Santa Cruz County History - Religion & Spirituality

Santa Cruz Spirituality: Meaning of the term "spirituality"
by Paul Tutwiler

In general

On the title page of this study there is a working definition, that people's spirituality includes the conviction that there is more to the world they live in than what the eye sees, that they themselves can relate to the unseen aspects of it, and in so doing their own being is enhanced. The present section investigates the notion of spirituality and analyses it.

The term spirituality speaks of the attitude or orientation people have toward the whole world. Past common usage often identified spirituality with religiousness, both internal, and, to a lesser extent, external (dedication to practices of this or that religion). Such denotation includes the possibility of as many kinds of spiritualities as there are religions. Currently, however, it is normal to extend the term still further to include the attitude of all those who consider that there is more to the world we live in than what we observe through our bodily senses.

Although it is my experience that all those I talked to about this study as I began it said they knew what we mean by spirituality, I trust that a little more explanation of it will be helpful. I propose the ideas and distinctions in this section as a consistent and multi-faceted explanation of a topic that others may validly and with good reason explain in a somewhat different way, although the substance would be very similar.

To begin with, I wish to make clear what it is that I call "the whole world." In place of that term I would prefer to say "the totality of all there is, whether we know about it or not." This, however, is rather unwieldly, and so I have settled upon the term "whole world," or simply "world" because individuals and communities (local societies) begin by perceiving a very small, immediate reality which is their world. When they become aware that there is something beyond the next village they have to redefine the world as the place they know plus some fringe that is out beyond it, but about which they do not have clear knowledge. As people grow and as societies gain a greater fund of knowledge the known world becomes greater and its edges recede, but the edges are still there, and there remains a not-to-be-neglected fringe which is still part of the whole world.

Several definitions of spirituality can be found in Ursula King, Spirituality and Society in the New Millennium, Brighton, England and Portland, Oregon: Sussex Academic Press, 2001.

  1. "I shall use the word ... to refer to both the belief/awareness that there is some reality more real, more valuable, more important and more extensive than that revealed by science, and to the practices by which people hope to get in touch with this reality. I understand it as rather more personal and individualistic a notion than 'religion' which I generally use to refer to a system of more institutionally embodied beliefs and practices." (King, p. 5. From Linda Woodhead, "Post-Christian Spiritualities" in Religion 23(2), 1993: p. 177.)
  2. "Spirituality expresses a perennial human concern, today often understood as the search for becoming fully human, and that means recognizing the rights of others and striving for an equal dignity and respect for different races, sexes and classes. But it also means to seek something greater outside and beyond the narrow confines of oneself, something or someone who transcends the narrow boundaries of our individual experience and makes us feel linked with a community of others, with a much larger web of life - in fact, with the whole cosmos of which we are all a tiny part." (King, p. 6.)
  3. "Sandra Schneiders speaks of spirituality as 'that dimension of the human subject in virtue of which the person is capable of self-transcending integration in relation to the Ultimate, whatever this Ultimate is for the person in question. In this sense, every human being has a capacity for spirituality or is a spiritual being.'" (King, p. 6. From Sandra Schneiders, "Spirituality as an academic discipline" in Christian Spirituality Bulletin 1(2), Fall 1993: pp. 10-15.)
  4. "For many people, the term spirituality has otherworldly connotations and implies some form of religious discipline. The term is used ... in a broad sense, however, to refer to the ultimate values and meanings in terms of which we live, whether they be otherworldly or very worldly ones, and whether or not we consciously try to increase our commitment to those values and meanings. The term has religious connotations, in that one's ultimate values and meanings reflect some presuppositions as to what is holy, that is, of ultimate importance. But the presupposed holy can be something very worldly, such as power, sexual energy, or success. Spirituality in this broad sense is not an optional quality which we might elect not to have. Everyone embodies a spirituality, even if it be a nihilistic or materialistic spirituality ... spirituality as used here refers to a person's ultimate values and commitments, regardless of their content." (King, pp. 5-6. From David Ray Griffin, ed., Spirituality and Society, Postmodern Visions. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 1988.)

Griffin, in the just cited Spirituality and Society, Postmodern Visions, broadens the base of spirituality to include worldly values, and the validity of this extension for our study needs to be examined. The key to understanding it lies in considering the basis of any spirituality to be a personal belief system. Personal beliefs, the faith of the individual, tie together the facts of the world into a coherent whole.

One form of personal belief system is the ideology, a set of ideas or concepts which explains a wide range of social phenomena and furnishes a basis for dealing with them. Nevertheless, no matter how powerful ideologies are — think of communism or democracy — they are concerned with social action and not with the ultimate question of what value it all has, or why go to all this trouble. Ideologies therefore are not matters of spirituality.

A worldview goes beyond an ideology. It is a perspective on the entirety of human environment and history by which one not only perceives relationships, but also considers the origin and fate of the world. Still, a worldview, if it is entirely a factual matter — if it derives from strict observation and acts only in accordance with rigorously logical conclusions — does not qualify as spiritual, and atheists and proponents of exclusively scientific method would be the first to point this out.

Worldviews, generally, however, and even ideologies, have an element of faith or belief. In a broad sense to have faith, to believe, means that one accepts something as true for reasons other than the evidence of the senses. As we all know, we can believe what people (newspapers, parents, etc.) tell us, we can believe what we "feel" to be correct, and we can believe what we desire to be right. No spirituality need be involved in many beliefs. When, however, a worldview is based on faith there is spirituality. To put it another way, one valid description of spirituality is the possession of a worldview based on faith, the belief that there is something more to the world than human perception reveals.

From experience we know that the "ultimate values and commitments" noted by Griffin more often than not are based not on strict scientific evidence and irrefutable logic, but on beliefs, and so the person who has them can properly be said to have a spirituality. This is shown, for instance, in the case of humanists, who, regardless of their religious stance, extol the greatness of humanity: they have a spirituality at least in the sense that they regard humanity as being greater than the sum of individuals. And this interpretation of humanity is not the finding of a biological, psychological, or sociological laboratory.

The case of atheism is different. Atheists who are willing to sacrifice their lives for another person or for a cause are demonstrating a kind of spirituality that many religious people lack and admire. Still it is quite consistent of atheists to object to being called spiritual even in this extreme case. "Religion — Atheism" in 2005 presents some opinions of theirs on this subject. The reason for their objection is that the choice they are making in their self-sacrifice is one of values: the other person or the cause is more valuable to them than their own lives.

Returning to the notion of faith, one would like to see spirituality grounded in serious, rather than frivolous or tenuous reasons. What perceptions do we humans have that convince us of the reality of a transcendent world or of transcendent values which lie somehow beyond the everyday world of sight, hearing, and so on? How do we justify the faith we have? Shamans and spiritualists have no trouble with this; they are sure that they directly contact the world of spirits.

There also needs to be brought up in this context a modern phenomenon (with, however, ancient roots), the altered states of consciousness produced by chemicals, psychedelic experiences. Some people perceive these as openings to the infinite, realizations of oneness with the universe, transcendences of the self. Whether or not these experiences ought to be called spiritual is a study in itself. For practical purposes, nevertheless, it can be said that if people believe that their psychedelic experiences reveal truth to them, if they are convinced that the drugs enable them to penetrate to the essence of all being, then their experiences deserve to be called spiritual. If, however, they do not associate such values with the experiences, then there is no spirituality involved.

Unlike shamans, spiritualists, or persons who have psychedelic experiences, the great majority of people find one or another of three serious grounds for faith, extrapolation, intuition, and feeling.

Extrapolation. A reasoned, communicable conclusion that the data of the observable world point to realities beyond them, transcendent to them. Rational proofs for the existence and attributes of God are a form of this. Another form points to the existence of genuine reality which is beyond our capacity to understand. Obviously the conclusions of extrapolation cannot be tested by scientific methods. "It would," however,

be exceedingly presumptuous of us at the present stage of the development of human knowledge to suppose that the form of perception and reflection we possess tells us all there is to know about things... To think otherwise, i. e., that we understand all things, would put us back into one or another form of the rationalism that philosophers have outgrown. (Ethics as Philosophy, unpublished manuscript of mine, copyright 2004, p. 17)

Many people have expressed the same conviction that human knowledge is qualitatively, not just quantitatively, limited. The following citation puts it forcefully and in an unexpected context. Stephen Beames, self-educated thinker and sculptor of note, arrived as a young man with the Canadian Army in the trenches of Flanders in World War I in February, 1915. He remained there in all the battles until the end of the war in November, 1919. On page 63 of his Memoirs, a word-picture of unimaginable horrors of trench warfare, he laments, "The spectacle of those battles made anyone who was inclined to think realise how colossally stupid we are," and he philosophises, "Our senses give us but a dim perception of the whole of reality. We have no more ears for the music of the spheres than earthworms under the bandstand in a park have for a concert." (Stephen Beames, Memoirs. Unpublished manuscript. Oakland, California, 1967; pagination of typed transcript in the possession of my wife, Miriam Beames, Stephen's daughter)

Intuition. A specific type of knowledge recognized by philosophy, but not by all philosophers. According to Peter A. Angeles, Dictionary of Philosophy, (New York: Harper & Row, 1981) intuition is

1. Immediate non-inferential apprehension or cognition of something. 2. The power (ability) to have immediate, direct knowledge of something without the use of reason. 3. Innate, instinctive knowledge or insight without the use of our sense organs, ordinary experience, or reason.

Feeling. Among the many meanings of this noun are several which apply to the experience of having faith. Such are "the undifferentiated background of one's awareness considered apart from any identifiable sensation, perception, or thought" and "any partly mental, partly physical response marked by pleasure, pain, attraction, or repulsion." ( 2005)

Most of what is written about faith is in a religious context. James W. Fowler, however, has written Stages of Faith (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981) as a developmental psychology of faith which emphasizes the growing structural maturity of the individual's faith. It is true, nevertheless, that Fowler's work centers on religious content. In contrast, Nathan Rotenstreich, in his On Faith (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1998) has given faith a philosophical phenomenology analysis, especially treating the implications of the transcendent in our lives, with a minimum of reference to religious content.

Although the terminology is not completely uniform among the many people who speak of such matters, the notions of sacred and of holy relate closely to that of spiritual. The transcendent, ultimate being, however one speaks of it, is holy. Sacred refers to places or actions that, we are convinced, connect the holy with the world or with us. Sacred places are where such contact is a stable characteristic; sacred actions bring such contact about. Some forms of spirituality emphasize sacredness much more than others do.

In current thinking even sacred has gradiations from more to less religious. The preface to Open Spaces Sacred Places (Tom Stoner and Carolyn Rapp, Open Spaces Sacred Places, Annapolis, Maryland, TFK Foundation, 2008) states (page 10) as a basic premise that "Sacred places are those that have a power- subtle though it may be- to inspire fruitful introspection, to promote emotional and even physical well-being, or simply to provide a respite from the rigors of daily life." The book presents gardens laid out so as to have an enclosure, an entrance, places to walk about, and places to rest. The effect, it appears to the reader, is more than the sum of its parts, but is, rather, an ineffable feeling, which, if it has to be given a name, can be called spiritual.

Lastly, all forms of spirituality are to their possessors a guide to the way they should act in the world. In other words, there is a connection between spirituality and morality.

As noted above, ideologies and worldviews of all kinds establish a definite position for their possessors. As we look out at the world with our understanding of what it is like, we have to consider how we are going to act in it. We cannot avoid action in the environment and interaction with people. Atheists, although an unusual case because they are completely devoid of spirituality, nevertheless have to act in the world. They do not have a church or a guru to tell them how to act, but the philosophical, psychological, and social values of their ideology or worldview tell them how to act. These values are actually norms of morality or ethics, that is, reasons and rules for deciding which actions are ethical, the right kind of actions for the human person to perform. Atheists' actions can be highly ethical in spite of being not at all religious.

The majority of people are guided in their judgment of right and wrong by their church, their understanding of holy scripture, or some other kind of spirituality. This applies at least to the major decisions regarding issues of life, death, and the meaning of both. How much people's spiritual values affect decisions about everyday matters is another question. It is a common observation that there can be a large gap here.

There can also be collisions of actions arising from spirituality. What about people whose inner voices tell them that God wants them to murder someone? Or how about those who think they are spiritual and headed toward a spiritual reward when they blow up themselves and other people in crowded places? Those who would be the victims of such actions could regard the perpetrators as possessed of spirituality, but they would not be expected to think highly of them or to accept the situation.

We can analyze what is happening here by noticing that by and large the sense of what is right and what is wrong varies little from one spirituality to another. In particular very few views of spiritual values stray far from the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!" or "Do not do unto others what which you do not want them to do to you!" which is found in most of the religions of the world. The Golden Rule holds because we are all alike as humans (all children of God in Christianity, all fellow sufferers in Buddhism, all obligated to combat the Evil One in Zoroastrianism, each occupying a definite place in Confucianism). If I find myself in a world of more than meets the eye, so does everyone else, and we all should be respecting one another accordingly. Our opinions on some moral questions differ, but that does not negate the duty to have respect for one another. This respect is missing in the examples cited.

Spirituality of individuals and of associations

Much of what is stated above about spirituality refers to it as individual human experience. It is, however, a short leap from that to group spirituality, the shared faith of a small or large number of persons. The expression of spirituality comes about, for purposes of this study, by membership in the listed groups and, accordingly, in the social actions of the groups. In a way it is impossible to separate this from the artistic expression of the spirituality of the groups. The architecture, for instance, of churches, chapels, temples, and mosques generally uses forms which are associated with the group that uses them and which, therefore, announce their message. The symbolism and iconography of their decorations often proclaim the spirituality as well as evoke it in the beholder. The artistic creations of members, wherever the art may be located, tell about the group beliefs. The present study, however, limits itself to awareness of the associations as such, to their places and times in history.

There are, of course, some individuals who are highly spiritual, or, at least, show their spirituality more than others do. Their stories are both enlightening and edifying. Some of their lives embody, even epitomize, the spirituality of their group, and are meaningless taken in isolation from the group. Pious Methodists and Catholics, fervent Jehovah's Witnesses, otherworldly Hindu Yogin: fascinating books could be filled about such Santa Cruzans, and I hope their stories will be written. The task of the present study, however, is to tell about the associations to which these people belong.

That would seem to leave the category of spiritual people who belong to no group. The facts are, however, that very few - if any - people live or propose that others live a spirituality that has no ties with preexisting spiritualities. The closest to this that one might expect to find is a person who has intellectively and experientially worked through spiritualities to the point where he or she has a highly personal, close to unique one. Even among these people there is a community, although it has no name and no edifice.

There are, furthermore, individuals who, outside of any group structure, engage in communicating a spirituality to others. I will call these independent spiritual guides. They arise out of many and varied spiritual backgrounds, and the background is less important than the guidance that they give and the results that they aid their students to attain. In this study I do not attempt to list these people, but I am aware of them, and as I observe that they institutionalize I add them to the list of associations under the heading which seems most appropriate.

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