“True spirituality does not contradict science.”—Carl McColman
I agree, and I think even atheists like Sam Harris would also, although definitions likely will differ.
For me, true spirituality is the most fundamental quality of being human, of subjective consciousness, of awareness of self, mind, being, life, and reality. It is awareness of Spirit, which I perceive to be the energy that is flowing through all things, all beings, including ourselves. It is this seemingly impossible phenomenon of the cosmos coming to know itself through us, as in a mirror. It is reality somehow waking up to itself, to its own nature.
This definition begins to touch mysticism, but I think true spirituality is mystical. Spirituality too often becomes institutionally religious and formalized, but this seems to unfortunately often lead it away from the mystical. It can become stiff, rigid, dogmatic, certain, structured, hierarchical, lifeless, formulaic, rote, literal, pseudoscientific, fundamentalist, even boring. That is not Spirit!
I see the Spirit as energy, life, being, creativity, change, progress, light, fire, emotion, passion, intensity, silence, activity, movement, feeling, love, compassion, inclusion, wonder, awe, transcendence, sacred, union, Oneness, cooperation, ecstasy, joy, peace, selflessness.
And this does not contradict science, but often finds many correlations in science, in the discovery of the nature of the world that we not only live in, but that we are ourselves. We think the cosmos is something separate from us, but we have found that nearly all the elements of our bodies were fused in the cores of stars, perhaps even a single star, billions of years ago. How could we be separate from it all? We are It. We are One. We are that Singularity, expressions of it, perhaps even residing in it still!
We are the “Light of the Kosmos,” in both spiritual and scientific ways. The elements of our bodies have been so organized as to be able to allow the cosmos to consciously reflect on itself. This is the miracle of Spirit, of Consciousness, which even Sam Harris agrees is worthy of being called a “miracle.” Although he wouldn’t also call it God, I would.
I think it is the God we have been pointing to all along, but this deeper mystical spirituality has generally been lost to most of humanity today, even in the religions. I think it is slowly now being restored, and yet it seems to be the nature of almost all religions to deny it and resist it.
I’ve noted that it seems that there is a natural tension between religion and mysticism. Religion acts as a mediator between people and God, but mysticism goes straight to the Source. As Rabbi Lawrence Kushner has said, “The minute mysticism becomes permissible, acceptable, possible, it’s an immediate threat to organized religious structures. Because what mysticism does is it gives everybody direct unmediated personal access to God.”
And so religion and mysticism are in tension, often at odds with each other, often bouncing back and forth between these two polarities over time. The key is to find a middle way, a balance of structure and spontaneity, of order and life, of guidance and openness, of knowing and unknowing.
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True spirituality will always be compatible with the true discoveries of science, it’s just the one usually focuses on the realities of our inward life, and the other on the realities of the external world. Mysticism can bridge the gap and see these two realities as really One. When the immaterial and material become One, when the spirit and body become One, when the subjective and objective become One, when the mind and matter become One, when self and other become One, when male and female become One, then we will enter the “Kingdom,” a nondual state of mind and being.
Sam Harris has recently said:
And it just so happens that this experience of self-transcendence does link up with what we know about the mind through neuroscience to form a plausible connection between science and classic mysticism, classic spirituality.
What are your thoughts about spirituality and science? Are they at odds? Are they irreconcilable or reconcilable? What areas seem like they are fundamentally incompatible to you? Please share your ideas in the comments, and let’s discuss it together.