Recently I had an essay rejected by the Spiritual Naturalist Society because the powers-that-be there, where I've become a regular contributor (for now...), didn't think that being politically active, in the sense of being involved in public policy debates, was a "spiritual" practice.
(See my post, Naturalism needs to rule public policy debates.)
This got me to thinking, again, about what that problematic word, spiritual, means. Most people, along with the dictionary, consider that it mostly refers to something supernatural, other-worldly, divine.
But how does a naturalist, someone who only considers the material world to be real, differentiate between what is spiritual and what isn't?
Back in 2008, in What does it mean to be "spiritual"?, I quoted Andre Comte-Sponville, the author of "The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality." His answer made generally good sense to me then, and still does.
Taken in its broadest sense, spirituality can be said to include virtually all aspects of human life and spiritual is more or less synonymous with "mental" or "psychic." Today, this use of the word has pretty much gone out of use, and when people talk about spirituality, they are usually referring to a rather limited part of our inner life (though it may contemplate limitlessness) – the part that involves the absolute, the infinite and the eternal. It is, in a sense, the spirit's farthermost point and its greatest amplitude.
So if "spirit" refers to mental, which tends to be my leaning, there isn't anything in human awareness or experience that isn't spiritual. And that obviously includes political activism.
Restricting "spiritual" to mean only the farthest limits of material existence, a contemplation of the vast extent (maybe eternal) of time and space, that strikes me as unduly restrictive.
Can't I be spiritual while I'm raking leaves, writing a blog post, drinking wine, walking the dog around a nearby lake, testifying at a city council meeting, enjoying nature, or doing any number of other everyday things?
If so, what makes some of these everyday things "spiritual" and other things "unspiritual"? This was the question I posed to folks in the Spiritual Naturalist Society in some emails after my essay was rejected for publication on their web site.
Well, I'm open to other arguments.
I just haven't come across any convincing ones yet that would make me think that a naturalistic/atheist spirituality has to be restricted to only certain aspects of human experience.
Here's other blog posts I've written on this always-intriguing subject, some of which may contradict what I've said here, since I really am unsure what "spiritual" means for a materialist.
Spirituality is experienced, not proven
"Spiritual" and "Science" -- two words that belong together
A secular Easter thought: "spiritual" isn't supernatural or religious
I'm churchless. And as "spiritual" as ever.
Real spirituality is realizing you aren't a soul, or self
Step out of the separate self, and you're spiritual