Posted by: Harold Knight | 02/04/2011

”. . . all holy systems for obtaining enlightenment are bunk. . .”

Some habits are tragic (I know all about having a daily new quart of vodka in the freezer to avoid polluting it with ice). Some habits are a nuisance. Some habits are silly (I won’t embarrass myself my telling any of mine because you have them, too). 

Most habits can be jettisoned if they need to be (I haven’t had a quart of vodka in my freezer for twenty-four years). But some seem to be life-long, perhaps even genetic. I have been thinking a lot lately about the habit of praying, of thinking there’s something bigger than I am to whom I can address concerns, desires, joys. There’s an enormous amount of psychological and neurological literature these days on the locus in the brain of the need/desire/instinct for religious belief and expression— something vaguely referred to as “spirituality.” And that need/desire/instinct can pull us together into groups expressing that need/desire/instinct in similar forms. 

The socially grounded affiliation that can bind together members of a religious group has a counterpart in analogous behavior among lower primates. Monkeys experience behavioral and physiological consequences similar to human depressive states when subjected to prolonged separation from their agelings. The affected monkeys were found to be rehabilitated either by association with appropriate members of their species or by physiologically grounded treatment with a tricyclic antidepressant (1). 

Is that great, or what? Our “socially grounded affiliation” with our religious community is reflected in the socially grounded affiliation of—of what?—in monkeys. Do monkeys have religion? 

I know a (perhaps apocryphal) story about Flannery O’Connor’s writing process.  O’Connor wanted to write her first sex scene (she never did), and had prepared for it in “Good Country People.” Hulga, the one-legged bride-to-be, and Manley, the Bible-salesman groom-to-be, are in the hay loft ready to make love. Earlier in the manuscript, O’Connor, it is said, had scrawled in the margin, “My God, He’s going to steal the leg!” She didn’t know when she started where the story would end up. My guess is at least the last part of the legend is true. She did not know. 

For a fiction writer not to know where the writing will end up is necessary. The story is a surprise, but it happens as it does because of the inner coherence of the characters. It has to go that way. 

I’m not sure if what I write here is fiction or non-fiction. You can decide. At least it happens the way a good story-teller’s work does, without much clue at the outset where it will end up. This writing definitely falls into that category. I have only the vaguest idea where it’s headed. I know perfectly well how to be logical. I simply don’t have time to bother. 

Give me that old time religion

Give me that old time religion

I’m continuing my random thinking about “spirituality.” I use that word in quotation marks to indicate I’m using it as itself, a word, not as a concept. I’ve pretty much given up on the concept because it has taken over where religion left off, and has become—as far as I can tell—a buzzword that means pretty much nothing. 

Because I know something about bad habits (addictions), and because I hear a great deal of conversation about “spirituality” in reference to addictions, I thought I’d do some research using “spirituality” and “addiction” as keywords in data base searches. (That’s my personal form of electronic gaming—searching data bases.) 

So here’s the first bit of information. “Spirituality” doesn’t appear in the King James Bible. “Spiritual” appears 28 times, all but one in the New Testament—so one can assume it’s from the Greek—all referring directly to Christian doctrine, easy to define. 

“Spirituality” is not a “religious” term. 

A group of British psychologists searched the medical psychological data bases in 2004 using “spirituality” and “addiction” as keywords. The earliest scholarly paper they found with those words was from 1922. They found that 

One other paper is identifiable in the same database from the same decade, three papers are  identifiable from the 1930s, four from the 1940s, three from the 1960s and 14 from the 1970s. . . In total, from 1922 to 2001, 3231 papers with spirituality as a keyword were identified on the PsycINFO database and 694 were identified on the MEDLINE database. No publications on addiction and spirituality were identified by any means as being published prior to 1981. A total of 265 publications were identified from 1981 to 2001. (2) 

Obviously the treatment of addiction is getting more and more “spiritual” by the year. 

Christopher Cook and his associates did some pretty heavy lifting in the compilation department and ferreted out from all those articles the first attempt at a definition of “spirituality” I’ve seen. Their findings: 

Thirteen conceptual components of the definitions and descriptions of spirituality were identified. These were concerned with:

• Relatedness: interpersonal relationships
• Transcendence: recognition of a transcendent dimension to life
• Humanity: the distinctiveness of humanity
• Core/force/soul: the inner ‘core’, ‘force’ or ‘soul’ of a person
• Meaning/purpose: meaning and purpose in life
• Authenticity/truth: authenticity and truth
• Values: values, importance and worth
• Non-materiality: opposition of the spiritual to the material
• (Non)religiousness: opposition of spirituality to, or identity with, religion
• Wholeness: holistic wellness,  wholeness or health
• Self-knowledge: self-knowledge and self-actualization
• Creativity: creativity of the human agent
• Consciousness: consciousness and awareness (3) 

I’m working on a minority report. I wonder about these thirteen (how would Wallace Stevens react: “Thirteen ways of looking at a blackbird”?) aspects of “spirituality.” 

Jiddu Krishnamurti always insisted that there was no path involved in spiritual or mystical transcendence. . . it was his ‘‘natural’’ process. . . that seemed to lead him to a state of genuine embodied mysticism or enlightenment. U.G. Krishnamurti (no relation. . .) describes an involuntary process. . .  [of] embodied mysticism. We might also call it the natural state, the state of the body that has somehow purged itself of millennia of distorting, illness-making thought and neurotic desire . . . Both Krishnamurtis have been critical of efforts to reach such states and the self-deceit of many that one has reached them. U.G. says that ‘‘all holy systems for obtaining enlightenment are bunk . . .” (4).

. . .no path involved in spiritual or mystical transcendence

. . .no path involved in spiritual or mystical transcendence

 Now there’s a shocking statement. ‘‘All holy systems for obtaining enlightenment are bunk . . .”  

Modern mysticism. . . was a religious construct primarily made by seekers for seekers . . .  It was a small step from all these seekers of mysticism at the turn of the twentieth century to all those questers after spirituality a century later. When Thomas Kelly. . . remarked in 1940 that “we are all seekers”. . . he looked back across a century of modern writers on mysticism who pointed the way toward a culture ever desirous of an elusive spirituality (5). 

Ever desirous of an elusive spirituality. All holy systems are bunk  habit. ______________________________
(1) Galanter, Marc. “Spirituality and Addiction: A Research and Clinical Perspective.” American Journal on Addictions 15.4 (2006): 286-292. (2) Cook, Christopher C. H. “Addiction and spirituality.” Addiction 99.5 (2004): 539-551. (3) Ibid. (4) Feltham, Colin. “Here comes everybody: Multicultural perspectives on the body in counselling, psychotherapy and mysticism.” Counselling Psychology Quarterly 21.2 (June 2008): 133–142. (5) Schmidt, Leigh Eric. “The Making of Modern ‘Mysticism’.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 71.2 (2003): 273


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