype threat is our evaluation based on negative stereotypes when facing a disruptive concern, e.g., anyone who is not a Christian is a sinner and evil, so when bad things happen its because of non-Christians, etc.
 From my experience, most people that convert to God, especially later in age, do so in hopes of achieving a salvation. This salvation is from their pain, their emotional baggage. This is objectified as sin. People who experience conversions to God do so in order to relieve their state. Their previous beliefs in themselves, in their past, about life caused dissatisfaction. The delusion of God, however justified, is a scapegoat, or lamb, for their suffering. What these people fail to realize is that suffering is a result of misaligned expectations. These misaligned expectations are a result of a lack or avoidance of responsibility. Freedom is terrifying. They cannot conceive who they want to be, so they remain as they are, unknown to themselves. These are the people that subscribe so desperately to various doctrines and beliefs of mainstream culture, never ‘thinking’ or willfully contemplating who they ought to be. This weakness, this ignorance, allows the will to atrophy as habituation and conditioning fully inundate.