Evidence-Based Spirituality — Part 3 of 10
So Scientistic Dismissivism/Exclusivism is just one form of D/E, a much wider cultural phenomenon with a long ignoble history in the West, and one we want to move past if we can. When one looks at Tart’s view of religions, though, as expressed in his presentation, one finds that the ghost of scientistic dismissivism is not altogether laid.
For example, Tart, like many scientists, tends to lump all religions together with Christianity, and also to be dismissive of his caricature of them. Clergy ‘must pretend to be all-knowing’, religion ‘has not seen any advances in centuries’ and ‘is stuck where it is’, vested interests abound based on ignorance and power-hunger, all religions must claim to have the truth, the exclusive truth, which can never be questioned, etc. etc.. These are very oversimplified ideas, it seems to me; in fact, to be blunt, they are not really supported by the evidence. That they can be stated so confidently without any evidence shows that a form of D/E is at work.
Instead of endlessly pointing up the shortcomings of that viewpoint right now, though, I want to suggest that there could be another spirit in which to approach religion as we move towards ‘evidence-enriched spirituality’, rather than assuming it is bound to be standing in the way of the whole enterprise — although this alternative would never have occurred to me, by the way, until I decided to look into the nature of religion for myself rather than depending on hearsay.
I’d like to introduce a term here: the Bud-Off.
A Bud-Off is defined as a spiritual technique which was developed as part of a religion, but has since — well, budded off. (That is, acquired some degree of autonomy from belief and become a “practice”.) Bud-Offs are important because they constitute an arena in which science can more easily interface with many important aspects of spirituality, namely those aspects having to do with spiritual development. And to a certain extent, Bud-Offs require a lack of Dismissivism and Exclusivism, because they are often taken up by people with different belief systems (or ethnicities, cultural identities etc. etc.) from the original religions out of which they budded.
Meditation in general is one example of a Bud-Off (very generalized idea though it is, as Tart reminds us). Yoga is a Bud-Off — it budded off from Hinduism. Transcendental Meditation, which provided Herbert Benson with much of his material and inspiration, was another Hindu/Yogic Bud-Off. Chi Kung/qigong is a Bud-Off from Chinese religion and practice, including but not limited to Taoism. Hermetics could be seen as a Bud-Off from Hellenistic Egyptian religions, etc. etc. (I’ve seen Bud-Offs in many other ‘spiritual’ areas too, for example in sorcery, but we can’t cover it all in one go.)
All of these are incredibly rich practices, with big histories and numerous variations, and they all have in common that they have many testable aspects. The characteristic of Bud-Offs is that they are able to exist as technique-practices by themselves, as things you can ‘pick up’, ‘do’, which don’t necessarily require a philosophical or belief-system change right away. They do something, and they claim they can prove their worth on a practical level by doing it. They are also thus more testable than ‘religion in general’. It is Bud-Offs upon which most (although not all) evidential testing of spiritual techniques has been based so far.
We instantly see, then, that Bud-Offs are an incredibly valuable resource. And that makes religions, too, an incredibly valuable resource, because they generate Bud-Offs. By the time a budding-off event occurs, after much gestation within the religion, you have a full set of techniques accreted over many generations. And although there may not have been statistical scientific testing going into producing those techniques, there certainly has been a lot of trial-and-error work put into them by committed members of the religion in question. That work needs honouring.
So religions look like they are worth the effort of getting to know. They are like trees of innumerable varieties which produce important fruits that we can use for evidential work. This starts to suggest a different way to handle them, less on the dismissive side. More on this next post, when the question of whether Christianity is an exception to the above will be considered…