Spirituality and American Philosophy

Jeff Carreira Blog Posts 19 Comments

Ok so here is where I start getting myself into trouble…

I want to open up the question of spirituality. And I think that question can be raised as, “Given our scientific understanding of reality, is there any validity to “spirituality?”

Before I start to explore this question directly I wanted to present a little bit about the significance of it in American philosophy. Part of this nation’s heritage is its strong religious character. Many of the people that originally settled America were driven to endure the hardship of entering the “New World” because of a desire to escape religious persecution and practice their faith freely.

If we examine this in regards to the larger cultural movements of the Western World at the time, we can see a direct connection with the rise of reason during the Age of Enlightenment. In Europe the new ideas of the Enlightenment were undercutting the authority of the church as the vanguard for truth and wisdom. Human beings were recognizing that they had the power to reason and to understand the world directly without the intervention of God, scripture or clergy. An understanding of the free and autonomous nature of the individual was beginning to rise in human consciousness. The Protestant Reformation further undercut the authority of the Catholic Church and began a movement to remove the religious hierarchy from the position of being intermediaries to God and give individuals their own direct connection to spirit. During these times of upheaval many religious believers found themselves under attack and saw The New World as a haven for their free worship. Freedom of religion is one of the fundamental convictions upon which this nation’s character rests.

Jonathan Edwards is a fascinating intellectual character in the development of American philosophy, although often misunderstood or dismissed, particularly by those who are not of an evangelic leaning. Edwards was born in Connecticut and came of age during the early decades of the 18th century. He was educated at Yale College and became a minister and eventually became the president of Princeton College before his untimely death. As a young man he underwent a spiritual conversion that brought him to closer connection to God. His duty as a minister was to lead the church in Northampton, Massachusetts. 

In 1735 his church congregation experienced a collective religious revival which for five months brought the entire congregation to a higher and deeper connection with God. Edwards wrote extensively about what was happening and similar awakenings occurred in other New England congregations. Eventually this revival would spread throughout the colonies and earn the name The Great Awakening.

Edwards is revered as the founding father of American Evangelical Revivalism. And, a century later during the time of Ralph Waldo Emerson, his books and sermons were used to guide a second period of great revival that became known as The Second Great Awakening. Beyond Evangelical faith, Edwards and his sky rocketing popularity had a lasting affect on the religious attitudes of all Americans.

You see, Edwards had witnessed the awakening of his congregation disintegrate as many whom he thought had been radically altered by spirit showed overtime to be still motivated by selfishness. Edwards felt it was critical to understand the difference between True Religion, which was catalyzed by a “supernatural love for the unseen,” and false. He wanted to understand the hallmarks of true conversion that would lead to lasting changes in a person’s fundamental motive for living. He was well versed in scripture, but also well read of enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke and David Hume and he brought the power of his own great intellect to create an intellectually rigorous argument for the value and properties of authentic spiritual transformation. The most general legacy of Jonathan Edwards on the American attitude toward spirituality is in his belief in the possibility of true and lasting conversion. To him True Religion was the religion that convinced you emotionally as well as intellectually of its own validity. Once this conviction was achieved, the will would bend to the new higher principles that had awakened in the heard and mind of the converted.

Edwards was working in a strictly Christian context, but his ideas have propagated into the mainstream of American thinking in ways that Edwards couldn’t have predicted and probably wouldn’t have approved of. American’s still largely see faith as a matter of personal conversion in the sense that the degree of ones religious conviction is measured by the strength with which that religion has captured his heart and mind and led to a life altered in motive and action. As I proceed to think about the role of spirituality in American philosophy and even more fundamentally if it has a role, I will have in mind this Edwardian sentiment – that True Religion has to convince you in heart and mind and lead to an altered life guided by higher principles.

Image

The Mystery School for a New Paradigm

Members Circle
Ongoing guidance and support for those who feel called to share their deepest wisdom and live a vibrant and profoundly inspired spiritual life.
Become a member
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
19 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brian
Brian
11 years ago

Make that T-R-O-U-B-L-E! Welcome back Jeff!

To help me follow along please describe “spirituality.”

Is it like this:
Spirituality is to rationality,
as emotions are to the intellect,
as heart is to mind?

Does it leave room for passionate rationality?
Can spirituality be without magic?

Do tell!

Brian

Tony
11 years ago

ok … for example

1) religion

10 ) science ~ rationality

100 ) love ~ compassion ~ spirituality

1000) a co-created self-dissolved mysticism

~ ~ ~ when asking questions be aware of confusing categories ~ ~ ~

Mette Mollerhoj
Mette Mollerhoj
11 years ago

In wikipedia the first sentences about “spirituality” is: “Not to be confused with Spiritualism. Spirituality is matters of the spirit, a concept often (but not necessarily) tied to a spirit world, a multidimensional reality and one or more deities. Spiritual matters regard humankind’s ultimate nature and purpose, not as material biological organisms, but as spirits or energy with an eternal relationship beyond the bodily senses, time and the material world. ” But it is also clear in wikipedia that there are many traditions connected to different understandings of the word. Even to translate it is a problem, in danish we… Read more »

Shizuka
Shizuka
11 years ago

Issue1:Some one have to prove scientifically regarding “the evolution of the interior and the exterior of the universe as always occurring simultaneously”. Issue2:Even we recognize the exterior of the universe as a whole system has a predilection for order and perfection and we are being integrated into one interactive, interfeeling body by the same force of evolution that drew atom to atom and cell with our rationality,we still live our life to see ourselves and the world as the deficiency is the default way of the world(victim). So far ,no superior solution than Agape-Selfless love “True Religion has to convince… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
11 years ago

Thank you for all of your comments. It is great to be engaged again in this investigation. I want to try to start with a definition of spirituality that anyone can agree to….coming up with it will be the trick. My initially thinking is that it has to include to elements. 1. spirituality has an inherent obligation to live in accordance with it. 2. That it involves a belief in some intelligence or power that is higher than that of the human abitlity to reason in the conventional sense. But give me a little more time to think about it… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

What I have learned is that thought creates life. So, where does that leave Spirituality? Why does spirituality have to play any part in life? Why does a person need to be spiritual in life? What you think, you create. With that said, be careful what you think and were you allow your attention to go for it will all come back to you. You do not need a god, prophet, or spirit to live a good life. You just need to be aware of what you think and were you are putting your attention, and then ask yourself do… Read more »

Mark
Mark
11 years ago

These blogs are so down-to-earth and at the same time focused on grasping and grappling with some of the most intangible, sublime and controversial ideas. A truly integral dialogue this is, complimented with “evolutionary friction” by each of you who cares. I’m grateful for this virtual interface that you’re leading, Jeff… Lisa, with all due respect, I think you’ve missed the mark, at least a large portion of it. I’d like to engage in this exploration of the definition of Spirituality more in depth, as I’ve been following these blogs/correspondences, but not engaging directly. Jeff, with my heart and mind… Read more »

David Noel Lynch
David Noel Lynch
11 years ago

Semantics is the problem. The word scientific is too loosely used by most people. The scientific method is a strict process, Hypothesis, Experiment, Data, Conclusion. Under these constraints, science is the analysis of, “Data”, or past events. Thus a scientific understanding of reality is a misnomer. So-called reality is created by each individual in an attempt to come to terms with the fractalized impressions received by our senses from the monstrosity that is known as the moment. The moment is a culmination of all the past’s events and all the future’s potential events, and is far outside the grasp of… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

This is a conscious universe mirroring back to us our thoughts. I suppose if you have a thought about what spirituality means to you, it would be mirrored back to you. If that makes you more fulfilled in life, than that is good. But, not necessary to have an enjoyable life. I still use the word god in my prayers, and spirituality is in my vocabulary, because it is what I was brought up to say. But, is it necessary to have a belief in these things to live a happy and joyous life? No. These words provoke a certain… Read more »

Mette Mollerhoj
Mette Mollerhoj
11 years ago

Dear David, I think it is very important to discuss those things, even though we may not all agree. I think that semantics is something we always have to work with when we are discussing difficult topics, especially if we want to change some understandings. But it is not all. If we are very serious – deathly serious – , we trust science, right? We would rather go with an airplane that is recommended by a scientist than by a speculative philosopher… wouldn’ t we? We have a basic trust in them when it really counts. The problem is that… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

–try to tell a hungry african child that he or she just have to think possitive… that doesn’ t seem fair or right to me.– I am not sure if I understand you correctly. Not telling hungry people they have power over their lives by thinking thoughts that create a life with food and clean water instead of thinking thoughts of “what is” will not help them? This is a Universe that mirrors back to us our thoughts. This gives humans power to create a beautiful life for themselves or a life of strife and struggle. To me, this is… Read more »

Mette Mollerhoj
Mette Mollerhoj
11 years ago

Dear Lisa I didn’ t mean to take away the possibility for poor people to think positive. I just think that some newage thinkers make it sound too easy to change circumstances like that. It also made a deep impression on me reading about the integral philisopher Ken Wilber, who I think is one of the most clever spiritual thinkers today, how he had to deal with many spiritual peoples strange views when his wife had cancer, like any disease was grounded in something she did wrong… reminding me of people suffering from leprosy in the old times of evil… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

Creating a life of joy isn’t about using only positive thoughts. It is about using your words correctly to create a life of joy. About the cancer and getting hit by a car, I have a theory about that. We are born with our parent’s most dominant thoughts in our DNA. Parents and other caregivers did most of our thinking for us as we were growing up. Their thoughts are in our DNA. This is were our beliefs and conditions come from that we live our life by, and get cancer from, and get hit by cars and would die… Read more »

Mette Mollerhoj
Mette Mollerhoj
11 years ago

Thank you for your honest story and I admire your positive attitude.
Im not sure about making cosmic laws about it though. I will think more about it.

Carl
11 years ago

What a diverse set of responses to Jeff’s post! One thought, following the semantic stream of the conversation, is that the word “spirit” or “spirituality” seems to lead in an inherently dualistic direction, the distinction that has in many ways crippled western religion and philosophy since the Greeks. If there is only one Being, one Substance, one Thing or Process as discovered through the direct experience of practitioners and those lucky enough to have been granted big openings of awareness or Awakening, then the Platonic distinction between matter and form that ultimately influenced Christianity and western thinking seems really out… Read more »

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

or stop using the word?

Carl
11 years ago

Brian, I think I agree. We have used this term in the last few decades to distinguish it from “religion” which is “old.” But my sense is that the term spirituality has served its purpose and we need something free of its dualistic baggage. It’s a great word until you kind of drill down and find all the implied meanings and associations that might not be what we are talking about.

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

Hi Jeff, -that True Religion has to convince you in heart and mind and lead to an altered life guided by higher principles.- I have a theory about this. I have experienced out of this world supernatural events. When I came back down to earth several weeks later, I was profoundly changed in my character. Then I had to go back to work were no one else had an out of this world experience such as I did to gauge their life through. I became very sensitive to how people treat each other. The manipulation of power by people over… Read more »

Frank Luke
10 years ago

Hi Jeff and all, re: 1. spirituality has an inherent obligation to live in accordance with it. 2. That it involves a belief in some intelligence or power that is higher than that of the human abitlity to reason in the conventional sense. ______________ I like what you point out in point 1, and the hypocirisy of any lack of doing so shows the cracks in that kind of belief. I will not dispute any belief in higher powers but will submit that Perennial Wisdom (whether derived from higher power of simply the higher power of humanity’s collective ability to… Read more »