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Spirituality and its discontents – Part 2

Note: I will be using the word ‘Spirituality’ in the sense that is explained in the first post.

Previously, we looked at the causal problems with Spirituality, on how it doesn’t come close to providing a honest path to establish knowledge, and in turn encourages magical thinking on the followers. Now, let us look at the Moral issues with Spirituality, mainly the general consequences of following such practice that is not rooted in a realistic idea of the world.

 

1. Magical thinking = false hope

One of the prerequisites to become a practitioner is to accept your guru, or the method. It means that, you take off your thinking cap, and take at face-value whatever the Spiritualist tells you. People ask others to do this whenever their claims are expected to be taken with disbelief. So, essentially the guru asks you to take such things at face-value about which you would otherwise be skeptical.

With this style of magical thinking, Spirituality claims to offer a lot on your plate – worldly and otherworldly. Worldly offers include building confidence, relationships, making friends, influencing people, overcoming stress, enjoying sex or abstain from sex (depending on your religious beliefs), and so on. Otherworldly offers go into ideas like interpreting your dreams, becoming one with the universe or finding your place in it, understanding your previous births, building up good karma for your next birth, talk to deceased friends and family, and so on.

Even if you confine yourselves to the worldly benefits spirituality offers, the road to acquiring these is paved with the quackery your guru preaches, and the only reason it should work is because your guru says so. Any belief in your guru comes only when you have a hope in what’s being told to you. This hope doesn’t come out of reason and logic, but on the mere words of the guru which you should take at face value, even if your thinking cap says otherwise. And this hope should extend to all the benefits from confidence building to becoming one with the universe. If this is not false hope, then what else do you think constitutes false hope?

 

2. Spirituality makes ignorance a virtue

Another hallmark of spiritual practice is willful obscurantism. Spirituality is probably the only system which, on one hand claiming to provide knowledge, encourages the seeker to restrict her knowledge and stop using logic, on the other. And gurus preach this as some sort of virtue, to worship the mysterious things in the world, and provide an explanation that’s even more mysterious.

The problem with this is that, ignorance is not really universal, i.e., just because you feel something is mysterious doesn’t mean it remains mysterious and cannot be understood. In other words, reality is out there, and whether we are aware of it or not reflects our ignorance or knowledge, and our understanding of things don’t affect reality in any way.

In the words of physicist ET Jaynes,

If you were ignorant about a phenomenon, that was a fact about your own state of mind, not a fact about the phenomenon itself; that your uncertainty was a fact about you, not a fact about whatever you were uncertain about; that ignorance existed in the mind, not in reality; that a blank map did not correspond to a blank territory. There were mysterious questions, but a mysterious answer was a contradiction in terms. A phenomenon could be mysterious to some particular person, but there could be no phenomena mysterious of themselves. To worship a sacred mystery was just to worship your own ignorance.

One should always be wary of reality, with a fear of the idea that their beliefs may contradict with it, and make sure they have decreasingly fewer wrong beliefs and increasingly correct beliefs.

So, ignorance is not a virtue as generally preached in spirituality. It’s something that one needs to get rid of, on a priority basis. In my opinion, this is the most dangerous feature in spirituality, which affects everyone.

 

3. Spirituality peddles pseudoscience

Almost all spiritual practices are framed as science, and if your guru can dare, better than science. Practitioners typically claim they were skeptical about the tradition but were convinced by evidence and experience. And you’re encouraged to follow it based on their anecdotal evidence and experience. Well, the only thing lacking here is credibility. As we observed in the previous post, almost every spiritual practice relies on the ‘Inner-Energy’ humans possess, for no apparent reason, which cannot be detected by anything or anyone except for your guru. And to boost this ‘energy’, your guru may ask you to buy beads, exotic rudraskhas, japamalas, crystal balls and other new-age merchandise. Or you may be presented with alternative health-style products like food additives, ayurvedic ‘medicines’, body lotions, soaps and shampoos. Some gurus also offer healing services with their unquestionable authority and wisdom.

This is all done with a spiteful attitude towards science and reason, and is a wasteful expenditure of your time, money and energy (the measurable energy, not the one your guru talks about)

 

Conclusion

It is uncontroversial to say that as humans, we look to feel a sense of awe, wonder and inspiration around us. We find them in nature, society and everyday experience. On the other hand, we also seek patterns everywhere, and convince ourselves of them where they may be none. We are mystified by the stars, sun and moon and try to bring them into our stories making them our companions. Our sense of creativity goes to the extent of assigning purposes to the most random events happening, to fit our satisfaction.

However, humans are also predisposed with a capacity to think, and to think rationally when it is done slowly and methodically. We have advanced from the dark and middle ages and are reaching beyond earth in our presence. A touch of reality will make our sense of awe, wonder and inspiration much more meaningful and less harmful to us and others around us.

Measurable energy is more interesting than inner-energy, and workout plans are more goal-oriented than yoga. Understanding psychology is more useful to understand people than dogmatic meditation practices and rational decision-making is any day better than relying on karma.

Reality provides a profound source of understanding one’s purpose and meaning of life with an emotional and intellectual exploration, and wishful thinking prohibits it in its very sense of purpose and utility.

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