During my religious believing days -- well, 35 years actually -- I'd frequently hear people talk about "We are spiritual beings having a human experience, not human beings having a spiritual experience."
That quote came from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French philosopher and Jesuit priest. So it isn't surprising that he'd have such a dualistic attitude, with our bodily existence as humans just being a step on the way toward a supernatural experience as a spiritual being.
But early on in my churchless evolution, I realized that it makes no sense to view myself in that way. So if I had to describe my current approach to life, it would be that I'm a human being having a human experience.
Which isn't exactly an astounding observation. It's obvious, clear for both me and everyone else to see in their own lives. However, religions specialize in making what's simple and obvious, complex and indistinct.
In 2010 I wrote "Religions are wrong about self-realization."
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience."
Well, that's highly doubtful.
Yet even if it were true, every human being who has any sort of experience is accomplishing this via a physical brain that, as noted in a quote above, processes most of what we come to be aware of outside of conscious awareness.
And what's much more likely is that we indeed are "only animals" who have evolved an ability to think of ourselves as having passed beyond our animal nature. This is belied, however, by the neuroscientific understanding of the brain's primitive parts.
Admittedly, the triune brain theory (reptilian, ancient mammalian, modern human) has been superseded by more accurate and sophisticated models. But the fact remains that whatever our "self" may be, it isn't something simple, obvious, supernatural, or transparently evident to awareness.
So this makes traditional religious/spiritual notions of self-realization laughably out of touch with reality. Whatever we are, it isn't what we intuitively consider ourselves to be -- often with ridiculously excessive confidence.
If somebody claims to be self-realized, or says he knows how this can be achieved, ask him to show you a "self." He won't be able to do it, just as no supposedly God-realized person ever has been able to demonstrate the existence of a "God."
And in 2013 I wrote "Be a real actual body, not an imagined abstract soul."
What are we? Ah, there's an ageless question. Matter? Energy? Mind? Spirit? Soul? A combination?
As noted in a post from a few years back, "Feeling the spirit... via body or soul?," I used to believe that our true nature was non-material soul-consciousness. After I died, or maybe before if my meditation bore fruit, I'd soar into a spiritual realm of existence and enjoy a soulful (literally) existence.
Yet where is the evidence for this? Nowhere. Except in the minds of people who believe this sort of stuff -- which seemingly includes the majority of the world's population, given how popular supernatural religiosity is.
(Though traditional Christianity taught that resurrection of the faithful was a bodily affair, I've seen surveys that indicate most Christians today think their soul will go to heaven after death and spend quality time with God, Jesus, departed relatives, and other souls who won the Salvation Lottery.)
One reason I've switched to embracing my bodily nature a lot more enthusiastically than I did in my churched days is this:
For me, living in my head, surrounded by abstract conceptions, isn't anywhere near as satisfying as dwelling in the physical world -- immersed in real live sensations and perceptions. This was the theme of a recent post, "To be 'spiritual,' get physical."
In other words, all our notions about divinity, spirituality, the supernatural, soul, spirit, angels, and such derive from our experience as physical beings in a physical world.
If someone has a vision of God, that vision was processed through a physical brain and body. If someone writes a holy book, that writing was produced by a physical brain and body. If someone speaks about what lies beyond the material world, their speaking came from a physical brain and body.
Religious people are physical beings pretending to have a spiritual experience. Wisdom lies in seeing through this pretension. Genuine "spirituality" is achieved by being honestly physical.
Amen (secular version) to what I said back then, and believe even more strongly now. I feel a great sense of relief being what I so obviously am: a human having a human experience. Just like everybody else in the world, no matter if they wrongly believe otherwise.
Beneath all our differences; beneath all our political, religious, and other divisions; beneath all our widely varying views about what makes life meaningful -- there's the common denominator of our shared humanity.
In one sense, none of us is anything special. Yet in another sense, we're all marvelously special. Each of us is a physical being in a physical world, sharing that being'ness with all of the other living creatures on our planet, which, given our current knowledge of the cosmos, is the only place life exists that we're aware of.
Beautiful. Inspiring. Unifying. It's what I see John Lennon talking about in the secular/atheist songs he wrote.