What is up with spirituality?
What is up with spirituality? I mean, from an atheistic perspective?
In my experience, atheists tend to focus on the empirical question of whether there is an all-powerful supernatural creature behind all that we observe. And yeah, there probably isn’t.
But having won that point, what does one make of the extreme popularity of religion? I think the usual answer given is something like ‘well, we used to be very ignorant and not have good explanations of natural phenomena, plus we tend to see agents in everything because our agent detection software is oversensitive’.
Which might explain the question ‘Why would people think a supernatural agent controls things?’. But what seems like only a corner of religion.
Another big part of religion—and a thing that also occurs outside religion—seems to be ‘spirituality’—a cluster of things I find hard to describe, but which seem pretty disconnected from explanatory questions of where trees came from or why the crops failed.
Some stylized facts about spirituality:
- People across religions have ‘spiritual experiences’ that involve particular styles of feeling
- People can have spiritual attitudes more broadly
- Spiritual attitudes involve less interest in ‘worldly’ or petty things
- Spiritual things often involve sacredness and ritual
- Spiritual feelings are often associated with awe and the word ‘transcendent’
- Spiritual experiences do not present themselves as about hedonic enjoyment of the experience
- Spirituality is connected with ‘meaning’ and tends to feel deep and significant
- Spirituality tends toward an interest in philosophy, especially metaphysics, especially regarding whether everything is one, the nature of selfhood, the possibility and nature of ‘souls’, the nature of love
- Certain drugs seem to induce spiritual or adjacent states
- Spirituality tends to be fairly positive, in the sense that from a satisfactorily spiritual mental place, one expects the world to seem broadly good or at least compatible with peace
- Spirituality is related to ideas of connecting with something beyond yourself
- Spirituality is sincere
- Spirituality is serious
- Spirituality is normative
- I suspect that from a spiritual vantage, this list might seem like a mundane missing of the point
Why are people into spirituality? Why is it a kind of thing that humans can experience? Why is it a thing they experience so much?