The Spiritual Brain
Why do we seek spirituality and religiousness?
The common practice today when discussing religion, meditation, eastern philosophy, or various self-reflective practices leads to a discussion of what it is to be “spiritual.” Usually, these discussions lead to a conversation about how someone experiences the presence of God or experiencing an inner peace that transcends the physical experience.
Could these experiences have a purpose?
Why are our brains capable of this concept of spirituality?
Spirituality and Religiousness
Now, when the discussion of spirituality arises, the topic of religion soon follows. For the purpose of this discussion, we need to put forward a separation of the two concepts: spirituality and religiousness.
We can define the concept of spirituality as the subjective experience of an individual. In the process of seeking spirituality, we experience various feelings, thoughts, emotions, experiences, perspectives, and behaviors that lead us towards an understanding of the world, ourselves, and our place in it.
So maybe here today, think of spirituality as the individuals' journey into understanding themselves.
I’ve defined spirituality here as a sort of process. This process involves searching into yourself to identify, articulate, or maybe transform those thoughts, feelings, perspectives, and emotions you identify with. This idea of “searching” can be unique for various individuals.
Ask yourself, how have you engaged with your search for spirituality?
Let’s consider religiousness and the separation of spirituality with this concept.
With the concept of religiousness, a discussion of ‘what is sacred’ often arises. Typically, the idea behind sacred is making the claim for what is the ultimate truth or ultimate reality.
Now, religiousness can come with many various thoughts, interpretations, and perspectives in relation to what it is ‘to be religious.’ But here, I’ll consider it a search for those sacred goals.
The religiousness connection to spirituality is we often find in our pursuit — of those sacred ideas — an understanding of our nonsacred ideals, such as meaning, purpose, identity, and a sense of belonging.
After we’ve concluded our pursuit for religiousness, we often find ourselves within an identifiable group. A group that validates our sacred ultimate truths.
We connect religiousness and spirituality in our thinking about the world.
Reasons for the Spiritual Brain
The phenomena of ‘being religious’ and ‘being spiritual’ are highly complex. It involves the connection of emotions, thoughts, ideas, experiences, and perceptions all organized in some manner within our minds. Thus, we should be able to safely conclude that these thoughts require a highly complex brain to allow for the creation and following of these intricate narratives.
Evolution has helped us understand the emergence of spirituality. Throughout evolution, as our communication became more complex, we begin to see evidence of human spirituality. As we know, evolution tells us that survival drives us.
So what survival value does spirituality have?
Did religion provide our ancestors with an edge?
The short answer, yes.
Religiousness helped create the intricate narratives that a group of humans builds around, thus creating a societal cohesion.
But what is the connection between religion and social cohesion?
Well, the discovery of the temple at Göbekli Tepe provides insight into the possibility that religious beliefs come before the intricate social structures.
Another point to understand is that no major civilization has come without religion—Egypt, Greece, and Indus all had at least one thing in common — the existence of spiritual beliefs.
With the connection of religious beliefs — those sacred beliefs — brought about morals and systems of law for society to follow. Take Christian societies, their religiousness brought about the usage of the Ten Commandments and the bible — rules for society to live by.
And these rules and laws included a base for authority.
These moral codes, authority, and the system of law — using the religiousness narratives — created a sense of social cohesion.
The spirituality of members in society allowed them to make those religious positions uniquely their own. It allowed them to continually recalibrate and match their ideals with those of their societies’ religiousness.
The religiousness—combined with the spirituality of the individual—helped keep society evolving and keep society in a state of control and comfort.
Control, Peace, Order, and Comfort
Now, let’s keep that thought of control and comfort. Humans want to avoid a state of danger, chaos, violence, and conflict. Constantly in a state of disturbance is a stressful life to live, one with a lot of suffering and little happiness.
You see, in the state of nature, death is always lurking around the corner for humans. The state of nature left our ancestors in a constant state of danger, chaos, violence, and conflict. They needed something to bring them to a life with less chaos and more peace to help their chances of survival. The answer? Our fellow humans.
For one, religiousness and spirituality provided a coping mechanism for death. As humans, we can see our coming death — this can leave us in those unpeaceful states of worry, inner conflict, and vulnerability. So we needed something to bring us back towards a state of peace.
Religiousness and spirituality came in with some comforting answers to life's problems.
Then we had the need for the brainpower of our fellow humans. And religion became a building block for the social communication necessary to work together.
For agricultural-based societies, you had religious beliefs based around the seasons to bring fortune upon the coming harvest.
Hunter and gather tribes would draw images of a successful hunt on the walls to bring their hopes and dreams into reality.
And then you had the concepts of morality that tell society what one ought to do.
Our ancestors’ use of religiousness and spirituality projected upon everything a sense of meaning. This created the choiceless cohesion for humans to act in harmony by following their sacred truths by using what their religiousness and spirituality brought them too.
All of this created a sense of social order. Now, sometimes that social order was only perceived and not based in reality. As praying to the God’s for good rainfall did not mean the universe would comply. But the purpose of maintaining a sense of peace and order was to allow individuals to share in their narratives that brought their reality into a more constant state of peace.
A worried mind is one less adept for survival. A controlled mind is one at the ready to keep moving onward and ultimately better equipt for survival.
And that’s exactly what our minds continue to work towards today: The Spiritual Brain.