Can we please abandon the word “spiritual”?

I’m busy with my children’s book, and will be for a few days, because writing it is HARD. In fact, it’s about harder than any 1500 words I’ve ever written. I don’t have children, and know only that you shouldn’t condescend to them in books, and that the books should appeal to parents as well as their kids. So I’ve had to go to bookstores and read gazillions of children’s books, which has left me more confused than ever. They are very diverse. But I’ll say this: I have a newfound admiration for those who can write well for children.

But I digress. As my head is wrapped around India, cats, and mice, it’ll be hard to deal with anything substantive on this site for a few days. Bear with me; like Maru, I do my best.

But here’s one thing, which came from reader Steve S. who sent me a link this morning with the note “Not to ruin your day right off, and suspect you may have seen this. Note the comment from a fellow Chicagoan. Had to double check it wasn’t you.” The “ruining my day” bit was because Steve sent a link to a piece in The Nation about the oleaginous Krista Tippett, the National Public Radio host of “On Being”. (Three years ago, sensing a change in the winds, she changed the name from “Speaking of Faith”). If you’re a regular or semi-regular reader here, you’ll know I’m not a fan of Ms. Tippett, because, as I said about her previously, “She hasn’t met a religion she doesn’t love, is infatuated with ‘spirituality,’ uses a lot of words to say nothing in particular, and always seems on the verge of bursting into tears at the depth of her own insights.”

It turns out that Tippett has written a new book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, whose title already sets my teeth grinding and kishkas roiling. And for some reason that I can’t fathom, I always recoil at the description of someone as “wise.” I’ll let the piece’s author, Michele Moses (!), describe the book’s contents:

Becoming Wise is Tippett’s “cartography of wisdom for the emerging world,” a world which she says is marked by the decline of organized religion and the rise of the Internet. The book is divided into five sections, each dedicated to one of the central theme’s five components—Words, Flesh, Love, Faith, and Hope. The book consists primarily of excerpted interviews from the show, with brief sections of exposition, and a few autobiographical stories. It effectively synthesizes her ideas and seamlessly carries her conversational tone into print. Becoming Wise doesn’t offer anything new, but then, it’s not really meant to.

Offers nothing new and doesn’t try to? Then why on earth should we read it? And if you read the book’s blurb on Amazon, you’ll see that it certainly does intend to offer something new: “a master class in living, curated by Tippett and accompanied by a delightfully ecumenical dream team of teaching faculty.” In fact, the only book worth reading that doesn’t offer anything new is a dictionary.

If you’ve had the misfortune to listen to Tippett on NPR, you’ll see that she’s really big on “spirituality,” which has replaced religion as her main topic of conversation. She always asks guests about their spirituality, and returns to it when the conversation takes a different turn. But what is spirituality? I looked up both “spiritual” and “spirituality” in the Oxford English Dictionary (a book worth reading that does offer something new: first and historical usages). And I found this: you have to go pretty deep down in the definitions before you get one that doesn’t have religious overtones or includes the word “ecclesiastical.

For example, here’s “spiritual”. Yes, it could include “higher moral qualities”, though they’re usually religious. And it could refer to non-material things, which must include mathematics, physics, and philosophy.


 1). a. Of or relating to, affecting or concerning, the spirit or higher moral qualities, esp. as regarded in a religious aspect. (Freq. in express or implied distinction to bodily, corporal, or temporal.)

       d. Of transcendent beauty or charm

 4.) a. Of or relating to, consisting of, spirit, regarded in either a religious or intellectual aspect; of the nature of a spirit or incorporeal supernatural essence; immaterial.

It gets worse with “spirituality,” as you have to get to the third definition before religion isn’t mentioned:


3. a. The quality or condition of being spiritual; attachment to or regard for things of the spirit as opposed to material or worldly interests.

I haven’t really heard Tippett define what she means by “spirituality”, but let’s be honest: for most people it connotes either religion or the numinous, things “not material or worldly” as in the definition above. But if we adhere to that definition of spirituality, then what do we mean when we say we or others are “spiritual”? Michele Moses gives a hint:

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans increased from 15.3 to 19.6 percent between 2007 and 2012. And more than a third of this group identified themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” These people access spiritual life in an enormous range of ways: through yoga, meditation, music, poetry, community service, psychedelic drugs, the outdoors, and more.

But some of these things are worldly, like community service and the outdoors! What do these things have in common that could be called spiritual? It is simply that these activities promote emotional well-being rather than material gain. And if that’s the case, then other things become spiritual, too: reading books and newspapers, taking a walk, having sex, watching movies, and (often) doing science. In fact, who isn’t spiritual in this respect? Yet pollsters and other regularly not only fail to define spirituality, but imply that it’s somehow an offshoot of religion. And that’s why we should get rid of the word—so we don’t get lumped in with religionists.

In fact, when Tippett tries to discuss spirituality with scientists, she can get into trouble. We like precision in language, and the term “spirituality” is about as precise as compatibilist’s “free will.” Moses describes one such run-in:

Faith, for Tippett, entails no particular set of convictions or beliefs. Instead, it’s a kind of curiosity—a willingness to stand amidst the mysteries of life without demanding certainty. In whom or what faith is placed—that’s incidental. It’s the process of investigation that matters. “Spiritual life is a way of dwelling with perplexity,” she writes.

Well, if that’s the case, science is spirituality embodied, for it’s the formalization of curiosity. Even religious faith isn’t nearly as imbued with curiosity as Tippett’s conception of faith. But it’s somehow wrong to equate the scientific process with sprituality. Moses continues:

Still, even this broad definition of faith can cause trouble. Becoming Wise contains several conversations with cosmologists and physicists; in their “reverence for wonder and the possibility of never-ending discovery,” Tippett sees a kind of spirituality. This can occasionally cause her and her guests to disagree. When the theoretical physicist Brian Greene describes the power of quantum mechanics to map the universe’s unseen truths—“How can you not be in awe of that? And how can you not be convinced that that is revealing some deep truth about reality?”—Tippett asks, with obvious hopefulness, about the aspects of life (love, consciousness) that “can’t be measured.” Greene, a materialist, delivers the bad news that even love is measurable: It comes down to “some physical process playing out inside this messy grey blob inside of our heads.” To Greene, the ultimate nature of reality may be unknown, but it is not unknowable.

So if you conceive of spirituality, as I would, as “emotionality or wonder”, then of course those remain emergent properties of molecules. Emotion and wonder are still real—Sean Carroll makes a good case for this in The Big Picture—but they’re not separate from the material, and must be consistent with the laws of physics, even if they give us a way of talking about things that is useful and convenient.

Nevertheless, Tippett, who desperately and constantly searches for nonmaterial aspects of human life (I truly believe she’s a dualist), manages to finesse even this contretemps with Greene. As Moses notes,

There are limits, in short, even to Tippett’s radically open definition of faith. And as a fan, it can be jarring to hear her bump up against them. But even in the same breath, she succeeds in other ways. She might not share Greene’s worldview [JAC: I don’t think she does, as I don’t see her as a big advocate of naturalism] but she finds common ground with him in the experience of wonder; in the end, they agree that his work is like poetry in its reverence for exploration. “Science deserves to be right smack in the center of culture, because it is our quest to understand who we are and how we fit into the big picture,” says Greene. With inspiring regularity, On Beingcaptures moments when people with differing beliefs manage to find meaning together.

Well, pardon my French, but that’s screwed up. Science is not at all like poetry. Science finds truth (which can make us emotional); poetry recounts one human’s emotional reactions, and is not a way of finding truth about the cosmos.

Greene is right, of course—science should be a foundation of any educated person’s worldview—but calling curiosity about the world “spiritual”, as Tippett wants to do, is simply a misuse of language. One might as well call a police detective solving a crime as having a “spiritual experience.” For if anything is a “worldly concern”, it’s the desire to find out how the world works—the purview of science and empiricism.

So let me suggest one word to replace the noun “spirituality” for us atheists—a word that doesn’t toe the line of the numinous:


Of course Tippett wouldn’t be able to dine out on that one. Imagine if her show were called “On emotionality”!

Replacing “spirituality” with “emotionality” comports, I think, with how we nonbelievers conceive of our “nonmaterialism”. The practice of science, and the curiosity that drives it, isn’t emotional: looking for the laws of physics isn’t an emotional experience. Having wonder about the laws of physics is an emotional experience.  Eating is not an emotional experience; watching a movie can be.  Enjoying a hike in the mountains is an emotional experience. For some people sex is fraught with emotionality, for others it’s recreational.

Instead of allowing people like Tippett to corral nonbelievers together with religionists by characterizing us all as “spiritual,” let’s insist that we don’t know what that term means—but we do know what “emotionality” means.  I believe it was Richard Dawkins who pointed out the use of “spirituality” as a lasso by faitheists to put us into the herd of believers. We should adamantly refuse to let ourselves be so herded. When someone asks you if you’re “spiritual,” ask them to define the term. If they mean anything other than “emotionality” or “wonder”, it’s likely to be woo. If they mean emotionality and wonder, then let’s just use those words.

Of course I welcome commentary below. You can, for instance, say we should retain the use of “spiritual”, and give a definition, or give a substitute word as I have. Or say anything you want on the topic.



  1. Barry Lyons
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I have mixed feeling about the word “spirituality”, and I’m inclined to think that MAYbe the word can be shorn of its religious meaning.

    First, there’s this quote from Carl Sagan: “The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging, even if on a modest scale, with the magnificence of the cosmos. Science is not only compatible with with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.”

    And then there’s Andre Comte-Sponville’s book from a few years ago: “The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality”.

    • Robert Bray
      Posted August 21, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      Yet the cosmos isn’t itself ‘magnificent.’ It’s felt as such by human perceivers, who see it at a safe distance and from a safe environment, and from such perception weave their attendant emotions of awe and immensity into the concept of spirituality.

    • Posted August 26, 2016 at 1:28 am | Permalink

      I agree with Barry, a ‘maybe’ word. I have to ask the pronouncer what is meant by the word, ‘spiritual/spirtuality’ spoken or written. Otherwise one is pursuing a ‘red-herring’ argument.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    I’ll consider that, however,

    … I think also in Harris’ book he recounts Hitchens’ argument to keep the word. I recall the take home message was “don’t be pedantic, the word can be used w/o religious baggage”. But of course, as Dawkins says “you can’t be to careful”.

    • Posted August 20, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      This. I mean, it’s pretty clear that Buddhists have some esoteric practices that they claim gives them different ways of experiencing life. There’s a “family resemblance” between a lot of that stuff and some mystical Christian, Sufi, etc. practices, only Buddhists do it without any God-talk. I don’t see anything wrong with using one word to cover this family resemblance. “Spirituality” is a useful word for that purpose.

  3. Posted August 20, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  4. Posted August 20, 2016 at 2:53 pm | Permalink


    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted August 21, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Permalink


  5. GBJames
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m fine with the word “spirituality” assuming that it is used in terms of spirits that actually exist. Like these.

  6. zl84841g
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    A master class in living? Pablum for the hoi polloi. Off the top of my parietal bone, 1) Exercise regularly. 2) Get plenty of sleep. 3) Eat real food. 4) Bathe regularly and brush your teeth. 5) Follow the golden rule. 6) Clean up your messes.

    A bit wordy, I admit, but no oleaginous spirituality needed, not for me.

    • Wunold
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      zl84841g wrote:

      5) Follow the golden rule.

      “The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.”
      – George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists (1903)

    • David Harper
      Posted August 21, 2016 at 5:48 am | Permalink

      7) Be kind to others, especially children and cats.

  7. Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I sympathize with your reaction to Ms. Tippet. So many ways to say nothing in particular… Is that wisdom? I don’t think so.

    But I think that your use of the word “truth” is problematic. Truth is an artifact of logic. The “truths” of science must certainly be logically consistent, but that doesn’t make the hypotheses that result “true” — simply the-most-reasonable-given-the-facts-as-they-are-known. At best this makes them (like the character in Princess Bride who was only “mostly dead”) “mostly true.”

    In fact, the mistake made by many Darwin-deniers is to take every correction/modification of the theory as evidence that it’s not really “true.” Of course it’s not true; it simply matches the facts as they are known better than any other.

    “If a then b and if b then c then if a then c,” is true (I think), but that’s quite different from even the most established “natural law”.

    “The sun will rise tomorrow” is not a “true” statement, rather a statement of probability. Every empirical “fact” is necessarily so.

    I would say, therefore, that the claims of the poem are at least as “true” as those of science — to the extent that they are empirically derived and reproducible by the reader. Which is to say, I don’t think that the word “true” is very useful in discussion of poetry or science.

    • Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      I discuss this all, including my conception of “truth”, in Faith versus Fact. And insofar as a poem makes claims about reality, they’re only true if they’re verified empirically, though science. I discuss this in my book, too, for lots of people claim that science is a “way of knowing” in the same way as poetry, literature or art. You can see my argument refuting that in the book; I don’t want to repeat it all here.

      • Posted August 20, 2016 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

        I understand your desire to not repeat yourself. My criticism is of how you _use_ the word “truth” however. If you have a definition that differs from that suggested by your actual _use_ of the word, I’m not sure how it is relevant. T

        In your post you state: “Science finds truth (which can make us emotional); poetry recounts one human’s emotional reactions, and is not a way of finding truth about the cosmos.”

        If you think that science finds “truth”, you equate “truth” with “empirical reality.” But that is a false equivalency. “Truth” signifies a proper relationship among statements, “empirical reality” a certain state of affairs that corresponds to empirical experience. The former is formal, the latter circumstantial. This confusion allows you to arrive at a naive definition of poetry and a non-nonsensical claim about it and the cosmos.

        Statements can be true, but they are not real. In fact, not all true statements correspond to reality. (If rain is dry, and rain is water, then water is dry. Though based upon a false premise, it is nonetheless true because the conclusion follows from the premise. This statement is true, but does not correspond to reality — which would make this true statement “false” by your definition. Clearly, something is wrong with your definition.

        Reality is what is the case. Truth has nothing to do with it. Science does not deal with truth, but with reality — as hypothesized from the facts as they are known. Science allows one to make empirically verifiable statements about reality, yes; but those statement are only true if they conform to rules of logical inference. Reality has nothing to do with it.

        Therefore, facts are real, but not true. “I’m sitting in a chair” is a true statement, but that doesn’t make the chair I’m sitting in “true,” merely real — that is, a state of affairs that is empirically determinable.

        On the other hand, “Michael Jordan is a gazelle,” the poet tells us. To point out that this statement is false (when taken literally), is not the response of a scientist, but of a child. Human adults (and most scientists of my acquaintance) understand that it is not four-leggedness nor possessing-horns that the poet is talking about. The metaphor stands in for numerous statements that do conform to reality as we know it (Jordan’s swiftness, grace, agility, etc.) — and, yes, to many contingent, and fanciful contentions as well, many of which do not correspond as well (if at all) to reality. But more importantly, the metaphor is drawing our attention to similarities across categorical boundaries, it is forcing our mind onto new paths of association and inference. Metaphor is a form of play and, as such, a heuristic tool. A metaphor never runs on all fours — that is, corresponds in every way to reality.

        I’d suggest that the scientific hypothesis doesn’t run on all fours either. That is how one like Darwin’s gets refined in the face of new evidence.

        You don’t seem to like the idea of different sorts of “truths”, I understand. But unless you stick to a more formal definition of truth than you are using, you’re stuck with them.

        • Posted August 21, 2016 at 5:34 am | Permalink

          You don’t seem to like the idea of different sorts of “truths”

          Neither do you by the sound of it.

          • Posted August 21, 2016 at 8:01 am | Permalink

            I do not. Different kinds of knowledge, however, makes perfectly good sense to me.

            • Posted August 21, 2016 at 8:37 am | Permalink

              I would suggest a better word would be different ways of experiencing.

              • Posted August 21, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

                noun: knowledge; plural noun: knowledges

                facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

              • Posted August 22, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

                Just notice that the first chapter of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy is titled: “Different Kinds of Knowledge”


        • Posted August 21, 2016 at 5:36 am | Permalink

          You don’t seem to like the idea of different sorts of “truths”

          Neither do you by the sound of it.

          (Apologies for formating fail.)

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      I sympathize with your reaction to Ms. Tippet. So many ways to say nothing in particular… Is that wisdom? I don’t think so.

      If you’re paid by the word – or even better by the letter – then this is indeed wisdom.
      Otherwise, it’s white noise.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    For the religious the word spirituality or spiritual is code for religious. Not that much different than another favorite – blessed. Oh, I was so blessed. The tornado or flood or whatever natural disaster came by and took the house but not me and the kids. I’m so blessed. Now the guy next door that didn’t make it…not so blessed. So lucky or unlucky won’t do?

    • steve
      Posted August 21, 2016 at 7:29 am | Permalink

      No; “lucky” or “unlucky” doesn’t do it because these sorts of people (I think) actually believe they are/were blessed — while the thousands of children killed in disasters really and truly were not blessed. That is what I think is going on.

      But god works in mysterious ways so who knows. (sarc)

  9. enl
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    My local NPR outlet plays Ms. Tippett weekend mornings at 7. I am often driving at that time, and that is about the only time I throw in a CD. Oleaginous is not a word that I would use– I tend to the one syllable descriptors– but is quite a good match for my impression of her. She would be much less untolerable if she didn’t strive so hard to prop her worldview, try so hard to present all others aligned supporting her worldview, try so hard to convince her listeners that she is original, and try so pathetically to hide her efforts.

  10. Kevin
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    “Spiritual as a squirrel.” That’s how I describe most religious people, as most religious people are neither spiritual or religious.

    As for a successful children’s book: think J.K. Rowling. Write up. Your audience should actually be 30 – 40 crowd who want to be children again. Clever, with universal themes, and use words any fifth grader can understand.

  11. Nell Whiteside
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Made my day.

    Spirituality = emotionality.


    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      I agree, I liked that part.
      I was just thinking that I have what some may call ‘spiritual’ experiences, traipsing thru woods and fields, simply enjoying observations about the intertwined lives of flora and fauna. The sun moves slowly in the sky. Shadows change. As the days pass I see the season progressing. New kinds of flowers and insects announce their presence. One experiences strong feelings at these times, and of course many would say it is spiritual. But I agree completely it is entirely emotional. This in no way detracts from the experience. It simply means that I understand it.

  12. Derek Freyberg
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the concern about “spirituality”; but I much prefer “wonder” (or “sense of wonder”) to “emotionality”, which to me carries also reference to such emotions as hate, disgust, and rage.
    A minor disagreement: you say “Eating is not an emotional experience; watching a movie can be.” Consuming calories is unlikely to be an emotional experience unless you’re very hungry; but I think eating, or more particularly tasting, can be an emotional experience. Proust and madeleines. And “comfort food” is called that for a reason – now that’s not the same emotion that’s evoked by watching a beautiful sunset, but it’s an emotion nonetheless.

    • Posted August 23, 2016 at 6:42 am | Permalink

      I was quite surprised at that statement, considering how much Jerry enthuses about his noms. ”That poutine … was fucking sublime!”

      /@ / Sydney

  13. Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Kudos to all those who exposed this loony lady from La-la land. Now try David Loye, Rianne Eisler’s husband and his book Darwin Loves You. He said he’d read my book Politics as if Evolution Mattered if I read Darwin Loves You. I read it and commented on it on amazon books. Forget Tippett, she’s an amateur. This guy is serious…and seriously demented.

    my amazon comment:1.0 out of 5 starsMore misunderstanding of Darwin
    By Lorna on February 3, 2011
    Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
    While some leftists seem on the verge of accepting Darwin – it took a long time -on the other side we continue to have the “New Age” community still misunderstanding him and, worse, trying to find in Darwin’s writings justification for their own cockeyed theories. In the most prominent case, the issue is that of human violence and aggression. Social scientists, especially those on the left, have long tried to attribute human violence to society: to its social conditions, arrangements and relationships, with the belief that under a truly just, equitable, political system (“socialism”, mostly), these supposedly aberrant tendencies would be minimized and eventually eliminated. Related to this tangentially were the eugenicists of the early 20th century who believed that selective sterilization of the “unfit” (retarded, genetically defective, etc.) would eventually eliminate such faulty births from the human gene pool; today the notion of curing disease via genetic manipulation has the potential to edge close to this unless a clear line is drawn to prevent manipulation of the human germ line (as opposed to using genetics to cure a somatic disease in an individual, which is no different from using medicine or surgery). This book is another desperate attempt to misread and twist Darwin,and to even interpolate the author’s own ideas on what Darwin “really meant” or left out, especially with regard to natural selection. New Agers and leftists have long despised the notion of competition in nature which tends to eliminate the less adapted individuals who, for various reasons, leave fewer offspring than the more adapted (or more :”fit). This process is not “nature red in tooth or claw” but differential reproductive success.Read more ›

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      The new-agers would love to discover Peter Kropotkin. After Darwins’ Origin of Species, he pointed out that rather than being red in tooth and claw, nature was more often the exact opposite. It is exceedingly common to find mutualism — cooperation between individuals and the cooperation often extends across species lines. Of course the essence of this is not that species are friendly to each other, but rather they mutually exploit each other. But the new-agers of course would be blind to that.

    • chris moffatt
      Posted August 21, 2016 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      Would that be all “new agers”? All leftists? Would there be any rightists who misinterpret Darwin? And were the eugenists of the twentieth century all new agers and leftists? It’s been my distinct impression that there were nazis, fascists and segregationists, as in Virginia where eugenic laws were developed along with “the racial integrity act”, in those ranks too. In fact many countries, regardless of form of government, implemented eugenics to one degree or another since late nineteenth century Britain began the idea. It was very popular with academics at one time too. As late as the 1970s a major program of involuntary/involuntary sterilization was carried out under Indira Gandhi, no new ager her.

  14. Historian
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    This post made me think of how much I abhor the words spiritual and spirituality. I think they are weasel words used by those who want to believe they are having a non-material experience while not adhering to the tenets of a religion. People taking certain drugs, for example, may be in a state of consciousness that is not the norm, but that consciousness still follows the law of physics. I’d much prefer people using the hackneyed expression “awesome” or the suggested term emotionality than spiritual for out of the ordinary experiences. As a materialist and naturalist, I prefer to divorce myself from a term that smacks of embracing the notion that something can exist out of the natural. Tippett is still an automatic PEZ dispenser (how many remember that?) continually spewing woo, but just using different words.

  15. Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Much as many recoil with the word spirituality there ain’t no getting rid of it. Why not try to hijack in the spirit of Carl Sagan or even Sam Harris (see posts above) to better purposes?

    Carl Kruse

    • bluemaas
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

      I agree. I am sorry to have to, Mr Kruse; but you are correct: that word, always carrying along with it its wooish waste, is not going anywhere … … away.

      What I also want gone but it will not go away either … … the fifth & concluding component of wonkishly unctuous Tippett’s latest unworthy – of – anyone’s – actually – reading – it book: hope ! I loathe it.

      Hope gets squat done. The hard work of reality is accomplished by reason and, out of and after that, by actual labor of one’s hands and spine ! Hope is a woman – killer, too, a false unguent. Woo. “O, if I just look better or clean better or shut up and don’t wring my hands or weep so much, I hope he won’t hit me !” Well, screeeew that. And Author Derrick Jensen agrees with me:


  16. Hempenstein
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    “cartography of wisdom for the emerging world,”
    Yet I suspect many of her followers have trouble reading a map.

    “… and seamlessly carries her conversational tone into print…”
    So she writes the way she talks.

    • sshort
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      But, hey, we can all do a Tippett, very easily, should we care to try.

      “The choreography of wisdom for the emerging world.” Makes at least as much sense.

      Substitute your favorite -graphy:

      Collagraphy (collaging)
      Crytptography (more to the point, i’d say)
      Iconocgraphy (too on the nose?)
      Klecksography (making image from inkblots)
      Pornography (almost too easy)
      Tesseography (reading tea leaves)

      And: Cacography (bad writing or spelling)

  17. Larry Smith
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I agree with some of the others that ’emotionality’ has its own issues. Here’s another: what’s the adjective? You can’t very well say “He’s a very emotional person” in an attempt to convey a non-religious meaning similar to “He’s a very spiritual person.”

    I like the ideas given above to take the word back, so to speak, like the way the meaning of the word ‘queer’ has been turned on its head by the LGBTQ community.

    I know it would be too cumbersome, and never catch on, but what about “secularly spiritual”? If someone asks you, “Are you spiritual?,” you could brightly reply, “Yes, I’m secularly spiritual!” Now, there’s a conversation stopper…

    • Barry Lyons
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      Well, as I noted in my first comment here, Andre Comte-Sponville wrote a book called “The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality.” So there you go. (And then there’s Carl Sagan’s remark that I won’t retype here. You can find it in the first comment.)

  18. Posted August 20, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    What about treating people and animals well, even when nobody is watching? What does science have to say about such hokum?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      There is no room for a god in your hypothesis.
      (Which is a good thing.)

  19. Posted August 20, 2016 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    When overwhelmed by nature and the universe, I use the word “wonderment”, which is a state of awe.

  20. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    I suspect if people would only give it a rest for a generation or two, “spiritual” could retake its place as metaphor alongside “numinous” and “mystical” again.

  21. Posted August 20, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    No, science is not like actual poetry, but I think it’s perfectly legitimate to take a poetic view of scientific discoveries. Tippet attacks a straw man when she asks Greene “how can you not be in awe of that?” Many of us are in awe of what science has enabled us to know. This would be a good spot for me to provide a link to the video of Feynman talking about the flower but I have no time to search.

  22. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    1a) A problem I have with Ms. Tippett (who doesn’t really annoy me as she does JAC, but of whom I am critical) is that she is unwilling to make any distinction between healthy or humane or enlightened ‘spirituality’ and plainly toxic of bogus examples of the same. Same goes for Huffington Post.

    Contrast Sam Harris who bluntly declares Deepak Chopra to be a charlatan while simultaneously expressing strong admiration for the Dalai Lama (in spite of the fact that the latter wrote a forward to one of the former’s books- an act of which I see indirect clues that DL came to regret.)
    William James is much more similar to Harris than to Tippett in this respect.

    You have to willing to say some things that claim to be spiritual are in serious need of course-correction.

    1b) A sort of “spirituality” I very much dislike is that which is ethereal and disdainful of the material world. (Nietzsche called this “anemic” and said Christians were “anemic vampires”).
    By contrast, something I LIKE about the plays of Shakespeare is a concern for issues some might consider “spiritual” which co-exists with a healthy (non-greedy) celebration of ordinary pleasures of eating and love-making.

    The sonnet “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” strikes me as in some sense “spiritual”, but WS was also unpopular with Puritans for obvious reasons.

    I also dislike spirituality rooted in high-flown metaphysical speculation.

    2.) However, spirituality is a bit different from emotionality in that the former deals with a deep sense of personal connection with humanity and/or the world.

    3) I will quote these words of Carl Sagan from “Demon-Haunted World” (someone else above has already cited Sam Harris)

    ““Spirit” comes from the Latin word “to breathe.” What we breathe is air, which is certainly matter, however thin. Despite usage to the contrary, there is no necessary implication in the word “spiritual” that we are talking of anything other than matter (including the matter of which the brain is made), or anything outside the realm of science. On occasion, I will feel free to use the word. Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual. So are our emotions in the presence of great art or music or literature, or of acts of exemplary selfless courage such as those of Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”

    No one HAS to use the word “spiritual”, but if it is used with intellectual integrity, it doesn’t need to be dropped IMO.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      ““Spirit” comes from the Latin word “to breathe.”

      In a nutshell that’s what I recall, before I wrote more above.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 7:11 pm | Permalink


      Above I wrote I agreed with Friedrich Nietzsche that the “anemic” worldview of classical Western Christianity (he also says “afterworldly”) is bad, and I would not want “spiritual” to be identified with “ethereal”.

      However, FN also writes (in “The AntiChrist”)
      “The most spiritual men, as the strongest, find their happiness where others would find their destruction: in the labyrinth, in hardness against themselves and others, in experiments. Their joy is self-conquest: asceticism becomes in them nature, need, and instinct. Difficult tasks are a privilege to them; to play with burdens that crush others, a recreation. Knowledge-a form of asceticism. They are the most venerable kind of man: that does not preclude their being the most cheerful and the kindliest.”

      Obviously FN would not be that impressed with the cotton-candy fuzzy wooliness of Ms. Tippett, but he wouldn’t see her as authentically spiritual. (Granted, this was in the mid-19th century, and words have a way of morphing over time.)

  23. Roger
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    IMO, the word spiritual should have one use only. Spiritual, in the sense of something being very boozy. “Man, that fruit punch was really spiritual, dude. Somebody must have dumped some pretty good spirits in there.”

  24. Posted August 20, 2016 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Not being that familiar with Tippett, I just watched a TEDX talk. She glosses over EVERYTHING while sliding down a smooth chute into fluffy cotton. But at that point, the listener could get so bored that a nap on the cottony softness would be inviting.🙂

    I use the word ‘non-rational’ to signify a subjective experience which would include not only emotional aspects but my own interpretation of what I am experiencing.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

      Cotton candy clouds with rainbows, moonbeams, and pink unicorns. But don’t step in the pink unicorn poop.

      • chris moffatt
        Posted August 21, 2016 at 7:34 am | Permalink

        an excellent generic description for just about any TED talk.

  25. rgindc
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    SOOOO happy to discover another who dislikes Ms. Tippett as much as I. I can’t stand her speaking tone: saccharin , overly nursey, mothering, ever on the very verge of literally crying for joy, seeking and finding awe everywhere, yes EVERYWHERE, etc. YUK ! Yuk-yuk. I assume PBS and NPR statins have to carry her to provide “balance”. I have told them that as long as they use Depak Chopra programs during their fund raising drives, they aren’t gettin’ a dime from me.

  26. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    I don’t like the word spiritual because of its baggage with religion and the feels. I know we could reclaim it but I have way more interesting things to spend my limited energy on so let’s just concede that it’s a word that’s not for us and let the religious and wooish have it.

  27. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Many years ago there was a lot of buzz around another book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I did not know what it was about, and so when I came across it in a library I sat down and had a perusal to see what all the fuss was about.
    Anyone else remember it? At present, I don’t remember what it was about except the impression now that it was about a seagull and learning to be spiritual in the sense of just being contemplative.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted August 20, 2016 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

      Oh yes. I caught word of it from a neo hippie in high school, and also maybe from an English teacher. I loved it – it gives you a certain feeling – but now ranks among the books I’ve found flaws with, including Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance – which is a good book, just, you know… JLS is pretty dopey, frankly – not Persig.

      • Christopher
        Posted August 20, 2016 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

        Heard of both, read neither. Is Zen actually about motorcycle maintenance? Sounds like JLS is just a hippie dippie doofus speaking far out cosmic mumbo jumbo through a seagull.

        It reminds me about an encounter back in 2008, on a train trip to Chicago for my first ever visit, I say next to a very attractive woman who was moving there to teach yoga and started talking about her book, The Shack, I believe it was called, which having just completed a 165 mile hike along the Ozark Highland Trail and nature on the brain, I naturally assumed was some sort of nouveau-Thoreau sort of story…it wasn’t. It quickly became a looooong train ride.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted August 20, 2016 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

          The Robert Persig book – go get a copy from the library. It will answer your question.

        • enl
          Posted August 20, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

          Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has it’s flaws, but JLS is pure drivel.

          Z&AMM is a reasonable study of the relationship between modes of thought, knowledge, and belief. The underlying premise is a tad shaky, but it is interesting and has relevance to the real world. I assign it, with caveats, every year. Motorcycle maintenance is used as a model to relate modes of thought, and the book relates, in an explicit and unsubtle way, events from an actual motorcycle road trip taken in the early 1960’s, to a way of looking at knowledge and thought. It is a definite read it twice: once for the gist, once to fill in the picture. When I was in school, it was required reading in the same course as Kuhn and Kant.

          JLS, on the other hand, is drivel, with minimal literary value (IMHO) and no meaningful content, and is a definite read zero times. I read it due to the influence of a significant other, who rapidly shifted several bits to the right until she fell out of significance altogether.

          • Hempenstein
            Posted August 20, 2016 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

            As I recall, Zen& was written by a technical writer, or at least the main character was a technical writer, and it had to do with developing what I like to call mechanical sensitivity – understanding the physical limits of the system you’re dealing with, in that case a motorcycle. I’m tempted to say it was a BMW, but I also remember something about chain tension, so it must not have been one of those.

            But that was 40 or so yrs ago. Are any of those memories right?

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted August 21, 2016 at 6:02 am | Permalink

              What have I done – usurped PCC(E)’s (PBUH) post.

              Yes Persig was a technical writer. Yes it’s a BMW, can recall the model.

              … Cramming some things in this reply : I say yes, go read everything under the sun if you can. Read JLL, read Persig. It won’t hurt you.

              The thing about ZATAOMM (?!) is that – and I’m no W.V.O. Quine, but – it is NOT a substitute for reading philosophy. It IS a story that hits you in the breadbasket, and challenged me at the time, anyway. I still love ZATAOMM, despite the “cracks”….

              • Christopher
                Posted August 21, 2016 at 8:36 am | Permalink

                “read everything under the sun if you can”

                I’d do better if I could escape the pull of TV and internet (which are much more forgiving of depression than reading, as it demands full attention) but from where I’m sitting right now I can see no fewer than 46 books I own that are as yet unread. None of them are about zen or motorcycles, though seagulls might make an appearance in one of two.

                I did read Ted Simon’s book “Jupiter’s Travels” many years ago, and was very inspired by that, although not as inspired as Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman were, and not inspired enough to learn to ride.

                I’ve pretty much given up on reading philosophy but in my first two years of college life I took every course I could and it was in one of those courses that the professor introduced me to Hitchens and Dawkins and for that I shall be forever grateful.

          • Posted August 21, 2016 at 5:46 am | Permalink

            I agree — Zen & the Art is worth reading twice. It sewed together the notions of subjective and objective very well, I thought.

            People who insist that there are “many ways of knowing” should read it. They might realize it would make more sense to investigate “many ways of experiencing” or “perceiving” — in an artistic sense, rather than needlessly trespassing on the realm of “knowledge”.

            • Posted August 21, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

              noun: knowledge; plural noun: knowledges

              facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

    • Posted August 21, 2016 at 5:39 am | Permalink

      I thought Jonathon Livingston Vampire Bat was better.

  28. keith cook + / -
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    I have problems with emotionality, i preferred to be moved or rocked if it’s bad but i have also given up using spiritual altogether (and uppercase i’s😎 because of the confusion i.e. friends and others who will immediately convert it to wooish-ness and beyond.
    So i stay away from using it where possible and by doing that, i don’t get dragged into having to recognise the expression as a legitimate state of being, no one talks to me anymore heh heh, my tolerance for spirituality, as with religion is at a big fat zero.
    I will recognise though, in the spirit of the game… hmmm, that sense of fair play.

  29. Posted August 20, 2016 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I bought Sagan’s book several months ago after the recommendations here. I got as far was the section mentioned above about spirituality, and was quite disappointed and dismayed. When he writes, “The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both,” I wonder why I should care about religion in the first place. Haven’t read any more.

  30. Christopher
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    I’d rather let spirituality slide into the dustbin of history rather than replace it with anything. I can’t personally see it as useful as it is so heavily weighted down with religious baggage (Sorry, Sagan & Hitch, I just can’t get past it). I am more interested in what does actually happen in the brain from the chemistry standpoint when I am experiencing something that others might label as spiritual, like the aforementioned hike in the mountains. Explain the basis for the feeling/experience and then I’ll have a word for it; a proper word, sans numineux. What are the chemical compounds released, from what glands, what part of the brain or rest of the body reacts to them, what the evolutionary purpose of the reaction might be, and so on. That’s where my interest lays.

    I can certainly understand why it would be of such great importance to address this word, especially for a suburb writer like PCC, but I’ll leave the argument about the possible new meaning of, or replacement of, the “S” word to the rest of you, and in the meantime, I’ll be grateful that my local NPR station has yet to pollute it’s programming with Tippett’s show.

  31. Deric Martin
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed your article and pretty much agree. Everything can be boiled down to physics, grey matter, molecules and electrons. But there is something ancient in our humanness that needs connection. Connection with ourselves, with others and with the world. There is some kind of flux in our minds that as yet defies pure rationality. This place is also where creativity arises and allows people to accept unknowns in their lives. Even in science there is still more unknown than known. If the movement away from religion were to be viewed as an evolution of humanity, then like all other evolution it will be a gradual transition, not a sudden leap. I am concerned when I read that Athiests “must” think this or do that. If hard inflexible rules are applied I feel that it is more likely to create division and also will likely strengthen the idea many people have that Athiesm is just another religion. Being a purist might feel or even be logically correct, but in the long term might slow down what will already be a slow process in our social evolution from religion to Athiesm.
    A number of years ago in Australia, a conservative government tried to put through Install a system that would begin the regulation of greenhouse gases. The Green Party blocked the legislation from getting through because they believed the rules didn’t go far enough. Sure their lived up to their High ideals but the result was there was no change.
    I guess what I’m saying is that in your role as advocate for Athiesm that you take a statesman’s view, be broad in your understanding of the complexity of humanity and remember we can only evolve into massive social change not just flick a switch.
    If you are ahead, you are leading but if you demand too much you will be less affective.
    If people can move away from the concept of organised religion and God using the “trainer wheels” of “spirituality” I would see that as evolution.

    • Robert Bray
      Posted August 21, 2016 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      ‘Even in science there is still more unknown than known.’

      And you know this how?

      • Edgar Williams
        Posted August 22, 2016 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps the writer makes this statement because according to the current model ~90% of the mass in the universe is missing, just as ~75% or so of the energy that drives it. Why would you think the opposite?

    • Edgar Williams
      Posted August 22, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Mr.Bray, for your post. Your suggestions seems not only reasonable but practical.

      The world of experience is filled with many things — most ambiguous, many numinous, and some startling. The impulse to understand them is natural and healthy. Pointing to a physiological mechanism neither explains the experience nor addresses it’s sense of significance.

      To point out that scientific knowledge is incomplete is not to suggest some metaphysical reality as yet undiscovered, but merely to point out that there are as yet many more ways in which we will need to understand the cosmos than those currently available.

      One can be an absolute materialist and still recognize that there are facts and there is what-is-the-case in the natural world — and then there is our experience of the world. That experience — as experience — seems to stand outside of those facts and that world. That is, of course, merely a “seeming”, but it’s one that makes all the difference to a thoughtful person. It is what drives the arts, poetry, and many other essentials of a full life. I suspect it is what drives scientists as well — at least those of my acquaintance.

  32. Glenda from Kelowna
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Years ago when I left the Catholic Church I discovered I needed to drop some of the words that had religious connotations. Spiritual and spirituality were two of the first to go. For a long time now I have used the word “transcending” to explain a very special, positive, feeling about something I’ve experienced.

  33. Lars
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    “a master class in living, curated by Tippett

    A minor niggle, perhaps, given the attention being paid to “spirituality” here, but this misuse of “curate” is becoming more and more common, and more and more annoying.

    • Posted August 25, 2016 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      Ah, but who is to curate the usage of different words? 😁


  34. Thud
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m with you on this. Emotionality is a really good word.
    It’s all in your head, influenced by your gut and glands. Or as PCCemeritus might say, the laws of physics. But I’ll say the laws of biology and chemistry as well, with all their emergent phenomena.

  35. Héctor Román
    Posted August 20, 2016 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Humans are just sentient meat.

  36. Posted August 21, 2016 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    “I have a newfound admiration for those who can write well for children.”

    So have I. Because I write for people for whom reading is not easy because English is a third language.

    In many countries, an indigenous language is spoken at home, an official language in public and English when needed. Typically, a Malaysian Chinese lawyer will speak Malay in court, English in the office, Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese with his clients. In Java, Indonesia, most educated people use Javanese or Sundanese at home plus Indonesian in public together with English.

    I write for those who have high school English as a foreign language and use prose analyzers to check for sentence length, word length and academic level, aiming for grade 7 or 8 proficiency. Then I look for words with more than six letters to decide whether or not to use a different way to express an idea.

    Hemingway was (and Stephen King is) a master at this kind of writing. Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is for me the most important guide to writing. That and King’s book, On Writing.

    I write for adults and must use technical terms that may be unfamiliar. To do this, I use boxes between paragraphs to define and/or give examples of unusual words. As a rule of thumb, an unusual word or term is one that a journalist would explain within a news item.

    The text box is a device to avoid speaking down to readers. A reader can just scan and skip if a term is already known.

    There is also a psychological factor. Some readers are more comfortable with pages that have a lot of white space. This suggests limits on paragraph length.


    As for the term “spirituality”, one way to eliminate it would be to replace it with words such as, altruism, aestheticism, empathy, etc. Unfortunately, this suggests that people should use a whole cupboardful of words to express a single abstract concept.

    If I had to explain the concept of spirituality as a material phenomenon, I would use analogies based on computer technology.

    The brain constructs the illusion of three-dimensional scenes from two-dimensional images. This is the basis for 3-D movies, which most but not all people can see as giving the illusion of depth. Then I would extend this analogy to projection of holographic images and movies, or alternatively 360-degree virtual reality.

    Spirituality is similar to stereoscopic vision and binaural hearing. Spirituality is a brain phenomenon generated by stimuli associated with learned and evolved physiologic responses, including but not limited to emotion, possibly involving also secretion of endorphins and oxytocin.

    Computer-based illusions are formed within the brain when appropriate stimuli are presented to it. However, I have performed experiments on myself based on the book Psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, M.D. Similar ideas were developed by Émile Coué, a technique called auto-suggestion.

    In 1975, I used these approaches to quit smoking. In 2005 I used these techniques to drop my body weight to what it was at age 20 and have maintained that level without effort since then.

    Many natural (material) brain phenomena have been endowed with mystical properties, but most can be induced by stress, drugs, or by learned self-induced quasi-trance states.

    The trick is to deprive the brain of external stimuli, which seems to cause the brain to generate images.

    Tinnitus has been described in similar terms when associated with hearing loss. When I first experienced tinnitus, I heard muffled voices in the background like somebody else’s radio. After a year or so, the voices morphed into a rhythmic ditty repeated endlessly. Finally the rhythm subsided into a low buzz that I now notice only when listening for it.

    Fortunately, by the age at which I heard the voices, I was already a materialist and therefore knew the words were being produced by my own brain for lack of hearing stimulus.

    Otherwise, I might have been knocked off my horse and heard the voice of God calling me to repent my ways by creating a new version of the cult of Mithras, the Hellenistic savior god.

  37. Lynn David
    Posted August 21, 2016 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    About a decade or more ago I transitioned to being an atheist. It was shortly thereafter that I came to redefine the meaning of the concept of human “spirituality” or “spirit” as nothing more than the sum total of all our emotional states. Looks like you have had the a similar epiphany. But having then redefined the term, I have no problem using it.

  38. Posted August 21, 2016 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    I’ve had the same thought for some years now. Any word which is poorly enough defined to mean anything to anyone, can mean nothing to those for whom definition is everything. I don’t know Tippett, but have known many like her. They can be lovely people, but clarification is not part of their ethos or arsenal. They prefer their world to be vague and blury, not crisp and well-defined.

    Thanks for putting it so well.

  39. David Harper
    Posted August 21, 2016 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    Slightly tangentially, although not entirely off-topic, I note with amusement that BBC Radio 4’s very-early-morning “Prayer for the Day” slot recently featured the Rev Dr Bert Tosh. If ever there were a case of nominative determinism, the Rev Dr Tosh is it. He delivered three minutes if pure, unadulterated Tosh each morning for an entire week.

  40. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 21, 2016 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    I say it should be the other way around : THEY should get it in their heads – the Tippets, Chopras, and all Woo-Meisters who wear funny headgear – and their audiences* – THEY should get it straight that the word “spiritual” does not necessarily invoke the supernatural. Again, a case where “religion poisons everything”. Well argued as it is, look at what PCC(E) has had to go through!

    Take back spirituality!

    if your plural-form tripwire went off:
    *”audience” : Latin. Plural is “audiences”. Latin plural is “audientia” as says Google Define. I don’t know the declension..

  41. Lauren
    Posted August 21, 2016 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Thanks for spelling out when to use the word “spiritual” (rarely or never) and an appropriate, much less ambiguous, replacement word’ (emotionality.”

  42. chris moffatt
    Posted August 21, 2016 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Given how over-used the word “ineffable” is on Tippett’s program I find it curious that she can find enough words to write a book about “it”, whatever “it” is.

  43. Posted August 21, 2016 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Really enjoyed this -it certainly put into words a feeling I have shared for w while. It is a word I have long disliked and I have frequently felt that those who use it are posturing. It is indeed a woo word, that rarely if ever stands up to scrutiny or facilitates useful discussion.

    I’m going to be a pedant about one point: dictionaries do offer us new things. They are updated frequently to reflect changes in language, and the appearance of new words.

    • bluemaas
      Posted August 21, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      Dictionaries, for me Ms nessamcc, are cherished.

      My father, born in the USA’s Midwest countryside in y1919, possessed up in his reclusive haymow from his age of four years and forward at least … … six different ones. And he went on to be, within my entire lifetime until his death at my age of 42, THE one person whom I knew inside any one of my very many purviews and spheres who owned, and daily implemented, the vastest vocabulary of the English language. Whether he was nearly solitarily milking his family’s one Guernsey (nearly alone with her he was … … save for me and the 16 – 21 barn kitty cats present almost always as well !) or planting seeds down the rows with their local salesperson aboard his tractor alongside of him or thanking his children and spouse for his supper meal, why, out of his larynx came to anyone, always, only the Queen’s English.

      I and two of his grandchildren in particular – and both of them, too, now for years themselves attorneys – at – law (& his only grandkiddos, first – cousins to each other, who are lawyers) and apparently navigating throughout their lives under the influence of those determinist laws of physics, not only study dictionaries to this day but then also (try) to always speak and to write, routinely, in his same manner.

      When she reached the age of reading for herself, #1 grandkiddo at her age then of five years received from me as her first book for that self – endeavor this specific year’s smashingly illustrated one:

      My personal and favored one ? A simple one, thus:


      ps No “spiritual” “scripture” of any religion my favorite book. No. Give me, as THAT, as “MY scripture,” a dictionary ANY time !

  44. vtvita
    Posted August 21, 2016 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    WET: “… then other things become spiritual, too: reading books and newspapers, taking a walk, having sex, watching movies, and (often) doing science.”

    While we’re being asked to finally abandon use of the word spiritual, can we also finally abandon the phrase, “having sex”, and replace it with the more accurate “doing sex”? Isn’t sex something we do, as we “do science”?

    Having sex makes as much sense as having science.

    • Christopher
      Posted August 21, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      I agree, but I didn’t chose to abandon the phrase “having sex”…it’s been replaced with “reminiscing about sex”!

      reminds me of the Beavis and Butthead bit (don’t judge me!) which went something like: “why do they call it “taking a dump” when you do aren’t taking it anywhere? they should call it “leaving a dump”!

      and on a more intellectual level, sunrise and sunset make little sense, but then neither does the word ‘planet’, they don’t really wander, we’ve known they have predictable patterns of movement for quite a few years now. I guess these artifacts of language are interesting in their own right, which is why, as PCC has mentioned, the Oxford English Dictionary makes for a great read.


      • David Harper
        Posted August 21, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

        Apropos sunrise and sunset, I’ve always been charmed by the fact that the equivalent French terms mean, literally, “the Sun gets out of bed” and “the Sun goes to bed”.

  45. Robert Bray
    Posted August 21, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    For many years now, a very few close friends and I have gathered most Friday afternoons at my home to listen to music for a couple of hours (my place because I have the best audio system). The event is called Tunes. One of our nigh unbreakable rules is no talking while the music is playing. Listening is intense, the atmosphere heavy, as if we were all holding our collective breaths, followed by a mutual sigh after the stylus lifts (yes, vinyl). Then we converse.

    Occasionally we are deeply moved, the three or four of us together, our emotions seemingly amplified by the reality of social listening to some piece that has proved especially moving. We’ve talked about this phenomenon, speculated time and again about why music is so powerfully important in our lives. One of the Tunes stalwarts answered it best: ‘When music holds me, I imagine I’m as close to transcendence as a human can get, though I know humans cannot transcend.’

    No reference to spirituality needed. Just the cognizance of heightened, exhilarating emotion.

  46. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted August 21, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    My biggest problem with ‘spirituality’ (and Meaning, Truth, Consciousness, Identity and Free Will) is the implied dualism.

    If the world is deterministic and there is no supernatural then I am part of that world. My feelings are merely labels I (this subset of the world) attach to wider events that I experience from my point of view.

    Our language lets us down. Writing in E prime would help – but it can be surprisingly difficult.

  47. Posted August 21, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    I think part of the need for the concept of “spiritual” is that “material” has such a bad reputation. People think of the mundane when they think of the material world. So the stunning ocean sunset or the evocative new music can’t possibly be simply aspects of the material world, since they’re anything but mundane.

    It is a very limited concept of what constitutes our material world that is at least part of the need for a word that describes things outside that limited concept.

    I also suspect that those of us who are scientists or have a scientific bent have overall much less need for such a word, since for us the material world is NOT mundane. Well, parts of it are, of course. But parts of it, the parts that excite us, are exceedingly material and anything but mundane.

    • Posted August 23, 2016 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Bakunin on materialism:

      Idealists of all schools, aristocrats and bourgeois, theologians and metaphysicians, politicians and moralists, religionists, philosophers, or poets, not forgetting the liberal economists – unbounded worshippers of the ideal, as we know – are much offended when told that man, with his magnificent intelligence, his sublime ideas, and his boundless aspirations, is, like all else existing in the world, nothing but matter, only a product of vile matter.

      We may answer that the matter of which materialists speak, matter spontaneously and eternally mobile, active, productive, matter chemically or organically determined and manifested by the properties or forces, mechanical, physical, animal, and intelligent, which necessarily belong to it – that this matter has nothing in common with the vile matter of the idealists. The latter, a product of their false abstraction, is indeed a stupid, inanimate, immobile thing, incapable of giving birth to the smallest product, a caput mortuum, an ugly fancy in contrast to the beautiful fancy which they call God; as the opposite of this supreme being, matter, their matter, stripped by that constitutes its real nature, necessarily represents supreme nothingness.

      What he said.

  48. Charles Golden
    Posted August 21, 2016 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    When people like Sam Harris want to use the word “spiritual” they are attempting to rescue some sense of the supernatural without attaching any religious dogma. He wants to know God, just in the most disguised, respectable way. It would be uncool to just come out and say it; it’s more fashionable to attach the language and practices of eastern, non-Christian religions. The quest is the same, however. Harris just wants to justify his quest to know God by making it culturally appealing and “scientific” by talking about pseudo-neuroscience. Throw in the words “consciousness” and “spiritual,” insult religion a bit, and you’ve got yourself one popular dude! He is the manifestation of all that is annoying in modern culture. If there’s one person it’s hard to respect, it’s the person who sits on the fence between monotheism and materialism and shouts at the people on both sides. Just come down Sam. We know you want to justify to the materialists why you chose to side with the monotheists. As a Christian physicist myself, I have much more respect for the unforgiving materialist like Greene who has a self-consistent worldview than the man on the fence.

    • Posted August 22, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      You religionists always want to claim atheists for your own. Now you assert that Sam really wants to believe in God, despite his frequent claims to the contrary. He’s fully explained the physiological and mental transformation that can be attained through drugs and meditation, and they have nothing to do with a divine being, much less Jesus. What you’re doing is projecting, I think: that’s particularly evident in your claim that Sam is on “a quest to know God.”

      And, by the way–and this is customary on this site–when a new poster who is a believer come on, I ask them to answer two questions before they can post further. So please answer these:
      1. What is the evidence that the tenets of your religion are true? That is, what’s your evidence that Jesus really lived, was the son of God, and did what the Bible said he did?
      2. Why do you think your religion is right and others are wrong? If you saw Jesus as the son of God, and a divine being, in Islam, they’d kill you.

      Please answer these before I allow you to post further here again.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted August 24, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        Can I risk pouring gasoline on this fire?…

  49. Posted August 26, 2016 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    I’ll cast my (late) vote for retaining “spiritual(ity)” – rather than a (vague, inspecific) “emotional(ity)” – for that heightened emotional state that Hitchens famously alluded to – “‘the transcendent’ or ‘the numinous’ or even ‘the ecstatic,’ which comes out in love and music, poetry, and landscape” – and Pratchett too (on hearing Spem in alium) – “that brief epiphany when the universe opens up and shows us something” – a sense of profound inspiration or keen insight or perfect calm.

    I think it’s important to assert that this is a secular experience, shared by theists and atheists alike, as a way of mitigating one hurdle in the way of theists becoming atheists. To stop using the term would reinforce the notion in the mind of a doubting believer that atheists lack these kinds of experience altogether, that they’re only available to theists (and must therefore come from “the divine”), and, consequently, that since the believer does have spiritual experiences they cannot then be or become an atheist.

    /@ / Adelaide

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