Post-Enlightenment spirituality has always talked (as did the Romantics) about the nature and transformation of Self. Congregational Abrahamism mostly has not.
Via many means of transformation, human beings can develop sensitivity to a whole range of subtle phenomena and can experience directly the transpersonal. “That which is spiritual” includes these things, and the idea of democratic access to them. “That which is religious” may not. These experiences offer ways of knowing that slip around authority’s barriers.
It is important to watch for any sign of a situation where religion is again in a position to burn, degrade, and/or impose other societal judgments on those who have such experiences and sensitivities.
Everyday discrimination against SBNRs remains commonplace.
To a great extent, mass-movement SBNR is what happens when spirituality encounters the idea of free society, and when spiritual events occur to people whose identity has been formed in a modern secular context. Thus, as the secular spreads, so does SBNR.
It was the secular and free-market milieu opened up by the Chinese Communist Party which allowed the qigong movement to happen.
In Japan, SBNR is usually quite strongly separated from the religious. In America though, the large religious population implies more common ground. Interestingly the UK is mostly far closer to the Japanese situation.
Seeing that, I understand some of the conversations I’ve had with my American pals, who don’t perceive as strong a line between spiritual and religious. This is just one example of the currently increasing divergence between Europe and the US.
SBNR may thus be more European than American, especially since the US Enlightenment was not anti-religious in the same way as the French. But probably not much more. (Glenn was totally SBNR and they don’t come much more American either.)
The major contributors to SBNR are very numerous. No-one has yet identified them all. Summarising their contribution would be practically impossible.
And there is no definite “product” of their endeavours, no nice Nicene “result”. One could spend days trying to give the gist of Gebser, Yogananda, Jung, or Huxley. Their modern heirs Stanislav Grof, Lawrence LeShan, William Irwin Thompson, or Glenn Morris would require just as long.
Anyone can wander the SBNR canon and pull out a personal conversation, a particular mind. With no official version, no orthodoxy. With no orthodoxy, no borders. SBNR is what you make it, not what it makes you.
Still, SBNR is no longer as directly indebted to Romanticism. It is leaner, and it has learned the difference between posturing and effectiveness. It has passed through existential crises and been tempered by them. What we have now is a settled growth of many intertwining plants — and a definite opportunity.
Romanticism followed on the heels of the Enlightenment to correct its left-brain lean. Its poetry of transcendent personal experience made good compost for SBNR. The sublime was directly accessible, there, all around.
(The Enlightenment itself was Romantic in its sweeping away of the old regime through revolution. And there had been previous SBNR milieus — particularly the Renaissance Academy of Ficino.)
Romanticism extolled experience over faith and produced important figures like Goethe and Blake who emphatically were SBNR. Looking East began — Schopenhauer, then Emerson. Myth was rediscovered, as was the spiritual ideal of romantic love.
Romanticism also encouraged excess — of emotion, of invention. Some initial fruits of SBNR springing from it, like the Theosophists and Rudolf Steiner, applied that excess to escaping the incipient mechanicalism of our age.
But there appeared also William James, and suchlike voices of reason, reining back the fantasies. And the 20th century’s Existential Occamism has reined in Romantic excess still more, very valuably. Direct heirs to Steiner like David Spangler now maintain a constant relationship with empirical accuracy. Excess does remain, but it’s of a different kind.
The Enlightenment often brusquely denied the possibility or importance of the transpersonal, yet it turned out itself to be the beginning of SBNR. It did scour away a lot of religion, especially the remains of Catholic hegemony in France. And Voltaire was a deist, not an atheist.
The Enlightenment brought in values of freedom to which SBNR holds and is beholden. It said: believe freely, although not without good reason, and don’t debar others from expressing different views. SBNR still says this. SBNR is founded on reasonable social principles.
It is partly Enlightenment empiricism itself that has lifted the ban on the transpersonal. If we experience something, it is reasonable to believe we experience it, especially when we can measure its correlates. That is the position of every NDEr, every Kundalini meditator, every Old Hag experiencer…
Of course we had no definite idea that these things existed when the Enlightenment set it all in train. We know now only because a lot of good people went to the trouble of finding out, and also because we have the freedom of speech to talk about it, itself a fundamental of the Enlightenment aims.
SBNR as a milieu isn’t possible without a certain degree of public freedom.
“Portal” by Qahira Lynn — click for more
The sixties was a counter-culture. Since then much of SBNR has moved to an “insightful wellbeing” culture.
In that guise, it is looking settled. The proportion of Europeans registering as SBNR seems to be about 15-35%, depending on the question and the context in which it is asked. The US seems broadly comparable, but the religious are more numerous there, so the category “both religious and spiritual” is probably more populous.
In Britain, Sweden, Denmark and Holland, some studies say SBNR now outnumbers Christianity. The UK government is adopting SBNR language in some areas as churchgoing continues its steep decline, indicating some degree of torch-passing.
In other words, there is a danger of getting too comfortable. The challenges ahead are by far greater than those SBNR has faced up until now.
“Sun Gaze” by Daniel Buss — click for more from this artist
The SBNR milieu is impressive right now. A lot of what is being produced is provably useful and Good. Some of the art is great. The best healers are keeping up with the scientific side of things any way they can. Secular kundalini theories constitute the biggest possible news. Meditation and qigong really do something like what they claim.
The hybrid vigour and diversity of SBNR make it hardy. Ever since the Enlightenment the ways to take part in a change of view about experiential spirituality have been growing, and at each step that growth embraced greater numbers. The advents of Mesmer, Swedenborg, Theosophy, yoga, LSD culture, qigong, and a hundred other voices in turn brought new waves of people with particular expectations.
After the sixties such ways transformed themselves from minority pursuits to major cultural categories.
One key to SBNR is that there is no key to it.
It is what Deleuze and Guattari would call a “rhizome” — it has no centre, no-one speaks for all of it, no-one knows everything about it, it can’t be pinpointed or understood in any simple monolithic way, yet it grows and spreads.
Many academics still don’t believe it exists at all.
“The New Ark” by Diane Tremblay — click for larger version at her site
To be “spiritual but not religious” (“SBNR”) has always been an option, but never before modernity a mass option. Millions are involved in it now and it is genuinely a worldwide phenomenon.
This has happened with no particular leadership, no one message or organisation, no single mission, no scripture. Arguments about what SBNR is and stands for have been present throughout its spread, and despite general agreement that there are some features shared widely in common, few definite conclusions have emerged. It was just time.
At the beginning of industrial modernity, two promises were made: that empirical science would form the best basis of our beliefs, and that religion would therefore wither. The implication was always that spirituality would wither too. In my country religion is in fact withering, but spirituality isn’t.
From the best work done in SBNR contexts, we know a little about why. We can apply empiricism to anything that would once have been the domain of religion alone. We can see the massive prevalence of spiritual experience in humanity right now, some of it very deep. We also know that religious belief doesn’t necessarily correlate with such experience.
We find ourselves in an interesting position.
by Freydoon Rassouli — click for larger version on his site
The old ladies link arms and kick up their heels, and children dash through the crowd laughing, covered in the glittering confetti that showers from every cheering balcony, as Jason announces his return to regular posting.
My posting style will be different from before. All posts will be quite short. First subject will be the societal aspects of SBNR — just what I think needs saying, especially perhaps what isn’t usually said.
I’m hoping to jog thought with judicious bricks of info, which will sum to a modest-sized building by the end of the series. The series will have its own subject category on the right info bar as well.
I don’t know yet what posting interval will be appropriate for this… maybe three to four days.