July 9th, 2009
Hat tip: Greta Christina.
Hat tip: Greta Christina.
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Argh! If I had a dollar for every time someone’s said that!
I’d have, like, eight bucks!
Actually, if Moses is no longer a slave to dogma, he’s come a long way. It only took what, about 4000 years?
It just goes to show you that anyone, even a dead prophet, can change their mind.
Hmmm… I recently heard Richard Dawkins agree that, while he was an atheist, he was also a spiritual person, enjoying music, art, nature for itself. Do we have different semantic connotations for this word depending on whose mouth it comes from?
No – depending on what the person means when he says it. Dawkins means to imply you can get all kinds of floaty good feelings from beautiful and amazing (and real) phenomena, like the birth of a child, a symphony, a Monet. He certainly doesn’t use the word as a shortcut to some deist or pantheist god, as is being done here.
No, Dawkins is wrong.
I think we have different connotations for the word depending on the surrounding speech.
Please explain your somewhat dogmatic comment.
And then/or fuck off.
Re: Spiritual not religious:
“I like to reply, ‘I’m not honest but you’re interesting. Let’s have cider and talk about your cats.'” – Daniel Tosh
I got the same sort of feeling when I heard that Jeffery Dahmer found GOD. Also if you have to find GOD does that mean he’s hiding?
prolific, that’s what you are! (this week)
So music, art, love, all those things that people like to believe have a transcendent quality and which make life kind of worth living (not exactly a trivial thing) … apparently we’re being awfully naive not to accept the fashionable dogma that actually they’re just meaningless by-products of physics and evolutionary biology … silly us … possibly Moses is one of those atheists like me who concede that the scientific method is a powerful instrument for discovering more about the universe … but cannot assist us in our quest for meaning.
So Moses is a Free Spirit. What %age proof is he? And is he free as in Buy one get one free? All these questions before going to bed…..
“I’m spiritual”= I am selfish narcisist who has come up with a way to deflect criticism from my boneheaded blathering about my own desires.
You are on a roll author.
Those who seek to discover meaning by gaining greater insight into themselves or to become better people by contributing to the welfare of others are not selfish narcissists infatuated with their own desires. But those who get off on caricaturing/stereotyping such people in a dismissive and contemptuous way potentially might be.
Best one yet!
Heh, should have known.
The barmaid has a very astute grasp of the obvious.
Dawkins is not wrong, he simply has a better command of the English language than some people.
Very occasionally, when I contemplate natural or man-made beauty (music, art, writing) I feel a nice sense of being transported, that is, connected to objective reality more strongly than usual. Getting outside of my own head a bit. Presumably this is what Dawkins means by “spiritual”.
I can’t stand the term myself, redolent as it is of new age infantilism. So what would be a better term for that sense of transport? “Transcendence” maybe? Still a hint of mystical cobblers there, I’m afraid …
(Interestingly enough, “surreal” strictly means “super-real”, and was a term devised by a group of artists who wanted to create that sense of connection to a more complete reality. Obviously they didn’t achieve it, since “surreal” nowadays is synonymous with “nutty paintings”.)
And I love how Moses says “I rise humbly above the believer and the atheist”.
Perfectly captures new age narcissism.
Mr Gronk said it all. Oh how I cringe when I hear someone use the S-word as Moses does here.
John, I don’t know where one might find God, but most folks find Jesus in prison.
“Those who seek to discover meaning by gaining greater insight into themselves or to become better people by contributing to the welfare of others” is not what most people mean when they describe themselves as spiritual.
Usually what they mean is “I have a selection of metaphysical/supernatural beliefs that I don’t think should be criticised from an empirical standpoint.”
Or sometimes: “I like to think that the ‘Big Questions’ have answers and that I’m better than other people for thinking about them. At the same time I don’t like to acknowledge that maybe the ‘Big Questions’ just aren’t valid questions at all.”
Spoing ooh- you got me with your “I’m rubber you’re glue” argument. Ouch. However I would like to rebut you by saying that “he who smelt it- dealt it.”
On a related note- perhaprs saying that you are spiritual is a bit like saying that you are famous, if you have to say it, then you ain’t it.
I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.
I like vodka, gin, whiskey – all the spirits really.
Spoing. Re-reading what you said I am inclined to believe that it was dopier than I first feared. “Meaningless by-products of physics and evolutionary biology”?
When you love something you pay it attention.
Who pays the most attention to the universe- an astronomer who devotes her life to studying the stars or some hippie who takes a couple of tokes and goes “hey wow” on a clear night looking up?
Who is most in love with nature- some tree hugger or some evo biologist like E.N. Wilson who has spent years in rain forests listening to life?
We “fashionable materialists” (i.e.scientists) find meaning in stuff that is real. There’s only one world.
Problem is that people don’t like it when science gets applied to humans because a lot of (spiritual?) humans think that they stand apart from nature. We don’t. We are part of it. No special rules. No ghosts. No spirits. No magic pixie dust.
Wow. Light blue touch paper and retire to a safe distance – this has only been published for less than 24 hours!
BTW, ‘selfish narcissist’ is a tautology. Narcissism is characterised by selfishness (amongst other symptoms).
Nicely put Daoloth, I concur.
Daoloth: Who is E.N. Wilson? Do you perhaps mean E. O. Wilson?
Who has described his position on god as provisional deism? He has explained his faith as a trajectory away from traditional beliefs – which is like saying spiritual instead of organized religion…
Hey, wow, man! Daoloth’s spot on. Gimme another toke! I see spirits.
Daoloth, you compare different peoples ways of experiencing nature/reality and seem to suggest that the scientist has a more valid world view. Certainly, scientific education gives one the means to appreciate the wonder of the universe to a greater extent within ones specialised field of knowledge, but I don’t believe it affects the feeling that one has for it.
One can be awestruck by, say, a Giant Sequoia, without knowing anything about dendrology, or ecology, or climatology. One can be just as awestruck by learning that single-celled bacteria can synthesise 20 different amino acids, if one looks for the knowledge. That awe is one manifestation of spirituality, hardwired into us, which is perhaps one of the reasons why religion developed – to offer a cosy explanation in the absence of objective fact.
The other manifestation of spirituality might be thought of as compassion, or consideration of others before oneself (sometimes couched by wishy-washy types as ‘other-centredness’ or ‘ego-lessness’). Zen is a philosophy that seeks to develop this attitude, for instance. Zen might be known as a sect of Buddhism, but it is not a religion, nor even really Buddhism, when you get down to the core of it. It is spiritual atheism.
I agree with Dawkins – you can be spiritual (i.e contemplative and not self-centred) and an atheist, without being all new-age or hippy about it, and I agree with Daoloth that even we ‘materialistic’ oriented individuals can be spiritual too.
Shame the word has such negative (i.e. religious) connotations.
So sad that it has to be Julian, a latin american like me, the one with the stupid comment. But you know thats the problem when you have been raised in a Catholic dominated country. But not all latinos are like that, some of us have passed the mandatory religious indoctrination with our brains intact.
I was once told I had a very spiritual aura.
Spiritual? Tim Minchin gets it about right.
Awesome, sick title for this very funny comic. Wonderful, thought-provoking comments! andrea wins. Mr Gronk a close 2nd. and to play devil’s advocate, I suggest Julian meant Dawkins was wrong in his use the word spiritual, or did I miss something?
Awesome, sick title for this very funny comic. Wonderful, thought-provoking comments! andrea wins. Mr Gronk a close 2nd.
And to play devil’s advocate, I suggest Julian meant Dawkins was wrong in his use the word spiritual, or did I miss something?
I got my spoing tshirt today, I’d just like to say it’s SO COOL! Thanks 🙂
Damn, Mo’s “Jesus Christ”-comment always makes me laugh. Ah, the irony.
Don: Minchin sure is the best. I think “Storm” is his best one so far. He seems to be a really smart guy.
HAHAHA Minchin is Bitchin’
I liked his bit how water can have a seemingly infinite memory of a long lost drop of onion juice but somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it.
I like “joy.”
In writing, says Poor Richard, diction is everything.
For pure uplift following downshift, it’s Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto.
PS from PR. ANDREA, yes! Can I buy you a drink?
A companion essay to this strip and to Greta Christina’s post:
Keeping an Open Mind Is a Virtue, but not so Open that Your Brains Fall Out.
Maybe we need to coin an entirely new word for the awed feeling we get when appreciating nature or art or music or whatever. It is a shame that Douglas Adams is no longer with us, he was a master at inventing new words that you could get the meaning of by the context. One of my favorites was “Voon” used by a mattress to show his appreciation of a sad story told to him by Marvin.
JC: EN Wilson is E.O. s less well-known older brother. His new book, “Sub-Organism”, is all about how humans are less inteligent versions of ants. I have been meaning to promote his book for ages.
Intelligent designer: Yep. I would say that scientists are more awestruck. That’s why they devote their essence to studying something.
Science is not a bunch of facts resignedly taught by some bored school- teacher (although some of those never lose their passion).
It’s not a set of beliefs, its an attitude to acquiring them- always provisional, always transparent in method, always testing, always acutely aware of the dangers of importing desire into belief.
Maybe this helps explain why people who seem to be saying: “You can’t challenge my beliefs, its a mystery, its beyond science, its my right and that’s that” piss some of us off.
They are saying, in essence, “I’m a lazy selfish child, not willing to do the work to make my beliefs worth a damn, but hey, fuck you- they’re good enough.”
“We desperately want to feel there’s an organising force at work in our bewilderingly complex world. And in the irrational mindset, if you believe in the mystical pattern you’ve imposed on reality, you call yourself… spiritual”.
Richard Dawkins – The Root of all Evil
Ah the old “spiritual” debate ;o)
As I see it we have a word that is teetering on the edge of two meanings. On one side it is very much a religious thing on the other a more Zen like sense of openness. I think that it is a word that will move away from its religious meanings over time and gain a more secular meaning, at least in the West. I have often described myself as a spiritual atheist as an introduction to the stance that I do not hold with supernatural explanations of the universe but see that “spiritual” experience (followers may call it religious) is a part of the wiring of the human brain and properly acknowledged as part of the mechanics of our thinking (in the sense that happiness or depression is) can be useful.
I’ve just recalled an alternative term which may serve us better than “spirituality”. Colin Wilson devised the term “peak experience” to describe those unbidden moments when things seem more real.
Granted, the guy can be a bit of a crackpot mystic sometimes, but I think he got this one right. It suggests a connection to objective reality rather than solipsistic piffle.
rise humbly with secure knowledge? that doesn’t even sound spiritual. let’s face it, the author was just playing with words mocking people with such contradict perception. unless of course the author was trying to find a new victim for later jokes. then i say it won’t be funny anymore.
Daoloth: I concur with you that scientists pay a good deal of attention to the universe, though whether or not that activity evokes within them any deeper sense of awe or respect for nature than other observers is open to debate.
I’d contend that observers such as artists, musicians, poets, humourists (cartoonists even)? have more insightful things to say about those aspects of the human condition which don’t benefit much from scientific analysis, or at least about which the scientific method can’t say very much beyond the glaringly obvious.
Take romantic or parental love for instance. Science would conclude that these conditions are nothing more than the outcome of physiological activity, outcomes of our evolutionary biology … essentially pleasant delusions, brought about by brain chemistry and designed to foster close familial relationships and hence to promote survival of our genes. Well … duh. Thanks for that. Do these same scientists really believe that their children or life partners have no more intrinsic worth than a bacterium? Do you? Because the fact is that (using scientific analysis) there’s every reason to conclude just that.
What does science have to say about the ultimate value of a human life? Upon which premises should society build a system of ethics, a moral code? These ARE questions worth pondering – in fact the scientific insights we are gaining are forcing us to reframe and reconsider these questions all the time – and while I agree that scientific knowledge is an indispensible tool that helps us to understand the world around us, I think it is obvious that we are no better equipped with science to answer the questions of ultimate meaning than was stone-age man; in fact the only thing science adds is the ability to rule out the false answers – i.e. the universe is not a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise, Jesus is not coming back to take all his supporters to heaven, there are no 72 virgins awaiting Islamic murderers in paradise etc.
To find meaning in a universe where god has gone AWOL is going to require more than the scientific method.
“Science would conclude that these conditions are nothing more than the outcome of physiological activity…”
I think that saying “nothing more than” makes it a bit of a loaded statement; it presupposes that physiological activity is something mere and base. It’s in a similar vein to those who ask “how can MERE matter account for consciousness/beauty/values/the universe etc?”
Well, obviously matter isn’t “mere”, if it can account for marvels.
If all the universe turns out to be reducible to scientific description, will there not therefore be a scientific justification for intrinsic worth and other “big questions”? If not, then obviously there will remain questions outside of the purview of science, and a continuing need for philosophy (not spirituality).
I definitely agree that civilisation will need new definitions of meaning if the Giant Angry Sky Fairy stays AWOL.
Thanks Mr Gronk – I suppose if “spirituality” is a loaded term connoting G.A.S.F. beliefs I’ll have to concede that “philosophical” is an improvement 🙂
You and I seem to be on the same page inasmuch as we agree that there are mysteries currently (probably indefinitely) beyond the reach of science.
I think we should keep in mind that – even as we take the p*** out of “naively spiritual” people in this cartoon strip and commentary – some of them are utilising other modes of thought besides the scientific which can have some very positive outcomes – for example, a system of thought which motivates altruistic/philanthropic/compassionate behaviour, even if informed by religious GASF beliefs, has qualities which we should endeavour to carry over into any new morality informed by “higher” philosophical thinking divorced from such (groundless) beliefs.
Though your ideas are big and your words are bigger u still don’t get it. It’s a simple word called “faith”.
Crapola, says PR. We don’t really live by “morality”; we cannot, because the whole notion is subservient to power, and conscience is an anvil, as Mark Twain pointed out.
We live by contract, dear ones. Most of our contracts are tacit: don’t hit me; I won’t hit you. Many others, of course, are formalized, thank Goddess: “Look here on this map from the courthouse–right there is your yard, and over this line is mine. OK?” Chaos ensues when contracts break down. Break into my house with intent to harm and I’ll blow your effing haid off, right? I wouldn’t call that “moral,” though it may be “pragmatic,” but what IS clear is that our social bond has popped loose. And we all know what happens to peace treaties. It’s interesting how much in religion rests upon the notion of a covenant.
Also spaketh Poor Rick,”Always read the fine print, girls and boys.”
PR – Perhaps acting in defense of one’s family / life / liberty in said manner in that situation IS morally defensible . Certainly it’s true that our morality is socially constructed rather than absolute, nevertheless there’s enough in common between the independently constructed moralities of various societies to suggest that all of them hold certain truths to be self-evident, or at least not really worth debating, such as whether it’s right or wrong for someone to traipse into your house and molest your children. Most would agree that such actions warrant a harsh and emphatic response. I suppose we’re just fortunate (?) to live in a society which can afford to take more humane countermeasures.
But don’t lose sight of the fact that we intentionally put that more humane society together in the first place, suggesting that there is a core human nature which given the opportunity will tend to promote and express humane / altruistic / generous-spirited behaviour.
Blindedbyscience: You’ve put it far more succinctly than me, thanks.
Daoloth: Can’t agree with your initial hubristic claim, and your description of the ideal of scientific methodology has no bearing on the discussion at hand. The target of your antagonism appears to be ‘mysticism’ rather than ‘spirituality’, either that or you are hanging on to an out of date interpretation of ‘spiritual’. You’re right about the dogmatism of those who claim their faith is beyond reason, but that’s not cognate with spirituality, either.
Mr Gronk: I agree that maybe we need to coin a new phrase for sensitivity to the super-real, but can’t help feeling that “peak experience” is a little cold and dry.
Spoing: yeah, we probably are close to agreeing here. You suppose we do after all have a gene for altruism? It seems reasonable that nice people would be able to compete with rapists for reproduction…hmm–maybe not. Anyway, perhaps we learn contractual contact (there’s a bad pun here somewhere) at our mother’s breast. Moreover, we must have community in order to survive; loners by definition don’t reproduce very well.
Gronk and ID: “peak experience”? Phew! I prefer “orgasm” I still like “joy.” How about “amazement”? This suggests the unworldly aspect of something which is, of course, worldly but nonetheless surprising. Or as a stoned student of mine once said, “There we were on the beach, and the moon went down, and the sun came up. Wow. Emerson was right.” MY joyful moment was when he said that. Wow. Hmm: the “Wow Syndrome.” How’s that?
ID: I guess we could argue about the meaning of terms but the strip accurately targetted the way the word “spiritual” is used by actual folk. Check out the Tim Minchin ref that someone earlier cited. It hits the same spot.
“Spiritual” was explicitly contrasted with “materialist evolutionary biology and physics” which were held to be “meaningless.” I contend that this is a position held by people who should have paid more attention in class. Nothing you have said makes me want to change any of that.
Daoloth: For many, the “meaninglessness” of materialist explanations is that they ultimately have nothing (nothing encouraging at least!) to say about the value of human life or any ultimate purpose to human existence … except perhaps the purpose of continued propagation of selfish genes.
The need to apprehend something beyond/higher/transcendent – whether via religious belief, the arts, or altruistic action, is real, has persisted across cultures and throughout human history, and won’t simply be nonsensed away by naturalistic analysis. We call that need “spirituality”.
Daoloth: OK, in context, a la Minchin, agreed. As someone said in an earlier post, it’s a semantically loaded (or ‘weasel’) word. I wholly concur that that kind of ‘spiritual’ sucks!
A few points:
‘I’d contend that observers such as artists, musicians, poets, humourists (cartoonists even)? have more insightful things to say about those aspects of the human condition which don’t benefit much from scientific analysis…’
Here you confuse two different meanings of ‘insightful’: a literal meaning and a metaphorical meaning. The things art, music, poetry etc have to say about the human condition are metaphorically insightful. They re-present experiences or feelings we have in an aesthetically pleasing or emotionally moving way, or at most, provide us with another person’s view of an experience we may have had ourselves. The scientific method can reveal literally insightful things about them – ie. what is happening neurologically, what purpose these processes serve and why they evolved, how their evolution affected other aspects of society, what ramifications they might have had for other processes and so on. These ‘insights’ are fundamentally different types of thing.
Moreover, how do you know exactly which ‘aspects of the human condition don’t benefit from scientific analysis’? What criteria do you use to decide? How are you qualified to decide? The truth is, you have a pre-existing affinity for certain forms of human endeavour, and arbitrarily define these as being outside the remit of ‘science’.
‘romantic or parental love… pleasant delusions…’
Who describes love in this way? Love is a real function of the brain – it’s no more a ‘delusion’ than happiness, disgust, hatred, jealousy or any other emotion. Like them, we evolved it for a reason. Why do you think that these brain states are incapable of scientific investigation? On what do you base your assertion that science cannot tell us anything useful or interesting about them?
‘…these same scientists really believe that their children or life partners have no more intrinsic worth than a bacterium…’
So you’re referring to some specific scientists – which ones? I’d be interested to read their statements you’re referring to. How do you define ‘intrinsic worth’? Obviously, to me another human being has more worth than a bacterium, but my subjective judgment has no absolute meaning. It just depends on where you stand. I don’t understand how you can imagine that some creatures have varying ‘intrinsic’ worth.
You seem to subscribe to a very tabloid-newspaper view of cartoonish, inhuman, robotic boffins with no human feelings.
‘…ultimate value of a human life…’
‘…we are no better equipped with science to answer the questions of ultimate meaning than was stone-age man…’
And again. You’re fooling yourself that there’s some ultimate meaning. A very religious way of thinking.
‘…there are mysteries currently (probably indefinitely) beyond the reach of science…’
Are there? Which ones? How do you know?
‘…utilising other modes of thought besides the scientific which can have some very positive outcomes – for example, a system of thought which motivates altruistic/philanthropic/compassionate behaviour… has qualities which we should endeavour to carry over…’
Why do you believe altruism is outside the remit of scientific investigation? There are many studies into how this behaviour evolved. Regardless of what you might prefer to believe, only scientific investigation will help us to understand this phenomenon.
‘…any ultimate purpose to human existence…’
‘The need to apprehend something beyond/higher/transcendent – whether via religious belief, the arts, or altruistic action, is real…’
No. The desire exists. Calling it a ‘need’ merely flatters your own sense of self-importance.
“The word “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.” – Carl Sagan.
I’m with Carl.
Toast in the machine, the scientific method can answer “what,” but not “why.” I’m not sure why that is not more commonly understood.
‘Why’ is what you make up to comfort yourself in the face of your absolute insignificance and mortality.
Make it whatever makes you happy, but don’t force it down anyone else’s throat.
‘How’ is actually useful.
To answer that question, Lo:
If there’s no god, then there’s no “why”.
And I’ve finally found my avatar again.
For forty years, I’ve been saying I believe in God, not religion. Now, all of a sudden, I’m some fu<king cliché.
BTW, I almost peed my pants when Mo said, “Jesus Christ.” ROFLMAO
please find and read a brief synopsis of spiral dynamics by clare graves. you are a level 5.
also: please look up the pre/post fallacy and study it. prerational religion resembles postrational religion to you because it’s all non-rational. turns out some spiritual beliefs are higher than rationality.
‘Level 5‘? Orange, eh? Mmm, does that apply to J&M readers? I’d prefer blue – it goes better with my eyes.
If it’s not too much trouble, perhaps you could provide a brief explanation of what ‘some spiritual beliefs are higher than rationality‘ actually means.
I won’t hold my breath.
Can some one explain the pun used here in a lil detail? What is with the people who claim only to be “spiritual?”
I was laughing up until now. I am a huge fan of the science of the very small, and I am constantly questioning/contemplating the nature of reality (among other perplexing things, like the origin of existence). I do not necessarily believe in any kind of God-like creature or intelligence out there, but nor am I insane enough to dismiss the idea entirely. Although there is likely no God or Creator, I am perplexed by reality, the ten-eleven dimensions, and plant life. Yes, plant life!!! 🙂 I mean, those things are literally alive. They send chemical messages to each other to communicate, and they can defend themselves with chemicals. Also, the smaller in scale we go for power, the stronger this power is. Nuclear power is way stronger than steam or oil, and they’re saying that on the Plank scale, there is enough energy in one tiny, insignificant-seeming amount of space to create a big bang. These things fascinate me, almost humble me. I do not believe in a creator, but I am completely in awe with life, nature and the universe. I am spiritual, in that regard. I meditate, I dream, I make goals and aspirations and I am totally engaged with life and people. And it is beautiful.
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I don’t get the mangling of “spiritual” with any other useful, clear noun (abstract or concrete) that works better with no obfuscating baggage.
I don’t say that wireless works by “vibrations through the ether” or my lust for a cutie is “an exchange of tantric energies flowing twixt our essences”.
@PR and everyone.. Isn’t the New Testament a leap forward in that it says things like don’t harm people that have harmed you and don’t kill just because someone killed your mom or whatever?
@Mina. You are a lovely human, I think we’ve had many past lives together :).
These forums are set up to ridicule the unexplainable kind of events that I feel happen quite often so why bother? It’s almost like atheists are just as black and white as the people they seek to ridicule unfortunately..
Your comments are lovely.. I agree with most of what people
Say on here but have has lots of points of agreement and contention because I’m kind of like Ken Wilbur in the way I think about this stuff.. I think someone said books are only as good as the imaginations of their readers. There are many, many different kinds of Christians, Atheists, Vedantists, humans who temporarily believe things at all different levels of development. I don’t know why but Wilbur calls some atheists people who believe in scientism
And that its a shitty religion. Anyways, just to see who wants to tell at me I will say that Jesus was right on the money, I can’t find anything wrong with what he said besides being a Rabbi and connecting everything with the wrathfully deity of the old
Testament is kind of a drag..