Spirituality and Its Discontents
“What is Truth? What is the dogma society follows and wants me to follow?”
“What is Normal?”
“This area of my life needs to change, and I need to be the one that changes it.”
(As an extant belief in psychology) “psychosis is an altered state of mind, some go so far as to say it is a gift.”
“Spiritual emergencies: awakening becomes overwhelming…moments that force us inward.”
“Transpersonal states; rational becomes replaced with the more mystical”
“Ego relies upon the rational mind”
“Transpersonal experiences are the way the mind creates its own reality — psychosomatic”
“People want authenticity”
“Stop shaming altered states of mind.”
Spirituality has a bad reputation in many circles, especially when it involves itself in politics, economics, or other aspects of society. The rationale for this reputation is simple: spirituality and religion are subjective. Our problem with religion might even stem from a problem the German psychologist Sigmund Freud had with religion. He believed that religion was a tool used to deceive a society, offering to mask reality behind a wall of illusion that would cause a person to withdraw from the world. Concerning religion, he noted:
“It imposes equally on everyone its own path to the acquisition of happiness and protection from suffering. Its technique consists in depressing the value of life and distorting the picture of the real world in a delusional manner — which presupposes an intimidation of the intelligence. At this price, by forcibly fixing them in a state of psychical infantilism and drawing them into a mass-delusion, religion succeeds in sparing many people an individual neurosis. But hardly anything more.”
Freud was obviously not religious. He thought that religion fixated the minds of believers on the stern protection of the father, and through this that it would lead to psychological stagnation. This protection came by condition of following the dictates of the religion, and those who followed them would be protected by God (the Father, according to Freud). Freud believed that a person must assert independence from their Father to have a fully formed concept of themselves, and to fail to assert this independence would lead to neurosis. This is patently absurd, considering what we know today. Freud also assumed a male god, that this god would be the Christian god, and that all religions enforced their beliefs. These are also naïve.
The question we ought to ask is what exactly it means to be spiritual. However, it is much more important to question what we believe about religion, rather than what we believe as religion. It seems logical to state that what a person believes about religion will affect how religious (or spiritual) they are. It will also affect how they relate to the religious community, whether they are a member of a church, whether they practice all parts of the religion or only some. This means we have to examine the way they are socialized, by whom, and where.
Here we arrive at an insurmountable problem. Let’s turn to the quotes I listed at the beginning of the article, and lay down a groundwork. To get to the point, we have to examine the world, and all the ways we talk about spirituality to understand the spiritual, to speak about it at all. Spirituality is a lens that allows us to interpret the world, formulating and “correcting” shapes into things we can understand. We have to turn the lens of spirituality back on to the person who is spiritual, and watch as it interprets and deconstructs itself.